A new school year is beginning and for the first time in three years, I’m not checking residents into Ross Hall. It was strange this past Saturday, living vicariously through social media and watching move-in day unfold. I don’t necessarily miss the long days of preparation for Welcome Week, but I definitely do miss all the other aspects of the RA experience at Butler.
Early-onset nostalgia has driven me to create this list and it’s only been since May so my intel is still pretty good.
If you’re a new RA, I hope you’ll find some advice and encouragement here. Returners, I hope you’ll read this, nod in agreement, and then show it to a newbie. For non-RA’s, consider this as an inside look into all the unknown elements of this position.
These are the seven-ish best tips I have for new RA’s.
1. Be there for your residents and recognize their differing needs.
Being in charge of 30-40 residents might seem like a tall order, especially when you think about how the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of each one have now become your concern. Add in the fact that each resident has differing needs and you might want to explode with anxiety. But don’t feel overwhelmed! It’s important to remember these needs are on a spectrum. A beautiful spectrum that balances things out.
You’ll have residents who are relatively independent – update them about campus events, chat a little, and they’ll be happy. Other residents might need more attention – maybe they’re having a tough time adjusting to college life, or maybe they just really like you and want to hangout a lot. As you get to know them, you’ll be able to place each resident on the spectrum and you’ll find the perfect balance.
2. Program with a purpose.
I know programming has changed a bit, but I can still confidently tell you that successful programs cater to resident interests. To learn these interests keep it simple: ask them what they want. What kind of life skills do they want to learn? Are they worried about getting BCRs? Do they desire a social event to meet new people? While email polls are hit and miss, in-person conversation is an effective avenue to answer these questions.
Examples of past successful programs include: class scheduling tutorials, attending a speaker for BCR credit, writing notes to long-distance SO’s, and unit fantasy football leagues. These programs all resulted from the ideas of residents and were successful because of it.
*Bonus tip*: Not all programs need to be educational. Have some fun with a movie or game night. These programs are some of the best times to bond and foster real, trusting relationships. Your residents already went to class, let them have fun.
3. Be a friend, but don’t forget your role.
The basic nature of your job as an RA is to build relationships with your residents and help them through the school year. While friendships natural develop with the territory, don’t let the lines between friend and RA become blurred.
It’s perfectly fine to hangout and become closer with some residents more than others (refer to tip #1), but don’t create a clique in your unit and leave your other residents out. That’s bad news bears.
The same goes for enforcing policy: don’t let your residents get away with breaking the rules. It might make you seem cooler, but in the end, your credibility and authority is just taking damage. And since you’re part of a staff, this could also introduce unnecessary challenges for your staff members when they have to enforce policies.
4. Be willing to help.
Do your best to be there for others, even if you’re woken up at 3am and you have your internship and an exam the next morning. All former RA’s can tell you: we’ve been there. Being an RA isn’t always pretty, but do your best to help out your residents and (sometimes more importantly) your staff. It’s the whole “do unto others as you want done unto you” concept, especially with other RA’s.
Trust me when I tell you that the more smoothly a staff runs, the better. Being willing to lend a helping hand when its inconvenient for you or being there for another RA having a long week will go a very long way to building a great staff. Your staff members are the only ones who know what it’s really like. Nobody else can truly relate, so they are your best support system in this position.
Plus you’ll probably end up making lifelong friends with your staff members – as long as you don’t take them for granted.
5. It’s okay to be nervous: learn through experience.
You’ve been through training and BCD, had your first unit meeting, and have started the normal routine of classes by now. You’re finally beginning to scratch the surface of really being an RA, and it might be a little nerve-wracking.
The first big hurdle is always your first incident. When it happens just remember that you’ve been trained for this; you were hired because you can handle it. It probably won’t be pretty and it won’t be perfect. Just do your best. This job is easier said than done, but experience brings confidence, trust me. After a while, you won’t bat an eye at most incidents and will handle them like a pro.
Once you handle an ambulance call, Voban spread, and lockout in the span of 2 hours, you’ll know you made it.
6. Be a person first.
My friend Drew, also a former RA, puts it best: “Starving bakers can’t feed others if they don’t feed themselves first.”
In training you probably heard the saying “Be a person first, a student second, and an RA third.” Please take this advice, it’s the best tip I can give you. Please, please, please make sure you take care of yourself just as much as you take care of your residents, your staff, and your hall. If you’re burnt out from schoolwork or an incident, take time for yourself. Do whatever you need to get back to 100%.
You’re pursuing your own academic and life goals – don’t put them on hold for a job.
*Bonus tip #2*: Don’t forget about your non-RA friends. Your job and staff will be a big part of your life, but at some point you’ll definitely need to get away from it all. Don’t be too busy for your other friends. Sometimes you’ll need to go out and pretend you aren’t an RA for a night.
7. Share the food.
This tip is VERY IMPORTANT also: Free food creates a magnificent incentive for residents to attend your events. The best part of having food at a program is when there are leftovers!
No joke: having leftover pizza, Jimmy Johns, or B-dubs can make a weeknight feel like Christmas. Just be sure to share the love with your staff too, although nobody blames you for putting a little away in your own fridge first ;).
There are many, many more tips I could give to new RA’s, but these seven-ish are the most important in my opinion. So good luck to all of you, I know you’ll do great!
And remember: there’s much more to being an RA than alcohol busts.
Have another tip you want to share? Leave a comment and spread the wisdom.
All gifs via giphy.com.