Resident assistants are the people so prepared for a fire drill that they’ll bring an extra large towel outside because they know at least one resident got caught in the shower and ran outside wearing nothing but soap and a tiny towel. They’re one of the most important people you meet in the first few days of arriving on campus. Many RAs take their jobs very seriously. But besides planning events and getting to know residents, what exactly is being an RA all about? Here are some tips for those of you thinking about being an RA during your college career.
1. Become friends with your residents!
The best part about being an RA is forming bonds with residents, according to Bruner. Thammasila agrees: “It makes the hall (you’re working in) feel more like home when you’re able to stop and strike up a conversation with residents,” she said. Many college students remember their RAs (the good ones, anyway) years later, whether they mention the time you guys had a sleepover in the hallway and told ghost stories or the fact that s/he always greeted you with a smile. Being an RA gives you the opportunity to make a positive impact on so many of your residents’ lives almost automatically. It takes work, but the job is so much more rewarding when you try to build relationships with your residents.
2. Prepare for the wacky and unexpected.
“(I once had to deal with) a resident falling out of a tree,” Taylor Bruner, an RA at the University of Texas, said. RAs are often the first person someone comes to in a crisis, so you have to be able to react quickly. Whether an accident occurs in the dorm or a student comes to you in a panic, the main point to remember is that you shouldn’t judge a resident’s stupid choices, but help them deal with the aftermath. College is a time to make mistakes and learn from them.
No matter what, your residents should feel like they can trust you and come to you for help in any situation.
3. The experience makes the job worthwhile.
“Why wouldn’t you (want to) be an RA?! It’s the best job on campus,” Bruner said. “It’s hard work, but exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for when you’re in college. You came to grow and work hard.” Whether you’re filling out paperwork for an event you’re planning, decorating the bulletin boards, or just hanging out with residents, being an RA is a lot of work.
4. Don’t be afraid to be mean.
“My least favorite part is enforcing the hard rules that people like to break,” Bruner said, “It’s not fun to bust people.” It’s difficult, but being an RA involves reporting any illegal activity. Although many college students make decisions that are illegal or contrary to the rules, whether they drink underage, use drugs or do something as silly as jaywalking, as an RA you have to lay down the law. Residents may not like it now when you bust them for having alcohol in their rooms, but later they’ll realize that you did it because you care. Many dorms have official rules about guest hours and other things as well that you’ll have to keep an eye out for.
5. Always let your residents know that you care.
“Even if you have a bad day, you can’t just not acknowledge people or act rudely toward others,” said Daphne Thammasila, an RA at UT. Being an RA is a 24-hour job. You’re always on call for your residents, and although it’s one of the most enriching jobs a college student can have, it can be easy to get burnt out. It is during these times that it’s important to remember why you became an RA in the first place—whether you wanted to help freshmen during their first year of college, your own RA was a role model to you, or you just wanted the experience. This motivation will help you to survive the long school year.
6. Being an RA is challenging, but rewarding.
“I’ve learned—and am learning—a lot,” said Thammasila. “This job challenges you and pushes you outside your comfort zone.” Sure, there will be times when you’re just falling asleep and you hear a knock at the door. Or you could be trying to cram for a test when you realize you have meetings to go to or an event to put on. RAs are busy! But don’t freak out about it, because the workload is certainly manageable. And it’ll put a smile on your residents’ faces to know that you are willing to sacrifice your time for them.
7. RAs are there to help.
“Coming in as a freshman is a huge transition,” said Bruner. “But it’s a fragile time that I can help with…I’m a leader in my community, I impact many people at once, and I’m a mentor,” she said. Whether you’ve had a great experience with your RA or a terrible one, it’s your job to give your residents what they need to succeed in college. However, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. If you have a hard time putting others before yourself, being an RA might not be the right job for you.
8. Don’t take things personally.
“There will always be some residents that you never see or some residents who just don’t want to talk to you and that’s okay. Just make sure they know you’re available to help them if they need you,” Thammasila said. “Remember that not everyone will come to a program that you worked really hard on…Don’t take it personally,” Bruner added. Some residents are bound to be more active than others. Embrace those who come to you automatically with open arms. For those who don’t warm up to you right away or are never at home, don’t take it personally.
9. Sometimes you have to get dirty.
“Poop. In the shower. Another RA and I had to use a pooper scooper to throw it away,”” Thammasila said. No one said this job was easy but they also failed to mention it was disgusting. Make sure you’re not squeamish or easily affected by the sight or smell of bodily fluids because we weren’t kidding when we said to expect the gross and unexpected. During your time as an RA, fun things like vomit are going to be something you’ll have to deal with most weekends. Make sure to overstock your room with rubber gloves and an industrial sized bottle of hand sanitizer.
10. A good RA knows who you are.
“I had two RAs and neither of them knew my name. They never stopped to talk to me…and they just made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I wanted to be an RA because I never wanted anyone to feel like that in the place that they live. That’s where people should feel the most at home,” said Thammasila. Your residents will have a lot of respect for you if you take the time to learn their names and a little about what they’re interested in, or what their major is. Not only does it make you look as if you’re making an effort, it just shows that you care.