An Open Letter From Your RA

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Dear Future Residents,

Congratulations! Your respective schools are so lucky that you’re going to wear their colors this fall. I’m your Resident Assistant, or RA (well, someone like me will be). I’ve got some insights for you about how to survive your first year of living in the dorms. An RA is a live-in peer mentor who puts on events, dishes out advice, responds to emergency situations and helps keep you and your hall mates safe.

Here’s the dorm life 4-1-1. You will live in a really tiny room with one to two other people. Don’t complain. Think of this as a learning experience. Discovering how to do a lot with and in a small space is the meaning of the first year of college. Be considerate of your roommates, and only bring the few things you need to make your side of the room feel like home. Giant beanbag chairs, clunky bookcases and large lamps should stay home.

Think small and think clutter-free. Take this living arrangement as an opportunity to try out the minimalist lifestyle. It’s freeing not to have too many of your belongings to be responsible for. Your parents will also appreciate how much easier move in is and how stress-free move out will be.

Pro tip: Your school will most likely send along contact information for your future roommate(s) when they send you your housing package. Call or message your roomie(s) pre-move in and coordinate who will bring the mini fridge and the printer. This will save space and potentially money. You can even split the cost of the fridge and take turns paying for ink.

A big part of sharing a room involves sharing a bathroom. Do your part to keep the communal restroom clean. Remove your hair from the drain, rinse out any excess soap that could make it slippery for the next person and take out your razor/shampoo when you leave the stall. Don’t forget to report any leaky faucets/shower heads, damages or mold issues to your RA or to the maintenance staff directly. You’ll also want to bring shower shoes—they’re no joking matter. No matter how many people are cleaning out the drains after they are done showering or reporting issues to the maintenance staff, communal restrooms will always have an air of mystery that you do not want to penetrate.

Don’t miss your RA’s first floor meeting/gathering. Unless you’re going out to dinner with your family after move in, it’s a good idea to attend the first floor meeting. This is a great opportunity to get to know your hall mates, hear about some of the resources offered on campus, find out where the laundry room is (learning to separate lights and darks by yourself is on the horizon) and get a handle on the ground rules. You probably won’t follow them, but at least you’ll know what they are.

If you’re going to make bad decisions, please don’t make them in the dorms. Half of the things you want to get away with are not even legal for you to do yet (nor will some of them ever be). Plus, your RA would rather not clean up your mess (e.g., sprinkling sawdust on your regurgitated dinner…and after dinner drinks). Alcohol consumption, drug use and any other experimentation should take place off campus. I’m not advocating for this lifestyle, but I know it’s inevitable for some folks.

On that note…if you get caught hosting a totally lit party in your room, lying on the bathroom floor passed out or smoking anything, you’re going to be “written up.” This means your RA writes a report about what went down, when you were caught and who was involved. The report goes to your RA’s boss and you’ll probably have a sit down with them within the week. Don’t stress about it. It’s a normal procedure and you’ll most likely just get a finger-wagging and a warning never to let it happen again. Don’t fight the documentation. The more cooperative you are, the better the process is for you and for your RA. Make it easy on your RA by watching your tone and having your ID ready.

Trust me, RAs don’t want to do the paperwork involved in a documentation, and they would rather not have caught you at all. Contrary to popular belief, RAs don’t have to meet a write up quota. I’ve gone a whole year without writing a documentation. That was by far the best of my three years as an RA.

Once you’ve had your meeting with your RA’s boss after a documentation, don’t throw hate on your RA. You put yourself in the position to get caught because you were being WAY too obvious with your shenanigans. Your RA was forced to do their job. Now that it’s all blown over, your RA will act like nothing happened and you would do well to be just as cool. But, if you decide that you cannot help but despise your RA, don’t automatically decide all RAs have it in for you. RAs aren’t guilty by association. We all have different approaches, personalities and fuse lengths.

Next, make sure to go your RA’s events. These events are already covered by your housing costs. You’re actually losing money if you don’t go. Plus, you can expect a lot of free food, prizes, care packages, school paraphernalia and other surprises when you attend/participate in the events’ activities. If you’re thinking about applying to be an RA for the upcoming year, it is a good idea to make an appearance at as many of these events as possible. Show that you are invested in your dorm community.

It’s even better if you ask an RA if you can help them plan one of these events! Event-planning is a necessary skill as an RA. Why not get some experience while you have some guidance and support? Plus, your RA could write you a nice recommendation letter if you stay heavily involved in event-planning.

Beyond that, please, please, please don’t be afraid to talk to your RA. Whether you’re feeling low, want advice or need a cheerleader, your RA is your mentor and friend. If you have qualms about knocking on their door, don’t be afraid to reach out over text, email them or slip a note under their door. Your RA wants to be helpful.

But you should also be considerate and realize that RAs are people too. They’re college students. They have social lives just like you. Sometimes they have off days, and sometimes they take sick days. And sometimes they need an RA too. So, if your RA is not home when you need them or they’re not as sparky as usual, be assured that this has nothing to do with you. They probably just have a lot on their mind. After all, we all go through finals and bad breakups.

Have a glorious first year, you college-bound kids. Spend as much of your free time studying as you can manage, go to your professors’ and your Teaching Assistants’ office hours every week (have them look over your essay outlines), call home a lot (it’s okay to cry if you need to) and make sure to take time for self care.

Self care means a lot of things to a lot of people. Find out what works for you. Maybe it means taking a Krav Maga class, water coloring in the school garden, getting a smoothie off campus, listening to classical music or taking a 20-minute power nap. Whatever it is, do it. Recharging your batteries is so important, especially when you’ve had your head in a book for a week.

And lastly, be thankful for the opportunity to call yourself a college student. This is a privilege not everyone gets. We can’t wait to meet you in the fall.

Your future RA

P.S. If you’ve opted for off-campus accommodations, make an extra effort to attend on-campus shindigs and to crash dorm events. It is important to make connections your first year, and most students make these connections in the dorms. You’ll need to get out of your apartment as often as possible to ensure you’re creating social networks for yourself. Make sure to be proactive.

Chelsea Brandwein is a UCSB senior who will be graduating in June with a degree in Classics and Professional Writing. Ever since she was old enough to wrap her fingers around a pen and keep it upright, she has been writing. Between juggling her work as a student, a Resident Assistant and a researcher, Chelsea can be found jotting down witty dialogue or rom com story arc ideas; she hopes to one day become a screenwriter.

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