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Catching Up With a (Former) R.A.

Catching Up With a (Former) R.A.
Photo by Shomik Mukherjee/Executive Managing Editor

Shomik Mukherjee
Executive Managing Editor

As students finish up moving into their new homes for the school year, one common point across residence halls and undergraduate apartments will be the first introductions between students and their Resident Assistants. The R.A. position is a staple of student living. At best, residents form long-lasting bonds with their new guidance figures, and at worst, view them as inconvenient disciplinarians.

Though the position is widely considered a time-consuming job (according to the Housing & Residential Services website, the job involves “14 to 19 hours” of work per week), students like Ladijah Corder, fourth year black studies and political science double major, have taken on the commitment. Corder worked as an R.A. in Manzanita Village during the 2015-16 school year, while also serving as co-chair of Black Student Union.

Corder sat down with The Bottom Line and gave her thoughts on what to expect, both for students and R.A.s.

This year, non-freshmen are living in halls that were formerly reserved exclusively for freshmen. After having been an R.A. in Manzanita (which has always had a blend of students of different standings), how do you feel this will impact the experiences of R.A.s and those of new freshmen?

“I think it makes it a little more complicated because you have new students who need more attention and more care than continuing students. But you cannot ignore the continuing students either, because they may need things. I don’t think the dorms being mixed together will be that big an issue, because those dorms are known for being freshmen dorms, so [continuing students] might not have stayed. Even if they did, I think it will be helpful, because the R.A.s that are there have this specific interest for freshmen. The continuing students probably know that and they’re going to want to be engaged.”

R.A.s seem to toe the line between being a friend to students and making sure they stay out of trouble, the latter of which often involves some level of discipline. How do you feel you did in drawing the line and what advice do you have to current R.A.s to do the same?

“It’s about being honest with your residents and not seeing yourself completely as an authority figure. Realizing that you can be a friend and mentor to them, if you focus on mentorship and actually trying to get to know your residents and understanding their personalities more, it makes it easier when it comes to you having to discipline. Because then they know that you’re coming from a place that is more than ‘I’m upset and I had a bad day,’ or ‘you did wrong.’ They actually know that ‘hey, you have a responsibility to do.’ If you get to know them better, there’s a respect. They’re not as likely to do wrong because they have another level of respect for you and they don’t want to make things more difficult for you.”

A major duty of an R.A. is to find ways to unite the hall in friendship. What is your recommendation to R.A.s in getting residents to embrace that concept?

“I was an R.A. in Manzi, and that was very difficult since it’s mainly continuing students and there are separate floors. My suggestion would be holding more events that were outside the building. People are more interested and you’ll reach more interests and hobbies than if you had it on your floor or in your lounge. In residence halls, it’s more about their connection to you. A lot of my residents met each other because I was in the hallway talking to them and they would walk by and start talking to each other. That’s another way to help if programming doesn’t.”

What would you say to students hoping to be R.A.s in the future?

“Realize that there is no one perfect R.A. When Housing looks at applications, they are not looking for a perfect person who has never been in trouble before or is a cookie-cutter student. They are looking for people who are dynamic and different. If you can show them enough of your personality in your application and explain to them why you feel like you would fit in Housing, that works better. I applied as an R.A. in my freshman year and I didn’t get it. I applied again, and this time I focused more on it being a job that involves building relationships—that’s the purpose of an R.A. The first time around, I was focused on the professionalism. Of course, I put my best foot forward both times, but what made it different the second time for me was I focused on what I wanted to give to the people that I interacted with. Knowing so many Housing people now, I can tell you for a fact that they look for different personalities.”

What was your funniest memory of being an R.A.?

“I had one resident who liked to climb things all the time. That was probably my most ‘freak-out’ moment, but it was funny at the same time because it was so natural to him. He climbed onto the top of the balcony, and I could not understand why he was doing it or where he was coming from. He just wanted to show me his ability, but I was like ‘I’m your R.A., you’re not supposed to be doing this whatsoever.'”

Corder was an R.A. for the writer of this article while he was living in Manzanita Village.

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