I usually get one of two responses when I tell someone that I served as a resident assistant during my college years: 1. Wow, really? That’s kind of crazy. Or…. 2. No offense, but that doesn’t surprise me at all.
Of course the second response is made in a way that implies that I am a nerd with no life, which of course is only half true. But more on the makeup of a resident assistant in a little bit. First, some bio information: Over the course of three academic years from 2006-2009 I was employed by the University of Montana as a resident assistant (RA). For those who don’t know, a RA is someone who manages a floor in a dorm on a college campus. Such a person keeps order on the floor, deals out discipline, stages events for the residents on the floor to take part in, and works with the other resident assistants in the building to make sure that the residence hall is ran in an efficient, safe, and healthy manner.
Everyone who serves as a resident assistant will have a vastly different experience. I know for a fact that my experience at UM probably differed tremendously from other resident assistants working around the nation at my time. I worked during the twilight years of a residence life advisor who had overseen the program for decades. Because of this, things were ran a little old school. Residence halls were still called dorms, the end of training was celebrated with a party that included a couple kegs, and most discipline problems (including alcohol) were dealt solely by the resident assistants. Although much of this has now changed I can say that from the eyes of a former RA that the residence life program at Montana ran very smoothly.
My first year I worked in a dorm which was, how shall I put it, showing its age. I presided over a floor of around 50 freshmen boys so in addition to its age it was also a dump. I spent a lot of time doing alcohol and drug write-ups. My second and third years I had the luxury of working in an apartment style living building with mainly upperclassmen. The floors were co-ed and the people were clean. I had very few discipline issues. Despite the obvious differences between the two different residence halls I worked in, I had a great time in both.
At Montana, and at many other schools, resident assistants are compensated well. I received free room and board, a huge burden lifted from someone who was trying to do everything possible to save money. Montana’s system also allowed for money to be earned for the hours worked at the front desk after a certain amount of contract hours were met. Many people consider drawbacks of the position to be a lack of freedom, a sacrifice of certain holidays, and a glorified babysitting role.
So is the compensation actually worth it? I mean who wants to miss out on Friday night college shenanigans? Who wants to call the custodian to clean up vomit? Who wants to miss spring break? Who wants to write incident reports at 3 a.m.?
The answer to my first question is NO. Although it did help me a lot, the room and board compensation alone is not worth it. What makes the job worth it is purely the relationships that are built and fostered during anyone’s tenure as a resident assistant.
A big part of the new relationships come directly from the people you work with on a daily basis, your staff. Although you work closest with the resident assistants in your particular building, you also become part of the whole community of resident assistants on campus. Through orientation and events throughout the year, friendships and connections are made. As I alluded to at the start of this post, 95% of resident assistants are nerds (including myself) but that same percentage are also very driven and intelligent people. You meet many stellar individuals with bright futures.
Because there are so many cool members on staff many resident assistants will fall into a trap of hanging out mostly with other resident assistants but I was tipped off from the beginning not to do that and I made sure to follow through. By and far, the best relationships you can make in a resident assistant position are with your residents. With fifty students each with a different story and background living on your floor in a given year, the opportunities to expand your horizons are limitless. I did all I could to connect with each resident and develop some type of a relationship with each one. Sure there were a few who I never want to cross paths with again just because they were bad people but for the most part I found common ground with everyone. Playing intramurals, hanging out in the hallway, and participating in my weekly corny floor activities served as the basis for developing relationships that have lived on past the time in the dorms. To this day some of my closest friends are from the floors I was a resident assistant on.
If you hate free room and board and despise relationships, become a RA just to observe student culture at its finest. You get to see students prosper and you get to see students completely implode. You get to experience different traditions, try new foods, and get different point of views. You get to monitor the homegrown Montanan, the kid from back east, and the exchange student from Italy all at the same time. You get to watch fifty people who don’t know each other converge on the same floor for a whole school year and see how the different attitudes and backgrounds play out. It is pretty interesting.
I would recommend becoming a resident assistant to most people, even the ones who worry about missing out on a lot of college’s fun experiences. To be honest, another thing that I got from my time as a RA was structure. The nights I stayed in and the day festivals I missed helped me be a better student and a better mentor to my residents. Apply to become a resident assistant and reap as much from your experience as you put in. Don’t Blink.
Makeup of a Resident Assistant
I poked fun at myself for being a resident assistant at the start of this post but it is true, you have to have a level of nerdiness in order to apply and accept a position as a RA. Although all of us have this trait, from there you can then categorize the makeup of a resident assistant staff into four different groups:
1. The Overachiever: The overachievers are the students who were 3-sport athletes in high school, valedictorian, held leadership positions, and had an awesome freshman year of college.
2.The Turtle (Coming out of his/her shell): These people become resident assistants because they want to meet more people and take on a challenge that they normally would not. Many of these people will attribute their desire for pursuing the position because they had an exceptional resident assistant of their own.
3.The People Person: These people don’t necessarily have a standout past, rather they just love life and love people. They are accepting of everyone, hold many quirks of their own, and just want an outlet to let their personality shine.
4. The Mistakes: These are the people who are awkward, don’t make an effort to reach out to people, and who most likely play video games all day long. As with any position, sometimes unqualified people are hired.
To the People I Missed
In my main post I didn’t mention the hall secretaries and custodians. This just goes back to the relationship piece I talked about. I developed great friendships with the two hall secretaries that I worked with, friendships that still exist to this day. Also, I became very well acquainted with the hall custodians…talk about the most thankless job on the planet.
Fun on Brent’s Floor
When you sign a resident assistant contract you agree to stage a certain amount of hall activities during each semester. I went a little overboard and staged them on a weekly basis, sometimes even twice a week. Some of my floor activities included: Name That Tune, Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament, culture night with exchange students, karaoke night, 2012 End of the World Debate, bouncy castle extravaganza, Mafia Night, SPOONS, didgeridoo demonstration, Mario Kart competition, and Missoula Restaurant trivia.
In each residence hall at the University of Montana you have a head resident and an assistant head resident in charge of the resident assistants. Both of the positions just mentioned (the term “supervisors” is used as an all-encompassing term) are filled by students as well. For the head resident and assistant head resident the responsibilities and pay are both more than that of a resident assistant. I applied for a supervisory position going into the final year of my time as a resident assistant. I ended up not getting one of the positions and to this day I still consider it as one of my greater personal disappointments.
Believe it or not, back in my day they put us through a month long training/orientation session. Starting at the beginning of August and running until the start of school we sat through lectures, demonstrations, and staff bonding exercises. Although I thought it was pretty excessive I never complained when they took us up to a super nice lake area for the ending portion of the training where they let us enjoy the Montana outdoors and eat like crazy.
Whenever I pay my rent check I always thing about how nice it was to live for free/Whenever I buy groceries I always think about how nice it was to walk 20 yards and eat all I wanted for free/ I don’t miss “making rounds” around the building/ One of the hottest, most gorgeous girls I have ever met happened to be a resident assistant/ Participating in the Homecoming Parade was always fun/ I continue to have a lot of respect for the residence life director who was in the position during my time/ Don’t Blink.