Not just disciplinarians: RAs responsible for building community

By James Crowell
February 3, 2011

Vital members of any college campus, the role of a resident assistant is very often misconstrued and overlooked as many students, fail to grasp the actual intent and role of RAs.  This fact is no different at Cabrini.

“Students sometimes believe that all fun must cease when their resident assistant walks into the room,” Susan Kramer, assistant director for community standards at Cabrini College, said.  “People often forget that it was the RA who listened to them as they were going through a hard time or let them in their rooms when they lost their keys or helped them with a roommate or friend conflict.  The job of an RA is not glamorous at times, and the RAs are not often publicly praised for doing a good job.”

“The RA is a student first and they are sharing the same experiences with everyone around them, but they just happen to have a bit more responsibility added to them,” Kramer said.

“The least favorite of an RAs job is confronting their peers for policy violations,” Kramer said.  “They want to make living on campus fun and safe and would much rather have a program or activity with the floor or building than having to confront violations.”

“One of the biggest ways students can help is by informing the RA when they need help, prior to an incident turning into a crisis,” Kramer said.  “If the RA is able to help avert a crisis, everyone’s job will be a lot easier.”

According to Kramer, a good RA is someone who is motivated, both in their academics and within their residence hall.  A good RA is also someone who is willing to dedicate their time to ensure that others are enjoying their experience living on campus and someone who cares about the success of their peers.

Kramer said that some other qualities that enable RAs to do their job better include possessing good time management skills, moral integrity, an ability to communicate, a caring demeanor, a creative mind, the ability to be flexible, an understanding of teamwork, an open mind and being honest.

Kramer said there are currently 30 RAs on campus.

Kramer said that when RAs are on duty, they are required to do many tasks.  The RA on duty must conduct rounds of the buildings and check for safety concerns such as any damage to the building.  Then the RA is responsible for checking in visitors to their building from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. while sitting at the front desk by the entrance of their building.

Kramer noted that Feb. 16 is National RA Appreciation Day, an event that is held every year on the third Wednesday of February.

“The biggest responsibility I have as an RA is to build community,” John Kidd, junior criminology major and a resident assistant in Woodcrest Hall, said.  “I also ensure a safe and fun learning environment for my freshman residents, and I enforce college policies.”

Kidd said that personality plays a lot into how an RA does his or her duties.  “I tend to fool around and have fun, but at the same time I know when to be serious and enforce the rules.”

“Respecting the building you live in is the best way students can assist their resident assistants,” Kidd said.  “You wouldn’t rip the lights out of the ceiling at your home, why would you do it here?”

Kidd said the best way students can help the campus be safer is to just be responsible.

“If RAs had more personal interactions with their residents instead of treating it like a job all the time, I think the public perception of a resident assistant would be  improved,” Kidd said.  “You should be a student and a friend first and an RA second.  RAs are on the same level as all of the other students, it is just that we have more responsibilities.”

“Since I am an RA of all freshman residents, during my hall meetings I explain what the housing process is and how to sign up for housing and where they can live during their sophomore year,” Jamie Tadrzynski, junior history and education major and a resident assistant in Woodcrest Hall, said.  “Often we deal with homesickness in the beginning of the fall semester with our freshman residents.  Adjusting them to college is important.  It can be a drastic change for them since, for many of them, they have never lived away from home.”

“When they get to college, many freshmen get their first taste of freedom and independence and they often aren’t sure what to do with it,” Tadrzynski said.  “So as RA’s we instruct them and mentor them to have fun in a safe and creative way.”

“I decided to become an RA because I thought it would give me good life experience,” Tadrzynski said.  “Since I am an education major, being an RA will give me unequaled preparation to handle students and work on a semi-professional level with having a real job and learning how to mentor students, while at the same time being a college student and having responsibilities.”

Tadrzynski said that while they are on duty, every two hours RAs must perform a check of the building for any vandalism, look out for any roommate or resident conflicts and ensure that the environment is safe and secure to live in.

If an RA observes an incident, they must document it in a communication report, which can take up to three hours, according to Tadrzynski.

Tadrzynski said after group processing day, the possible RAs receive a letter either saying they are hired for the next school year, have been put on a waiting list or are told no.

“I have learned to be blunt with my girls,” Tadrzynski said.  “I don’t sugarcoat what I say when something happens with my residents, but at the same time I make myself easy to talk to and I always ensure that my residents can reach me when they need me.”

“Another difference is how RAs deal with alcohol,” Tadrzynski said.  “I have a zero-tolerance policy for my residents obviously since they are underage and Woodcrest is a ‘dry building,’ where as West’s RAs need to evaluate their residents on a case-by-case basis since many are over the legal drinking age of 21.”

Eion O’Neill, junior communication major and a resident assistant in West Residence Hall, said that a key component of his application process was group processing, in which prospective RAs were placed into groups and a peer-review method was used to evaluate them based on how each person’s skills were determined. Then the professional staff from Residence Life evaluated all of the possible RAs.

“I have always been very conscientious of my surroundings, so that helps when I am on duty,” O’Neill said.  “To advert any potential problem, you have to pay real close attention to what you see, what you hear when you’re doing rounds.”

“I have all juniors and seniors as residents, so it is different from freshmen and sophomores in that the upperclassmen know what is expected from them, are more in-tune to themselves and have a narrow focus on graduating college,” O’Neill said. “RAs that have only freshman and sophomore residents need to function as more of a role model and mentor than RAs who have junior and senior residents.”

“The largest misconception that people have of RAs is that we are ‘out to get people,’ and that is simply not true,” O’Neill said.  “Our main job as an RA is to build community along our hall and our building.  Yeah, we enforce the rules, but that isn’t the whole job.  Not at all.”

O’Neill said the most rewarding facet of being an RA is the programming aspect of the job.

“It’s all worth it when you put on a successful program for your residents and see them appreciate what you do and for being there for them,” O’Neill said.

“It’s important to know that RAs are not just disciplinarians or locksmiths,” O’Neill said. “We are more than that.  We are students and peers as well.”

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James Crowell

Senior com major at Cabrini College. Technical Director for LOQation. On-Air personality on WYBF-FM. Past News editor for The Loquitur, 2011-12. Passion for videography, tech news & quantum mechanics. Follow me @JamesCrowellJr

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