Only a select few people will ever have to deal with the fishbowl effect in college. In my case I was a fish, living in the tiny bowl that was Penn State Altoona, and all eyes were on me. Eyes followed my every move because I was supposed to be a role model, a leader, a resource.
I was a Resident Assistant.
While living under the expectations of Residence Life, it could be quite difficult to be human at times. All aspects of my life had to go through my supervisor. I couldn’t just spend the weekend at my friend’s apartment. I had to get permission from my supervisor a week in advance. I feared going to parties because that could be grounds for probation. I couldn’t even be in the presence of alcohol–it was grounds for termination. That rule in particular was hard to follow because there’s alcohol everywhere.
Your life is constantly on display for your residents: who you hang out with, what classes you take, what you’re involved in. Even your love life is out there–so what do you do when you find yourself attracted to a resident?
I thought I was being led on by one of my favorite residents–yes, Resident Assistants do have favorites. He was a tall, statuesque boy with impeccable style. His black and Asian background fused together to produce the handsomest features–there was no way I could look away. He would do things that I felt was his way of “dropping bread crumbs” that I would pick up, signaling that he was interested in me. There was one issue that could not be ignored: the unspoken rule that Resident Assistants can’t date any of their residents.
Curiosity took over and I pursued his signals. We would talk for hours while attempting to get work done, but not really being successful. He would share his interest in K-Pop music videos while I shared my love for fashion. Countless duty nights were spent watching movies together until the early mornings.
However, I knew the rule, and I knew that I had two options. I could either act on my interest and potentially get caught, or I could put a stop to it and potentially lose what many students look for while in college: their future boo.
I allowed our relationship to naturally unfold, until one night my job was put to the test. I had the suspicion that there was alcohol in his possession. Instead of acting immediately however, I locked myself in my room and watched through the safety of the peephole, trying to determine what to do. I knew he’d been drinking, because I knew him. For weeks I observed the way he moved and the things he did, so the person that I saw through my peephole was not the guy I knew.
I had real evidence, but I didn’t want to use it. It definitely didn’t help that the incident was the first of many in my RA career. Time went by and I was still in the same spot. My eye hooked on to the peephole watching the guy that I grew to like disrespect not only the policy, but me.
I took it personally. It hurt to see that he would put himself in a situation where I would have to do something.
I couldn’t bring myself to write him up that night. Some may say I turned a blind eye, and I agree, I did. But the fear that ran through my body wouldn’t allow me to take a step from behind my door. I woke up the next morning feeling ashamed. How could I be an RA and allow one person to hinder what I was hired to do?
Later that night, I felt like I had to say something. I couldn’t live in an environment where I allowed people to disrespect the community that was being built. I especially couldn’t allow him to disrespect the bond we created. When the time came to have a conversation with him, we made our way to my room. We both stood there with the door closed in silence. I didn’t know where to begin as I tried to explain what I saw. While my thoughts were forming, I watched his face turn from one of excitement to one of embarrassment. His body language portrayed a sincere sadness. Throughout the night, I received multiple apologies, and it seemed like we were back on the same page.
I tried to forget about the past and move on, but sadly, things just weren’t the same. I didn’t see him as often. My duty nights were spent by myself. Distance became a part of our relationship. I always wondered if he used our friendship as a way of to get away with violating policies. I never had the courage to ask.
But what I do know now is that I allowed myself to be hypnotized by his charm. Little did I know, he was a lesson in disguise. Now I understand the saying, never mix work and pleasure. It is a combination that will have you willing to lose it all.