The Future of RAs

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Photo Courtesy of UCSB

Carolyn French

Contributing Writer

Amidst the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Residential & Community Living department has worked hard to adapt to the ever-changing working conditions of campus resident assistants (RA). The job, which closed its applications on Feb. 16, has a different look compared to years in the past.

There are currently 39 RAs living and working in UCSB’s residential housing, which includes graduate apartments, family student housing, and undergraduate apartments. According to Terrie Tran, the assistant director for Residential & Community Living, the RA job this year has been fully virtual, but RAs still serve the same general purpose as they did in previous years. 

“This position is important because it is one of the really highly coveted student leadership positions on campus,” Tran said in an interview with The Bottom Line. “Our RAs are truly the backbone of our residential program. They help us to carry out our mission of providing an inclusive, respectful, comfortable, and safe living environment for our residents on campus.”

Due to COVID-19, most of the RA applicants for the 2020-2021 school year were unable to fulfill the position. However, those who were originally offered the job were then allowed to defer the offer for a guaranteed RA position in the 2021-2022 school year. 

All new and deferred applicants have been notified of how the position may be affected by the unpredictability of the upcoming school year and the conditions of campus policy. Tran emphasized the importance of transparency with incoming RAs during these fast-changing times.

“The key is to stay agile and really be ready to pivot quickly, and at the same time, be as communicative and transparent with our candidates as possible,” Tran said. “Even if it’s an update saying that we don’t have anything to share right now, but we’re working on A, B, or C, and we’ll let you know by this date what we’ve found out. This is what we’ve committed to do for our candidates.”

“The key is to stay agile and really be ready to pivot quickly, and at the same time, be as communicative and transparent with our candidates as possible.”

In past years, the RA selection process wrapped up by the end of March, and orientation occurred as early as spring quarter. However, according to Tran, RAs for the upcoming school year may not know their position until summer. While Tran understands that applicants may be looking for more certainty in the position, she does not expect a low number of applications to be submitted. 

“I think based on what we’re seeing with our applications, there is still a lot of interest. I think there’s still interest from students who want to serve and who also probably are hoping and wanting a residential community where they can be living and working with other students. So we’re not concerned about not having enough applicants in our pool,” Tran said.

Although RAs this year can’t interact face-to-face with their residents, safer virtual alternatives are being used to build a community for the residents. According to Tran, social media, the GroupMe app, weekly newsletters, Zoom events, and virtual office hours have allowed residents to interact amongst each other and with their RAs. 

While most of the RA positions operate remotely, some physical interaction is necessary to maintain safety within residence halls. Current in-person interactions come with safety precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and workstation sanitizing. All offices are also using plexiglass safety guards for extra protection. 

With COVID-19 still in full force, it is hard to fully predict what next year’s RA position will entail, but Tran has maintained hope for the future.

“I really do think that based on what we’ve seen with our residential population right now, with weekly testing and vaccines coming up for the community, I really do think that it’s possible for us to reopen. For us to have a residential community again,” Tran said. “As long as everybody is compliant with testing and diligent with their own decisions and their own behaviors, it is doable.”