Life of an “RA” : Summary

Photo credit: photosteve101 (Flickr) Blog available at: www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/

Photo credit: photosteve101 (Flickr)
Blog available at: http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/

Well, it’s that time of the year. I’ve made it through my first semester of Residential Life at the University of Missouri – Columbia. It’s been really rewarding but there have also been some challenges. All of these things come to mind because it’s also the time of year when student staff members do self evaluations. Those, in and of themselves, are pretty sobering because you’re forced to think about what you’ve done thus far, how you’ve improved and how you need to continue to improve. So, I thought that if I had to write a formal self evaluation I should write an informal blog post as well.

But here’s the thing…if you’ve been reading my weekly posts you know what’s going on. You’ve heard about what challenges I’ve faced and read what seems to be a lot of venting (that was never my intention). So, how will this post be different?– I’d like to take the time to remind anyone thinking about being involved in Residential Life, or remind anyone who’s already a staff member, of all the little things you see in this job that affect your daily life.

These residents, if you cultivate your relationships, even if there’s mishaps with behavior, will end up being your friends. You’ll be able to joke about still stuff, ask them to help load your car (as a joke) and they’ll help, and you’ll be able to be there as their college parent for the year. You get to help them shape how they’ll see their college experience for the next four years. You get to support each other when they’re having bad days and they’ll see when you’re having a bad day.

Portrait of my guinea pigs, Penny (left) and Callie (right).

Portrait of my guinea pigs, Penny (left) and Callie (right).
Photo credit: Stephanie Kawula

In August I thought of my job as an authority figure. While I do wear that authoritarian hat, I also realize that I’m here to guide these 60 students, as well as the students in the rest of the residence hall and the rest of campus,  through their first year of college. I’m a mentor. I’m a therapist. I’m an advisor. I’m a personal entertainer (especially when I’m sleep deprived, which happened a lot this past semester). I’m the girl with the guinea pigs that can make anyone smile. I’m their community advisor.

Until next time, world.

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Life of an “RA” : Maintaining Enthusiasm

Note: You know what’s funny? I make a bunch of drafts of the different posts that I might want to cover. These drafts may sit in my queue for weeks until I’m ready to work on them. When I go back and review them, it seems like my life at that time is just what I need to write that post. This week it’s maintaining enthusiasm.

Photo credit: UCFFool (Flickr)

Photo credit: UCFFool (Flickr)

One of the challenges I’ve been battling lately is maintaining the level of excitement I had in August. Part of it is because I’m physically tired. Another part of it is because less and less people are coming to our events because they’re tired and busy with their own classes. Yet another part is because the rest of the staff is getting irritable, which is really taking a tole on me.

How do you combat this? I’ve found that by actually typing this question, I’m forced to think about it more than I would if I were just thinking random thoughts throughout my day. I’m trying to be productive for myself but also for other “RAs” out there. Of course there’s the ever popular “take a nap” answer. Sometimes I’ll spend time with my guinea pigs and involuntarily take a nap. Sometimes I watch a movie. But all of this is relaxing.

If I really wanted to get more enthusiastic about my job and what I do, I think the only solution is to delve deeper into what I’m supposed to be doing. Make events that are really interesting and interactive. For example, on Thursday my community is having an event where we’re going to show our residents how to properly interview. We’ve made different advertisements than we normally do, as you can see below.

Video credit: potc4ev (YouTube)

Thanksgiving break is right around the corner. Personally, I’ve been counting down the days until this coming Friday for the past two months. No joke. A break is definitely needed to maintain, and even increase, enthusiasm, which is what I think I was trying to get at earlier. You have to be rested and relaxed in order to be excited….at least I do. You have to remember that you’re setting an example for your residents and the other staff members you work with. You have to remember that your work life and your actual life are separate and that you’re not expected to do everything all the time for your job. Maybe we’ll talk about that next week.

Life of an “RA” : Top 10 Questions You Get Asked

I just want to start this post off by saying that there are no stupid questions. I say this because there really aren’t stupid questions…and if there are…. I probably ask a lot of them. 

Welcome back, readers. Being an “RA” I’m sure you assume I get asked a lot of questions. Ding. Ding. Ding. I do! Here is a list of the top 10 questions I hear the most. 

  1. Is this meeting mandatory? Yes, I put “mandatory” in the e-mail for a reason. There’s a lot of important information that you need to hear before you can leave for your breaks.
  2. Where’s the free food? Er, well, most of the events we host throughout the hall have food. We’re not trying to lure you into our events with food, buuuuuuut we secretly are. Also, finals week, oh boy are you gonna love all the free goodies we’re going to buy for you. 
  3. Something in my room is broken can you fix it? I wouldn’t trust my handyman skills, bud. You’re going to have to submit a maintenance request. 
  4. How do I submit a maintenance request? Go to reslife.missouri.edu, along the left side (7th box down) there will be a box that says “maintenance requests.” Click it. It takes you to this new page, which you should read because it’s the instructions for how to fill the form out, but I honestly always ignore it. See the second box on the left, the one that says “request work?” Click it. This is the form in 
  5. I’m locked out, can you swipe me into my room with the master? Yes, technically I can but there’s this wonderful little form you have to fill out which lets you know that you’re still going to get the $10 charge for the temporary card whether you get one at the kiosk or I swipe you in with the master key. 
  6. [After being involved in an information report] What’s going to happen to me? You will die in seven days. I’m going to write a very detailed and unbias report of everything that just happened. Scott Bosley, the Hatch Hall Coordinator, will read this report and start the conduct process. After that point, I have no idea what happens because after I write the information report I am no longer involved in the process.
  7. What are we doing for Family Night? Guys, I’ve told you: we do what you want to do. [Normally, they’re very perplexed by this.] My question for you is, what do you want to do? Watch movies? Go play Bingo? Roller skating? We have money and we can always ask for more money from hall government.
  8. Can I quit college now? No. You can do it! [Insert life story about paying for own college and car and being a first generation graduate.] If I can do it, you can do it! If you need resources, let me help.
  9. What are “quiet hours?” When you’re supposed to be in bed, you night owl. Just kidding, but really. It’s when we’re supposed to be respectful of the fact that other residents are trying to study or sleep.
  10. Can I get a study buck? Are you studying? “No.” Then no. They’re called study bucks for a reason, goofball. 

