RUSSO: Advice and counsel

Students living off-Grounds should have access to RAs

After a tumultuous semester, safety has been on everyone’s minds at the University. As we transition to the spring semester, it is imperative that we do not let the lessons and challenges of the previous one slip from our minds. Despite the disorienting adjustment to our new classes and our renewed extra-curricular obligations, we must continue to think critically.

One concern is improving students’ general safety both on- and off- Grounds. To provide enduring support for students who choose off-Grounds housing after first year, the University should implement a system of off-Grounds Residential Advisors.

There are many options that first-year students must consider when figuring out their second-year housing. Often this decision comes early in the year due to the prevalence of off-Grounds housing as an option for second years. As a first year, it was difficult to anticipate which housing option would be the best fit for me, but I settled on living in an off-Grounds apartment. So far, I have immensely enjoyed the extra space, and having my own bathroom and kitchen. However, I have missed the support system that an RA provides, especially because of last semester’s challenges.

In a recent Cavalier Daily article, fourth-year student Rachel Moffitt highlights challenges faced by first-year students for which RAs provide support: “The things you get trained on — the eating disorders, the sexual assaults — you never expect to deal with it. You do.” Eating disorders, sexual assault and mental health concerns are certainly an issue even after first year. However, if you choose off-Grounds housing, you sacrifice the support to which Moffitt refers.

It is true that second-year students and upperclassmen may require less support than first-year students. However, the difference between second semester of first year and first semester of second year is certainly not so dramatic that we no longer require any kind of peer-advising or peer-support system. My RA was an extremely helpful resource my first year. She not only showed me the ropes at the University, but also provided informal peer advising about the unpredictable challenges of everyday life.

Some might argue that a solution to this issue would be to emphasize on-Grounds housing and discourage students from living off-Grounds (which the University already does.) However, I do not think this change would be adequate. First of all, if next year every second year student decided to live on-Grounds, there simply would not be enough housing to go around. In addition, the accommodations and freedom of an apartment are often more appealing to students than upperclassmen on-Grounds housing. Students will take advantage of off-Grounds housing until the University improves accommodations and builds more housing to make living on-Grounds a more favorable option.

University RAs are technically state employees, which may complicate a movement to create a program of off-Grounds Residential Advisors. Perhaps a solution to this issue would be to form an informal group of volunteer RAs to be on call (similar to “coverage” in on-Grounds housing) on weekend nights, or a more casual peer advising system for upperclassmen that focuses on emotional and personal support rather than academic support.

Some will point to CAPS as the only necessary counseling system for University students. Although it faces its own set of challenges, I agree that CAPS is a helpful resource. However, I still believe strongly that sometimes students don’t require professional counseling from an adult, but rather the advisement of a close peer. We can — and do — seek this support from our friends and classmates (especially those that are older or more experienced than we are.)

Residential Advisors provide a bridge between the student body and the University administration, but in a far more relatable way than formal emails from Patricia Lampkin or Teresa Sullivan. As a student, I felt more engaged and informed about what was going on at the University when I had an RA. Perhaps these students would have to be named something other than “Residential Advisors,” as they will operate outside of the University’s living community. However, students should have the option to enjoy off-Grounds freedom while still benefitting from the support of an objective peer advisor.


Mary Russo is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.russo@cavalierdaily.com

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