When coming into first year at university, there are a couple of preconceived expectations that anyone living in residence will have. We all know the basic structure: on moving day, you’ll be faced with a bunch of strangers who are just as flustered as you are, you’ll (most definitely) have to share a bathroom with multiple others and your don is the king/queen of your floor. Whether your school calls them dons, RAs or anything else, this last rule is fairly universal. I had this in mind while lugging the contents of my future dorm room up many flights of stairs, but what I wasn’t expecting when I was greeted by my don was that she would point me to her own room and tell me that we were going to be roommates. I definitely felt like a deer in headlights — I hadn’t considered this at all. However unexpected, rooming with her taught me a lot about university life and both sides of residence.
1. They’re just as nervous as you are.
Although I was caught off-guard when I first learned that I’d be living with the don, she had had months to consider the fact that she would be living with three first-year students. Dons were once first years too so they are no strangers to the attitudes that some students have towards them. After the general awkwardness of the first few days passed, she revealed to me that she was scared that our other two roommates and I were going to resent her — she was worried that we would be upset or angry for having to live with the don and would hate her. Though we all got along beautifully and she is a delightful person, she still often reminisces about her feelings of anxiety that she had at the start of the year.
2. Your don is not a drill sergeant.
It’s common to hear stories about crazy-strict dons because those are the only stories that we tend to tell. After all, a chill don doesn’t make for a great story, even though they’re much more appreciated. It’s important to keep this in mind because as mentioned, they were also first year students once upon a time, so they get it! More often than not, you’ll have an understanding and sensible person looking after the floor.
3. But you also won’t be throwing any parties.
Sorry, but even chill dons can’t really let you get away with throwing a rager in their room. It’s just one of those things. That just means you’ll have to go elsewhere to party and then you don’t have to deal with the post-party cleanup in your space!
4. You have an invaluable encyclopedia of university knowledge right in your room.
This is definitely the biggest point and one that I’m very grateful for. My don was an upper-year student who had been very involved with clubs and organizations throughout her whole university career. She knew the ins and outs of how the entire school worked: where everything is, what services the school offers and where to find them, how your school invoice works, how to navigate school culture and pretty much anything else you might want to know. It’s different than searching online to find answers because your don has lived it and knows all the little details that the websites leave out. It’s awesome to have an experienced student to refer to when you’re unsure about something. For example, she let me know on Halloween that no one dresses up in costumes for class (which was different from how things worked at my high school). You can’t learn the social norms of the school from anyone but an upper-year student, which made integrating a lot simpler.
5. They’re underappreciated.
I think students tend to villainize their dons just because they’re an authority figure. After seeing it first-hand, I can certainly say that being a don is a job. It’s thankless, tiring and 24/7. No one likes to be the one to break up parties and then get disrespected by the students having them, or be responsible for the whole floor at all times every day of the week, or stay up until stupid hours of the night to be on duty, but all of these things are their job. My don would come to me and my roommates all the time with new stories of people being rude to her when she’s just trying to do her job (by the way, don’t be mean to the dons! They will not want to be cool and understanding if your floor is full of brats).
At the end of the day, your don is there to help you and to be a transitional resource throughout your first year. Living with my don as a first-year gave me a unique, double-sided perspective of residence life and I am very thankful to have lived together.