I should start by saying that nobody becomes an RA to enforce rules. We do it to get to know residents and build lasting bonds. Enforcing the residential agreement is the last thing on our minds, although we will do it if we have to; most RAs get free a free room and meal plan, which can all go down the tube if we decide to put friendships first. We do what we have to do to keep our jobs, and that often inculdes more than just breaking up parties, writing you up and chastizing people for loud sex (seriously). Sometimes we handle much more serious situations like assaults, severely depressed residents, and threats. It’s not always a picnic.
Some of my residents were amazing, but others were not always the most pleasant people to be around. I’ve seen it all, from rudeness to blatant disregard of the rules to which you agree in your housing contract. Some of the most negative situations I have encountered in college overall were when I had to deal with resident who made some very, very bad decisions.
So, here are 4 ways for you get things started with your RA off right. At best, a bad relationship with your RA can lead to awkward moments when you two are brushing your teeth together in the community bathroom; at worst, you can find yourself in some serious trouble.
1. Look at your RA as a human being, not a rule enforcer
When I became an RA, I was already heavily involved on the Mizzou campus and had great circle of friends. Some of my first residents, however, assumed that I became an RA because I didn’t have any friends that wanted to live with me off campus. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.
RAs have social lives just like any other students. They spend a lot of time outside of the dorm with their friends, participating in extracurriculars and generally worrying about things that have nothing to do with the dorm—just like you. As soon as you stop thinking of your RA as a student and peer is when you start to disrespect them.
2. Give your RA the time of day, because its their job
As an RA I was tasked with meeting all 72 of the residents that lived on my floor in the first two weeks of the semester, learning where each was from and something about them that was not their major. I then had to report all of this to my boss using a roster for each resident. This was enjoyable for me because I’m a people person. However, some of my residents were visibly annoyed when I knocked on their door to introduce myself and learn a little bit about them. They couldn’t believe that I would choose to spend my time doing this and wanted to just slam the door in my face. Well, I was actually getting paid to do it. And if I had blown it off, I would have looked bad in front of my boss.
So give your RAs the time of day. It’s their job to talk to you. If they were a waiter trying to serve you, you wouldn’t knock down their try on purpose…I hope. Don’t go out of your way to mess up their job.
3. If you get caught breaking policies, accept the consequences
This is just a lesson for life; if you break rules, be willing to accept the consequences. Most RAs don’t care at all whether or not you drink. Seriously, we have much better things to think about. We only care when it affects our jobs, i.e. when you do it in the dorm, which for most colleges are areas where alcohol (and other substances) is strictly forbidden. To live in a dorm, you have to sign a contract; if you get caught breaking that contract, it is not anyone’s fault but your own. I established this principle with residents right off the bat, so when the time came for me to write them up, they didn’t hate me for it. In fact, it was usually like it never happened. I could write a resident up one night and hang out with them in the dining hall the next.
The best thing you can do when you get caught is to just do what your told. It will only be worse for you if you argue or get confrontational. My boss, who was in charge with determining consequences for violations, actually rewarded residents who didn’t put up a fight by being lenient with them. Conversely, he was very unlikely to go easy when residents had gotten confrontational. And what would there to be to get mad about in the first place? Getting caught drinking in a dorm has fewer consequences than a speeding ticket. Seriously.
4. Go to your RA with an issue before it becomes serious
Residents who came to me with roommate issues were usually those who learned how to deal with minor squabbles or arguments on their own. I was able to coach them in how to address a situation early on and avoid major confrontations down the road.
I had two residents this past semester, I’ll call them Susan and Hannah, who had disliked each other from almost the beginning of the school year. They spent most of their time outside of the dorm so I was never aware of their situation until in exploded one night while I was watching the Oscars. One of my residents knocked on my door and told me that she heard one of the girls threatening to punch the other one. I had to intervene and stop the confrontation before it escalated further. Susan had threatened to punch Hannah and ended up having to be arrested for making threats. Hannah had to move across campus, away from all of her friends, because she didn’t feel safe. And for the rest of the semester, the rest of our floor and I encountered dozens of tense situations whenever we found ourselves around Susan; she completely shut herself off from the rest of us after being arrested and felt betrayed because someone had “ratted” on her.
This is an extreme situation, but I know for a fact that it could have been prevented if one or both of the roommates had come to me for help before the situation got out of control. Just be mature enough to handle disagreements. Don’t sweep them under the rug and don’t let them ruin your freshman year, which should be one of the most fun times in your life.
Your RA is a wealth of knowledge, experience and resources, and you would be wise to go to them when you have questions about anything that involves your college life. They get hired for the job because they just get it. Instead of ignoring your RA, belittling them or being confrontational, take advantage of a valuable resource who is there to help you and could potentially be a great friend.