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I’m an RA (Resident Assistant) at Merrill College at UCSC. This is my second year being an RA, and I feel like I’ve seen it all. While there is of course no universal RA experience, here are some of my personal takeaways:


There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that residents don’t see.

If the Housing Office is the director of the show, then RAs are the stagehands. Our behind the scenes work begins before the school year formally starts. A few weeks before the quarter begins, RAs have to come to campus early for training. We still had to move in early this past year, and training was over Zoom due to COVID. I’m not immune to Zoom fatigue, and it definitely hit me hard even before classes started. During training, our days are packed with information sessions and group activities, and nights are usually spent making door decs and preparing for residents to arrive. Once residents move in and the school year starts, we have weekly staff meetings and individual one on one meetings with our supervisors. We’re intermittently “on call” where we carry a very outdated, but much-loved, Samsung flip phone and respond to lockouts, impromptu move-ins,  and other issues residents may have when the Housing Office isn’t open. Besides these more formal aspects of the job, I also schedule and plan virtual programs, check-in with residents individually, write emails and newsletters, follow-up on any community issues, and help the Housing Office with any miscellaneous tasks they need. RAs often have to help out with things you wouldn’t expect. The infamous Fall 2019 PG&E power outages required speedy RA mobilization to ensure that buildings without power could still function as normally as possible. At the end of the day, if it impacts the residential community in any way, RAs are bound to get involved somehow. 


RAs wear many hats

As an RA, I wear many hats. I’m a community builder, policy enforcer, emotional support resource, amateur event planner, pseudo-artist, knock-off camp counselor, etc.

Some days I wear more hats than others, while other days I can relax and only wear one. I definitely wear some hats better than others, and still struggle wearing some confidently. I sometimes feel scatter-brained because I feel like I’m being pulled in so many directions and don’t know which hat to put on first. I’ve come to realize that this is okay though, because no RA is perfect.


We live where we work 

This might seem obvious if you’re an RA, but I didn’t truly know what this entailed until I actually started. I’m used to having things pop up in the middle of the night or even before my alarm clock goes off in the morning. Getting a 3am lockout call isn’t unheard of, and in a way is a right of passage for RAs. Now with COVID, staying in your room is (rightfully so) the norm. Because of this, it feels harder to find moments where I can separate myself from the RA job and claim my role as a student. I’ve gotten knocks on my door during zoom class and discussion section presentations, and it sometimes feels overwhelming. I’ve thankfully found ways to set boundaries and manage this.


COVID impacts the job

As the ongoing pandemic has touched all aspects of life, the RA job is no exception. Campus housing is significantly reduced, and numerous COVID policies have been enacted to ensure campus health and safety. Prior to residents moving in this past fall, I drafted a plan to make sure things would run smoothly in the building while adhering to new COVID policies. How would we all share a communal bathroom and maintain social distancing? I was a returning RA, but navigating this was all new to me. This was a lot more stressful than I anticipated, and I think this is when I fully realized how different things would be. Admittedly, it’s harder to find this silver lining now that COVID policy has restricted so much in person interaction. I miss talking to other RAs in person and running into residents at the dining hall. It sometimes feels difficult to still build a community while making sure everyone stays safe. Since some of the more fun social aspects of the job are gone, it sometimes feels like a big part of our job is obsolete. Even so, I’ve learned that building community is still possible with a bit of creativity and determination! 


We don’t target residents when enforcing campus policy

We honestly don’t get any joy from “writing you up.” Trust me, there’s no superiority complex at play here. Realistically, documenting incidents just makes more work and follow-up for RAs, so there’s really no incentive to do so. RAs don’t make the rules, but it’s our job to enforce them and help residents understand why certain policies are in place. Especially in light of COVID policies, I feel like it’s more important now more than ever to document anything that can put the community at risk. Keep in mind, these policies all apply to RAs too. So, we’re all in this together!  


We genuinely care about our residents 

We really do want to see you thrive and be successful. I love when residents tell me how they’re honestly doing and feel comfortable enough to share their big and small victories. I’m so happy when my residents share that they secured a cool research opportunity or let me know about a great new campus organization they joined. Nothing makes me happier than residents reaching out and communicating with me about things they’re excited about or need help with. That’s why I'm here!


A lot of the time, being an RA is giving pep talks to residents when you need a pep talk yourself. But at the end of the day, I love being an RA. I always remember the times when a resident has complimented my door decks, written me a sweet note, or thanked me for putting on a program they enjoyed. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s really the small things that make all the difference.

Howdy! I'm Jackie, and I'm a third-year History and Politics double major and Education minor at UCSC. I'm also the Events Director of HerCampus at UCSC. In my free time, I enjoy reading, knitting, listening to 80's music, and squirrel-watching!
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