My View from South Hill
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
“Underappreciated, taken for granted, our bulletin boards defiled, our phones ringing at 3:00 am, yet I wouldn’t trade this job for anything else.”
That is how one Resident Assistant, RA for short, described her job to me. Ithaca College employs about 120 students to serve as RAs, each responsible for the overall supervision of 15 to 50 fellow students (more in the College Circles apartment complex).
Being an RA is a great leadership experience, beginning with the formal training during which one RA reported to me that she learned about “every situation imaginable, [and was plied with] resources, phone numbers, and handbooks.” RAs describe the challenge of quickly getting to know 30 or more fellow students – not just their names and faces but also their personalities and how to create a “fun, educational, safe, and comfortable living environment in the res halls.” Cultivating a cohesive culture in which everyone feels at home can be a challenge in team and community building that leaves RAs more confident and outgoing as a result of seeing what they are able to accomplish. One RA, an international student, told me he has learned to identify and be an early responder to students who are depressed or beginning to seclude themselves. Another described the satisfaction of helping a first year student, whose high-functioning autism left him socially awkward, make friends and become a valued part of the floor.
RAs can anticipate some tasks like creating a sense of community on their floor, but other challenges have to be responded to on the fly. One RA this fall heard a fire alarm go off just as he stepped out of the shower and into his room wearing only a towel. His duty was clear: to make sure all the residents made their way quickly outside. Did he have time to get fully dry and to dress? Our intrepid RA put duty first, and led the way outside wearing only some very moist shorts.
Sooner or later, RAs may face a more serious crisis. One told me that in her first semester on the job there was a sudden pounding on her door in the middle of the afternoon. A student a few floors up in the East Tower was suffering from a seizure. The RA raced up the stairs and found a young man lying on the floor with a nasty bruise on his forehead where he had fallen. His girlfriend was next to him, panicked and not knowing what to do. The RA got the young man onto his side and called Public Safety, who in turn brought in a medical first responder team.
What runs through your mind in a moment like that? Reflecting back, this RA told me of her realization that “these guys who ran around looking for me could easily have been the same guys I wrote up the previous weekend … [for a rules infraction]. Yet here they were coming to me for help with a situation that honestly scared me. … When I came, things became organized and calm. We all supported each other to make sure things turned out right. And they did.”
When I ask RAs about the greatest rewards of their job, they describe the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference. The RA who responded to the seizure still exchanges a special smile with the girl she first met sitting on the floor scared there might be something seriously wrong with her boyfriend. The RA who helped the first year autistic student is now helping him put together a showing of the work he has done in the Park School. Another RA speaks of the satisfaction of seeing someone on campus who she helped during an especially difficult time in her life two years ago, someone who was then thinking about leaving college but who is now helping others as an RA herself. Many RAs tell me this is the experience they will most treasure from their undergraduate years, both for the friends they have made and the life lessons they have learned.
Ever wonder what it would be like to recognized as a leader among your peers? To have people look to you for answers, and to find out that you are up to the challenge? Ithaca College is looking right now for a few good women and men to serve as RAs next semester. To find out more, and to apply to be part of this special group of student leaders, go to /reslife/ra/index2.htm.
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