Resident advisors (RAs) want you to know that they are not out to get you.
Despite many of the misconceptions about RAs, they do not spend most of their time seeking out trouble and writing up policy violations. In fact, RAs spend most of their time writing emails, filling out spreadsheets and connecting residents to campus resources.
Marc-Anthony Valle ’22 is one of the Platt RAs who is seeking to dispel this misconception.
“People often look at RAs as police and I think that’s very toxic,” Valle said. “My concerns as an RA are safety, courtesy and my general well being.”
Another RA, Ferdinand Sawyer ’22 from Forest, feels that the assumption RAs seek out trouble comes from the fact that many residents do not attend community builders and only interact with their RAs when they are written up for a violation. Sawyer views being an RA as something bigger.
“I know people are under the impression that our job is to get people in trouble, which is honestly not what I do,” Sawyer said. “Part of my job is documenting policy violations, but that’s a small part of it and my least favorite part of my job.”
Instead, RAs spend much of their time planning events and connecting with their residents. On weekends, RAs serve 24-hour shifts in their halls. They are required to attend two week-long trainings during both the summer and winter. With so many duties other than reporting policy violations, it is important that RAs want to be more than “police,” according to Valle.
Ezri Reyes ’22 became an RA in Copeland because they felt an urge to care for other students.
“I am a very social person and I’m always with my family,” Reyes said. “The idea of taking care of a space is super important to me and the fact that we have a bunch of students living together is a really special thing.”
For Sawyer, being an RA is also another opportunity to spread positivity.
“I am in a position of at least some authority and I really appreciate that I can use that to smile at somebody,” Sawyer said.
RAs connect with their residents through required activities, such as community builders and one-on-one meetings with residents, but also through other interactions. They write out their residents’ names on door decks and may give out goody bags or hold weekly breakfasts.
One of the ways Valle has tried to learn about his residents and urge them to interact with each other is through “rays of sunshine.” This refers to a board on the lower floor of Platt East that has all of the residents’ names on envelopes, where others are encouraged to leave kind notes. Valle purposefully put the board on the lower floor to encourage mixing between the floors.
Most of the time, Valle builds community through small, seemingly mundane interactions.
“A lot of the time, and I’m tempted not to say this because then everyone will know my tricks, but whenever I hear people in the lounge I take my tea kettle and fill it up and while I’m there, (I) talk to people,” Valle said. “I’ll go upstairs to fill up my water bottle, so there’s a lot of tricks to catch people unaware to get to know them better.”
The tips and tricks RAs use to interact with their residents varies by person and their individual skills. Reyes uses their hair cutting skills to connect with residents by offering a service many need after being away from home for months. Reyes has also bonded with Copeland residents by putting up a chalkboard.
“One time I came back super late from a rehearsal, maybe at 1 a.m., and I saw my residents making pancakes,” Reyes said. “I had just put up the chalkboard that week, so I offered it to them (to draw on) and when I came back, the whole thing was a landscape scene.”
Valle also strengthens bonds with community members by taking the required task of emailing and turning it into something fun. He frequently spends hours crafting fun and exciting emails for residents.
“I write my emails very silly, just scatterbrained and goofy because it’s so much information,” Valles said. “Oftentimes it’s the information people aren’t interested in.”
While a lot of the daily tasks RAs do are lighthearted, they also have serious responsibilities. If one of their residents is struggling academically, they may get an email from Student Support Services asking the RA to check in with the resident. RAs also serve as mandatory reporters, meaning that if they hear any concerning information at any time, they are required to report it, whether that be about mental illness, sexual assault or substance addiction.
This is an important part of being an RA for Sawyer, who has had students come to them in need.
“Sometimes stuff is hard, and for people to tell me when they’re having a hard time with something is really meaningful to me,” Sawyer said. “Even people who I’m not necessarily close to as friends, they know that I am a figure who wants to care for them.”
With the many duties of an RA, there are many different types of approaches. According to Sawyer, there is not one type of RA and they are not just “student police” or inherently “bubbly, out-going people.”
Valle has also noticed these assumptions and plays off of them to deeper his bond with residents.
“There’s such an archetype of what an RA is and I think it’s hilarious,” Valle said. “I like to play into it, but having authentic relationships underneath that is really helpful.”