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RAs: Building communities

Posted on 02.22.2017

When freshmen first arrive at college, they need help with many things. Sometimes, they need advice on time management or struggle with making friends or battle homesickness. Maybe they are having problems with their roommate or need help finding a class. And these problems are not just limited to freshmen. No matter what the problem or the level of the student, chances are a resident assistant can be of service.

Resident assistants, or RAs, have many responsibilities such as upholding university policies, helping students with problems and making them feel welcome, working the desk in the dorms and making a floor community, which is the biggest responsibility, according to  junior criminal justice major and Warren Hall RA William Parslow III.

Central Hall RAs Sigi Soleil and Katie Mehrlich lead canvas painting at the event. Photo by Madison Hays

Central Hall RAs Sigi Soleil and Katie Mehrlich lead canvas painting at the event. Photo by Madison Hays

“That is what’s going to make or break a freshman or a resident here … the community and the friendships that they make and the relationships that they make on the floor,” Parslow said. “So the importance of being visible, the importance of being around, putting on programs … for the residents to make a more enjoyable year is the most important thing in my opinion.”

Parslow has been an RA for two years and said he was inspired to apply for the job after speaking with his friend and senior RA Caitlyn Armbruster. Armbruster helped Parslow throughout the application process and even wrote a recommendation letter for him.

To become an RA, a student needs a letter of recommendation from a current RA and a faculty member. Once the applications are completed, applicants are then interviewed by a panel of resident directors.

Parslow said that the interviewers are not looking for a specific person with specific qualities, but rather meeting someone authentic and true to hisself or herself who can make a good and responsible RA.

RAs are required to reapply for the position each school year, and this year, according to Parslow, there have been 88 applicants—including first-time applicant and sophomore political science major Sarah King.

According to King, applicants submitted their resumes and applications before winter break. They then had one-on-one interviews and group processing, which consisted of individual and group activities with other RA applicants. The applicants were then evaluated based on their performances.

“The most challenging part of the application process, to me, were the one-on-one interviews,” King said. “But all of the interviewers were really friendly and made it easier.”

King would be fine working in any dorm, she said, as long as she can connect with residents and help the residents connect with others, including other RAs.

“I want residents to know that their RAs are students here just like them,”  King said. “They should feel comfortable talking to their RAs about anything that would make them feel better, no matter how big or small.”

Sophomore art education major Yolanda Vidal was very excited to learn she had earned the job last year because she said she felt her interview did not go as well as she had wanted.

Having grown up watching her older sister serve as an RA in Cravens Hall, Vidal knew she wanted to follow in her sister’s footsteps. This is her second semester as an RA in Cory Bretz, and Vidal said that she loves interacting with people as a part of her job.

“I think my favorite part of the job is getting to know so many people, like all my residents,” she said. “Just knowing them personally and getting acquainted with so many of them, that’s like 200 people right there. That’s just a really big plus, just being able to go on campus and say ‘hi’ to 10 people as I walk to class because they’re my residents.”

While there are a lot of perks to the job,  such as the friendships, free room and board and the biggest meal plan, as with any job, there also are some difficulties.

Parslow said that managing one’s time is very important when serving as an RA because, while being a student comes first, emergencies or timeliness factors that come along with the job can be a lot to juggle along with being a full-time student. He also said that an RA has to be a role model all the time, and this can be difficult.

“Everyone is watching you,” he said. “You’re a role model, and you have to act like a role model, like a reasonable human being. And there are some activities you cannot partake in that people associate with college…. What I like to do is ask, ‘Would my grandma approve of this activity?’ And if it’s a ‘yes,’ then you’re good to go. If it’s a ‘no,’ then you shouldn’t be doing it. You always have to be cognizant of the choices that you make and the people that are watching, because there’s always someone watching.”

Crowe Hall RA Miz Lorenzo-Aguilar talks to Ericka Pursley at Love Conquers ALL! an event hosted by Central Hall. Planning events that bring students together is a key part of an RA’s job. Photo by Madison Hays

Crowe Hall RA Miz Lorenzo-Aguilar talks to Ericka Pursley at Love Conquers ALL! an event hosted by Central Hall. Planning events that bring students together is a key part of an RA’s job. Photo by Madison Hays

Vidal said that sometimes upholding university policies means reporting students, which is hard, but she said that it is important and necessary for all the students’ safety.

“I like to please people, and I like people to be happy,” she said. “And I don’t like to get anyone in trouble, but I understand that this is my job, and we’re supposed to uphold polices. And res life has the residents’ best interest at heart. So I think whatever conflicts we do have that it might be uncomfortable to deal with at the time … it’s our jobs. And we’re just trying to keep them [residents] safe and have them understand that that’s our priority.”

Parslow said one thing that RAs worry about in the first six weeks of class is alcohol consumption among freshmen. To help with this, the RAs try to remind and inform students about the Lifeline Law, a law that states that people under the age of 21 will not be arrested for drinking alcohol if they call 911 for assistance.

Vidal and Parslow both take their jobs seriously and feel grateful to be an RA. Vidal said she has gained many skills and benefits that she believes will help her in her future career, and she thinks the job is beneficial to residents as well.

“I think being an RA is extremely important because it’s our job to keep residents safe and that residents feel welcomed on campus,” she said. “And I think, just being in a first-year dorm, just making sure that my residents are active and involved so they just have a good time in college and they enjoy their experience and build their community and get to know us and just trying to encourage them to be an active student and be smart and safe about it and just have fun…. I can’t complain about anything. It’s a great job.”

Parslow said that he is extremely grateful to Armbruster for helping him get the job as it has positively impacted him as well. He loves the way the job has changed him for the better and made him more culturally sensitive because of how diverse the campus is.

“I just want to say it has changed my outlook greatly on life,” he said. “I think this position—it’s been a blessing that I have been able to hold this position … and it’s been an extremely fun experience, and it’s really made my college career.”

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