In this week’s installment of Ro&Co, Michelle shares her experience as a Resident Assistant at The University of Chicago and how she manages to balance living and working with her residents with school and her social life. Ro&Co is a series on Xoxo, Rosana that features the experiences of college students just like you, in their own words. You can learn more about Ro&Co here!
Every school has different notions of “the RA” functions, whether it is writing you up for drinking, confiscating your drugs, or just chatting with you; their role is really dependent on where you go to college.
Luckily, at The University of Chicago, we get to be there to support and mentor our residents when they need it; most of the disciplinary tasks get elevated to the higher ups working above us. However, this role of being there escalates the importance of daily interaction – and when you have 100 residents, that can be tough to manage.
To be fair, most residents don’t depend enough on their RA to know what the job entails. There are house activities every night, and a weekly one in my room. There are house trips on the weekends, and sometimes twice a day. There are more events planned outside of the house, for the entire dorm.
Then, there are the meetings! There are housing meetings, meetings with my immediate staff, meetings with the broader staff team, meetings with our house council, and meetings with my co-RA, all of which happen weekly. There are students knocking on my door, accosting me in the hallways, meeting me in the quad, chatting to me on my walks to class. Every time my door says that I am “Home” there are endless knocks, and questions, and concerns. I hear myself saying “Come on in,” on repeat, as the door swings open to let in one more resident.
What they don’t tell you is that it can take over your life. But what they did tell me is that I would love doing it; and I truly, truly do.
Why Its the Best
There is nothing quite like being the person who is simultaneously the friend, the peer mentor, and the kind-of mom. It is the most bizarre mix of lending advice; laughing at their many, many mistakes and silly antics; celebrating their triumphs; and becoming emotionally invested in their well-being. Handling roommate disagreements, noise complaints, etc. is part of the job.
However, the part I found much more surprising was how much I care. When a resident comes to me with a personal problem, an emotional disaster, anything, I feel involved. Every time a resident achieves something we talked about: a relationship fix, a test score, a “talk” with someone close, I feel relieved and happy that perhaps my advice played some part in fixing their issue.
Being an RA is like being perpetually ON. The residents watch what you do, study, eat, drink, everything. They analyze everything they see me doing, and half the time what they find is… intriguing.
My residents once told me there are only three kinds of RAs: the chill RA, the rule-focused RA, and the absent RA. I was petrified they were going to say I was absent, or strict, but alas, I was ~chill~. The compliment surprised me, since many days being an RA involves being a human target for residents to “playfully” roast.
If you know me, truly know me, you probably know that I am most definitely not ~chill~. I am stressed a lot of the time. I always feel like I am one of the many people on campus with a million things to do. I sit, drinking many cups of tea, trying to tackle an ever-growing to-do list.
Balancing the role and my classes is rather challenging. Most residents forget that hello, I am actually a student too. I am a pre-med, Biology major, working on research and doing volunteer work in my “free” time. I have plenty of other things I should be doing besides talking to Trudy on a Thursday night, but often that is what I find myself doing.
It is hard to put up walls, especially when I genuinely enjoy talking with residents and helping with their concerns, but it is also important for me not to get consumed by the residents’ lives. My first quarter, I lost myself in the position, but I’ve been improving on setting boundaries for myself since then.
The first thing I came to terms with is the fact that I’m simply not going to be able to attend everything. There are things I need to do to prioritize my own studies, life, and health, and that takes time away from some house events. Studying outside the room, eating meals away from the house table occasionally, going out with friends, not attending every single house event, choosing when to say, no, I will not do that for you; all of these help.
What helps a little more is roasting residents back, marking on my door sign that I’m “far far away” when I’m truly in bed watching a movie, taking time to be a non-mentor, a non-role model, a human that lounges in her bed or plays games with her roommate until one in the morning because we simply cannot fathom the idea of chipping away at our mountains of work. Oh, and the wine nights, those help too.
It Will Be Ok
In the beginning they tell you not to worry, your residents will respect you and listen to you naturally. They will like you, it’ll be okay. They don’t tell you that you’ll like them just as much; you’ll be interested, engaged, and enthralled by the thousands of decisions (and mistakes) they make. They tell you that you can be there to help them with all of it.
They don’t tell you that you’ll be excited about it; that you’ll love it so much you forget about your own decisions (mistakes) you need to make. So I’m telling you now, no matter how much you love what you’re doing, don’t forget that sometimes you need to do something else. Make sure you balance being a mentor, RA, peer, friend, “mom,” with being a student, a human, a young adult, yourself.
Are you an RA? How do you balance your job and school? Let us know on Twitter @xoxorosana_blog!
Want your 25th hour lifestyle featured on Ro&Co? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org