**Note: these questions were not in order of frequently asked, they’re just in order of how I thought of them. 

Life of an “RA” : Being On-Call

Photo credit: adinuryadin (openclipart)

Photo credit: adinuryadin (openclipart)

Much like doctors, student staff members are expected to be on-call. Although we don’t normally–knock on wood– have to handle medical situations like doctors, we are expected to go through the building two-to-three times a night to make sure everything is running smoothly. We also make sure that the fire extinguishers are fully charged and that there’s no noise violations or alcohol in the hall.

Now, sometimes things get rough. Days (or sometimes nights) where there are home football games are one example. Family Weekend, which was last weekend was also crazy. Homecoming—that’s an ENTIRELY different story and usually a crazy one. But you get the point. Weekends are normally more crazy than the weekdays simply because residents will “pre-game” in the halls before going out for a night on the town.

Photo credit: the1pony (flickr)

Photo credit: the1pony (flickr)

So what are we supposed to do if we find a violation in the residence hall. We write an IR! These are wonderful, in depth and fully detailed reports that describe what happened when and where and so on and so forth. At best they take an hour to write.

Sometimes you get lucky when you’re on call and after you do your rounds you can go to bed. This has been my experience so far *knock on wood* . This streak will break– I volunteered to be on-call on October 26, which is Homecoming. Wish me luck!

Life of an “RA” : Knowing Your Residents

It may not seem like getting your room and meals paid for (a $!0,000 package) requires all the work that’s in the student staff job description but it does. Not only is it important for a staff member to do well in school and be there as a support system, you have to know everyone on your floor in extensive detail. Sure, you go through training and you realize that in order to prevent some bad situations you have to know what’s going on. Sure, getting to know your floor doesn’t seem like a daunting task…until you’re notified that you’re going to get quizzed on everyone.

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland (flickr)

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland (flickr)

For me this quiz was yesterday (Sept. 24, 2013). I was expected to know the 64 residents on my floor, which room they were in, what their major is, where they’re from and their story. Needless to say, this quiz was an eyeopener! I knew 2/3 of the names and about 1/3 in depth.

I believe that if I hadn’t talked to some of my active residents early on in the year I would have been in a worse situation. From listening to these residents and learning what they want to get out of our floor community I have established weekly family nights where some of the more timid students have been able to socialize with others from the different hallways on our floor. For the past month or so we’ve been watching movies and playing games. Now I just have to work on expanding the horizons.

Overall, yes, it’s difficult to learn everything about 64 people in a short amount of time. Yes, I have some catching up to do. Yes, I think—NAY–I know I can do it. I will do it. I am determined to be there for my residents in a way that my student staff member was not during my freshman year. 

Life of an “RA”: Titles

Being a student staff member is a rewarding experience. You get to see freshman enter Mizzou, doubtful of themselves and inexperienced, and you get to see them end their year with satisfaction and aspiration for the next three years. You also have the fun of brainwashing your residents with the new lingo that the University of Missouri Residential Life has created.

My position used to be called a “Resident Assistant,” an RA for short, and they used to live in dorms. Since Mizzou is so proactive in renovations and enrichment experiences within the “dorms,” we have abolished these titles (at least in theory). There are three classifications of student staff members: Community Advisors (CA), Peer Advisors (PA) and Leadership Advisors (LA). We each have our own title-specific duties to attend to, which, for the most part, are self explanatory.

Community advisors, which is what my title is, are responsible for providing service events for all of the residents in the hall. Not all events have to be volunteer work per say but we provide opportunities to build a sense of community among the different floors and within the halls as a whole.

Leadership advisors also enhance the sense of community but there is typically only one LA per hall. LAs provide different outlets for residents to get involved in leadership positions and to develop their leadership skills. The most important job for the LA to accomplish is to lead the weekly hall government meetings in conjunction with the Hall Coordinator, a professional staff member who oversees all of the student staff in a residence hall.

Peer advisors facilitate a Freshman Interest Group, also known as a FIG, during the fall semester. There are many different FIGs across the campus and these individuals work with a Student Coordinator (SC) and a Co-Fac, a professional staff member within the department that the FIG is based. Unlike most professors, PAs have the opportunity to continue their classroom experiences in the halls.

Now that that’s been covered, I bet you noticed that several times within this post already where I’ve said “halls.” Why? — It goes back to the University of Missouri ResLife and the community that we’re trying to establish. The word “dormitory” or “dorm” gives off this sense that parents are sending their children off to a jail cell. MU ResLife wants freshman and any other upperclassmen student that may live in the residence halls to feel like this is their second home. Students are not supposed to feel like they’re being punished for continuing their education. With words like “dorm” can be used (if you’re describing life at Kansas) but for the most part this is one of the hardest perceptions to change.

No one is in trouble if they use these terms at MU but CAs, LAs and PAs work very hard to uphold the Residential Life mission and to make college for first-time students as positive and memorable as possible.