I will never forget the moment that my school, Emmanuel College sent an email informing us that we were going online for the rest of the semester due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a resident assistant in campus housing, I knew it would be a matter of minutes before I received a second notice detailing the important role I would play in this unprecedented time.
Luckily, my college gave us options of how to proceed—I know RAs at other schools haven’t been as lucky. We could move out with the majority of the student body, or sign up to continue working on campus as RAs. I knew I could complete my internships remotely and wanted to be with my family, so I joined the group of many RAs making the difficult decision to move home. I emailed my floor to let them know I was still a resource for them, and have since stayed in contact with my supervisors and staff to extend help in any way I can.
Should I stay or should I go?
The RAs that remained on campus made this choice for a variety of personal reasons, but they all have a shared mission to continue helping others. Kayla Balthazar, a senior and second-year RA, considered many factors when she chose to continue working. “I decided to stay on campus because I could not see a logical way for me to go home. My immediate family lives in North Carolina, and I couldn't afford a storage unit for my things,” she says. “I was also given the opportunity to remain on campus as an RA for other students experiencing hardships, and seeing that I love being an RA and helping others, this seemed like the most realistic option for me.”
Laura Costello, a first-year RA and junior also decided to stay, and made her decision for similar reasons. “I love Emmanuel and I love my living environment here,” she says. “I was offered to work for residence life as a paid position. My family currently isn’t able to fully support me financially, and I knew it would be a challenge for them if I did come home, especially with them not knowing whether their income would be lessened or nonexistent due to the current situation. I also felt somewhat responsible as a future returning RA to make sure the people who couldn’t go home knew that I was a person they could rely on. I never want anyone to feel like they don’t have a home or a person they can rely on at Emmanuel.”
With the majority of students gone, RAs who stayed on campus have noted a lot of changes in their college environment. “Campus has been a lot quieter with a lot of the student population gone. It’s been sad to see a campus that used to be teeming with life now so deserted,” says Nadel Henville, a first-year RA and sophomore. “There’s no laughter heard in the common spaces, there’s no rush hours at the cafes, and it’s been a major switch in campus life.”
Laura agrees. “It’s sad!” she says. “On a really nice day out, almost every student that attends Emmanuel can be found on the quad and those are the moments I love most. But currently, Boston’s raining and gray, no one’s on the quad because people on campus are social distancing, and campus safety officers and residence life staff are the only people I’m seeing.”
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How RA roles are changing
Reflecting the changes on campus, the RA role is also adapting to fit the needs of the Emmanuel community during this challenging time. “My responsibilities have changed immensely,” Kayla says. “Where my normal duties would be planning programs and checking in with students, I am now simply monitoring the campus for when people need to finish collecting their things and most days just sitting around waiting for instructions on what to do next. I'm more involved in the background things now, figuring out how to handle logistical things such as housing selection and summer inquiries.”
Even with students scattered around the world, Emmanuel’s Office of Residence and Housing is working hard to maintain a sense of community. “EC Res Life is becoming more active on as many platforms as possible, interacting with students through the screens so that they don’t feel alone during this self-quarantine,” Nadel explains. “With weekly trivia, videos, and TikToks, EC Res Life is trying to make sure students don’t believe they’re alone during these events.” This also isn’t the end of programming for RAs. “EC Res Life has an amazing social media presence through Twitter and Instagram,” Laura says (check out @ECResLife!). We will continue programming but through these outlets to connect students and make them still feel like a part of the EC community.”
Worry for the future
With a high volume of changes in a short amount of time, RAs remaining on campus have a variety of concerns. As an RA for first-year students, Nadel worries about how this will impact her residents’ transition back to college. “I’m worried about my residents not getting their full experience during their first year as a college student,” she says. “I’m worried about home environments not being the ideal space for them to be mentally and emotionally, especially when they’re trying to acquire an education. The spring semester can be vastly different than the fall, and I’m worried about these events possibly making their next year harder than it should be.”
Despite being an RA for upperclassmen, Laura shares many of Nadel’s concerns. “I’m worried about my residents who have gone home and the residents that are still on campus. I’m worried that some students might get really lonely during this social distancing, but I try to encourage them to stay connected through FaceTime, and possibly use this time to pick up a hobby or craft.”
Fortunately, there are still a lot of things RAs are looking forward to. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting to know the other RAs from other buildings. I’m also a person who does really well independently and am excited to have more me time through social distancing. I plan to create more art and explore new music during my extra ‘me’ time,” Laura says.
“I’m excited about the online programming opportunities and seeing just how far our reach can be when everything goes virtual,” Nadel says. “I’m looking forward to staying in contact with my friends and residents, and getting through this together, as a community. Even apart, together we are strong.”
I can say from personal experience that being an RA is often a challenging and thankless job, and these circumstances only exacerbate that. If you know any RAs staying on your campus, check in on them and stay tuned for any digital programming they do!