Shit-faced. Wasted. Passed-out. These are the three words most commonly heard on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights on a college campus. That frequency doubles, maybe even triples if you happen to be the RA (Resident Advisor) of a first-year dorm. Traditionally, RAs were seen as the student police of college dorms, perhaps comparable to hall monitors in middle school and high school. However, today (as the Residence Life office likes to describe it at my university), an RA must not act as a police officer, or a mother for that matter. It is not our direct responsibility to discipline these “wild” beings, nor are we supposed to pick up after them as a maternal figure would supposedly do. At the same token, we’re not really their friends either. So the question is my friends: What are RAs then? What is our role in the lives of not-so-innocent first year college students?
This is the question I have quite often pondered. The housing office tells us to maintain a fine line between the so-called authority figure and the friend. They never really tell us when or how to go about doing this, rather leaving it to us to decide, which may not be the safest option in many cases. We, too, are students who like to party and drink as much as any other first year and sometimes we need assistance in making decisions as well. For me personally, anything can be resolved with a firm, friendly approach much more than an authoritative one. For instance, with regards to drinking in dorms–you are innocent until proven guilty. I’m not going to lurk in the bathroom or press my ear to your door for any mention of “vodka,” “let’s take shots,” or “oh shit, the RA’s coming!” just to have a reason to bust you. If I don’t deliberately hear or see you disobeying policies right in front of my eyes, you are innocent. Case closed.
This seems like a straightforward approach, but one may be deceived in finding out the amount of RAs that play the police officer approach, completely abusing their limited authority. We’re in college. It’s fair to say that we should be treated like adults, even the unruly first years.
Although his year will mark my third and final year as an RA, the journey definitely hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent many a night helping residents clean up vomit from hall floors, trash cans, and mattresses at the sake of my own beauty sleep. I have spent nights staying up, listening to my residents voice their social, personal, or academic concerns. I’ve spent nights worrying about residents that were admitted to the hospital due to alcohol-related injuries or contagious diseases. The experience has been tricky, although ironically worthwhile.
Every now and then when I’m woken up by a call or text, I rush to answer it, so accustomed to the “fight or flight” response due to emergency situations I’m required to face on the job. Then, I think, “Wait, it’s summer. I shouldn’t be worrying about this.” And thankfully, most of the time, I am right–it’s just a friend texting me to see if I’m free for the day.
A couple of days ago, however, I did have reason to worry. I saw a text from one of my closest residents (from last year) blinking on my phone. The message read that she wanted to call me. I hoped it wasn’t anything bad. She asked me for help on figuring out her schedule, what I thought about it, and other non-academic related topics. Even after three months from the end of the school year, when I officially wasn’t her RA anymore, it pleased me to think that she not only considered me her resource, but rather her friend, whose opinions she valued and respected. After living and surviving with twenty girls for almost a year, as an RA you tend to form close ties with at least several of them. When they remember you and continue confiding in you as a friend–moments like these make the experience completely worth it.
All those sleepless nights spent cleaning up vomit can be forgotten in an instant and replaced by memorable conversations and everlasting friendships. And who knows? Maybe they’ll have your back one day, just like you had theirs 😛