Being a resident assistant (RA) isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. The free double room to yourself and the discounts on board (depending on how long you’ve been an RA) are often what draw people into the position. I, on the other hand, do it for the first-year residents I work with, but I still ask if it’s worth it from time to time.
There’s a lot more that goes into being an RA than one would think before being one themselves. After getting the position, I thought it was going to be a blast and a breeze. The first one is true for the most part, but the latter is so far off the mark. As an RA, you get to be a part of a community that really grows together, which is a great experience. Over the past two years in this position, I have loved making new friends on my staff and on other staffs; we all share something in common that the rest of the student body doesn’t quite understand.
But my time has definitely been riddled with struggles. Last year took a heavy mental and emotional toll on me from all the situations I had to handle, from high-level alcohol incidents to suicidal ideation. Often, the residents you work with, especially first-years, forget that you are a student and that you are there for all the residents, not just one student in particular. Residence Life also forgets our educational responsibilities from time to time, even though they do their best to be considerate of our other priorities.
This year, I have 20 residents, compared to the 25 I had last year. So far, the residents have been respectful of our space and me, unlike last year, but I don’t want to jinx myself. I love being an RA and I love the impact I get to make on these students' lives, but I do think that there needs to be more of an awareness of the work we do as RAs.
The impact on our emotional and mental stability is a lot, and there’s not a lot we can do about it. We are RAs always. 24/7. We don’t get to turn it off or turn residents away. If someone really is in need, no matter the time or what you’re doing, you need to be there for them. There were times last year that I was handling a situation until three or four in the morning and then still needed to complete my homework afterward.
And remember that double room to yourself and the help with room and board? Well, some students have to live in a designed single as an RA, which is still a room to themselves, but not always how it is marketed. Then, there is a process of how we receive ‘discounts’ on our tuition: for the first time being an RA, you receive free room. In the second year, you get free room and 1/4th of your board. In the third year, you get free room and 1/2 of your board.
Some schools give free room, free board, and paychecks to their RAs. In my opinion, this is how it should always be. There is a huge toll that we all take in one way or another for it, and I think the extra payment for the position only makes sense. However, that is not why I do this position, I remind you. I continually choose to be an RA to help the first-year students I work with to be more comfortable through one of the biggest changes in their lives.
Hopefully this quick preview into being an RA gives you more perspective about what we do. If you currently are in college and have an RA, I highly recommend you show your appreciation for all they do in some way. Write them a card, give them some candy, or even just say thanks. I promise it will brighten their day and make it feel all the more worthwhile for sticking around.
All of this is based on my own personal experience; not everyone faces the same situations that I did/do. And I am in no way trying to discourage people from being an RA. As I said, I love the position. I just don’t like the little consideration that sometimes goes along with it.