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A Look at Resident Advisors

RAs aid students, struggle with bureaucracy

The University will begin to accept applications for Resident Advisors in the next two weeks — with Focused Area applications due Jan. 16th and First Year and Upperclass Area applications due Jan. 27. at noon. The applicants, who will receive decisions in March, will complete a written application and undergo group and individual interviews to determine who will supervise on-Grounds housing.

A comprehensive application

Fourth-year Commerce student Sarah Rennich was an RA during her second and third years – first in Bonnycastle and then in Metcalf.

“I became an RA my second year … because I wanted to stay more engaged and involved in the University community,” Rennich said.

Rennich said the application process, run almost entirely by the RAs themselves, was reasonably comprehensive.

“[The group interview] gives you a really good idea about how people are going to interact with others,” Rennich said. “The one–on–one [interview] was more personal motivations and work style.”

Fourth-year Commerce student Vishwa Bhuta agreed, saying the process was fairly straightforward. Bhuta, who was an RA her second year and a Senior Resident her third year, said the SR application process was even shorter, because applicants for the position have already been employed by Residence Life.

A helping hand

Rennich detailed her three main responsibilities as an RA: informal advising, enforcement of policy — which includes being on coverage for her dorm twice a month — and putting on educational programs for her residents.

“It is very easy to get wrapped up into your own concerns and stresses,” Rennich said. “Being an RA, you take on the responsibility of being concerned with how others are doing as well.”

Fourth-year College student Rachel Moffitt said she applied because she wanted to ensure incoming students have a positive experience at the University — something lacking in her own first year.

“My first-year experience was not exactly ideal, and I had watched people have really great RAs,” Moffitt said. “My RAs weren’t receptive to the needs of everyone on my hall [so] I wanted to create another community within the University.”

Once in the position, Moffitt said the position was different from her initial expectations — and she was surprised by the gravity of the situations she had to handle.

“I think a lot of people join Res Life thinking that you plan some events and join some friends,” she said. “The things you get trained on — the eating disorders, the sexual assaults — you never expect to deal with it. You do.”

Bhuta said the job, for both RAs and SRs, requires a lot of variation based on the needs of residents.

“You can’t teach a step-by-step procedure for people,” she said. “One eating disorder is never going to look like another eating disorder. Really, the way that you relate to your residents is variable.”

Moffitt said she was surprised by the time commitment when she started the position.

“You don’t know what the time constraints are because there aren’t any,” she said.

For Bhuta, the transition to being an SR was a big change, with heightened responsibility and more administrative duties. She held office hours for her residents — which numbered 220 compared to 23 as an RA — and she served as a liaison between the RAs and the administration.

“Certainly, it was a little overwhelming at the beginning,” she said. “Res Staff does a really good job of having a support system. The other RAs were very helpful and very kind.”

Bhuta said she received much help from her area coordinator, a staff supervisor in Residence Life, as an SR and from one of the two co-chairs in Residence Life.

“As an SR I had a similar support system,” Bhuta said. “I was under the guidance of an area coordinator and a co-chair. The co-chair position was the last student position in Res Staff. They don’t actually have residents themselves. They just help manage the RAs and the SRs.”

Challenges working for Residence Life

Despite intensive training, the Housing and Residence Life system is not without flaws. A first-year area RA, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Housing and Residence Life system has rules in place that make it difficult to do the work he thinks is important — forcing him to plan activities with little meaning or relevance to his residents.

“I think it is a line a lot of RAs have to toe,” he said. “Sometimes I’m torn between feeling [that] I need to check my RA to-do list boxes versus doing what I feel and know is the best for my residential community.”

Former RA and University alumna Arushi Kumar said a main problem with the system was its readiness to punish RAs but slowness to recognize exceptional work.

“I think that RAs are given a lot of responsibilities and a lot of resources to help them with them, but there is not a great system to recognize the work that RAs do on an everyday basis,” Kumar said. “Sometimes we get the feeling that administrators get the idea that they have the perfect system.”

Moffitt said that though her job was largely positive, the professional staff was, at times, slow to respond to concerns.

“A lot of times, once you go to these [upper] levels, they are not just very efficient with things,” she said. “They don’t always follow through and they are not always very personal about it.”

Tiffany Conde, Area Coordinator for Residence Life, said the organization tries to keep communication open so RAs can share their concerns with the professional staff.

“We hope that if current staffers are concerned about timely follow-up, that they feel empowered to bring forward this concern to their direct supervisor so we can have an opportunity to understand their perspective and address any issues,” Conde said in an email.

RAs also have the opportunity to address concerns with their SRs at weekly meetings and through semesterly evaluations, she said.

Leaving Residence Life

Bhuta, like Rennich and Moffitt, decided to leave Residence Life her fourth year to expand her experience during her last year at the University.

“I never lived off-Grounds, and I had decided that I did not want to venture out into the real world without ever having the experience of paying rent,” Bhuta said. “I also wanted to live with my friend. It was a difficult decision to leave Res staff. I wanted to focus on other leadership positions.”

Moffitt said her decision to leave was difficult, but having more time in her schedule and personal life is valuable.

“It is nice to have time to focus 100 percent on my academics and jobs,” Moffitt said.

Rennich decided to leave so she could live on the Lawn.

“It was a pretty easy choice for me,” she said. “I might have left anyway, because I never had had a real grown up experience.”

Though she is no longer an RA, Moffitt said she still makes opportunities to connect with her former residents.

“I still see them at least once a week,” she said. “We were all very close. I go over to their apartment. It is the same thing as if I went over to their suite and just hung out.”

Rennich sees her former residents through rock climbing club.

Ultimately, Bhuta said the experience was an impactful one for both her and her residents.

“To be a part of that journey with them is really, really something special,” Bhuta said. “Coming in, I don’t think I would have realized that I would get out of it as much as I did. I wanted to help people [but] I did not realize how much it would help me. It really helps you grow into a mature person. You have people looking up to you.”

Correction: A previous version of this article listed the deadline for First Year and Upperclass RA applications as Jan. 17. The deadline has been corrected to Jan. 27.


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