College is rough. Freshmen come in with the confusion of registration, the emotions of living away from home, the difficulty of navigating campus and the challenges in coursework.
The struggle doesn’t stop after freshman year, though. Upperclassmen have just as much trouble, which is why Resident Advisers are significant to a university.
Their primary goal is to support residents and they accomplish this in a variety of ways. The most direct way is simply welcoming the problems people face and trying to help them through it.
“I try to keep my door open often so that they can stop by if they need guidance on something school-related, an interpersonal relationship or conflict or something more serious,” said Madison Barnes-Nelson, an RA in CM.
Payson Jacobson, a freshman resident in Coughlin, said of her RA, Kelsey Moran, “She’s always there if I need something.”
Though being approachable is a crucial aspect of being an RA, the monthly events they plan also factor into their effect on the residents.
Christa Boone, an RA in Kennedy, recently planned a Teen Homelessness Outreach event in which the participating residents helped put together packages of basic necessities for good hygiene, such as toothbrushes and deodorant, which were then distributed to teens without a home.
Moran planned events that directly related to the things going on in the lives of her residents. Panels of upperclassmen gave them advice on finals and college living, and other speakers discussed mental health to support their experience away from home.
In addition to active events, they prepare passive events, which don’t require attendance. Scattered around every dorm are various posters and bulletin boards that provide a possibility for specific engagement. The information on them is based off specific categories which are part of GRX (Gonzaga Residential Experience). The four categories are: Jesuit engagement, academic success, belonging and personal growth.
At the moment, Boone’s bulletin board is titled “2019 Keys to Success.” On it are several cut-outs of keys with a helpful tip pasted beside each one. These tips revolve around personal growth; her advice includes tips like taking a break when one is needed, doing something relaxing every once in a while and using a planner to keep the day organized.
Some RAs emphasize engagement in the design of their bulletin boards as well. They have random polls made out of construction paper, Spotify playlists or goody bags. They thrive in the creativity, but they also integrate informative topics.
Barnes-Nelson has had an assortment of educational flyers over the year, including sustainability tips, descriptions of clubs on campus and statistics about drugs and alcohol. Getting these details involves collaboration with student clubs and campus offices.
“The purpose of the passive programs is to facilitate conversations in the hall about important issues that affect our campus and community,” Barnes-Nelson said.
Not only are the flyers and bulletin boards useful and creative, but the themes on each floor are sometimes incorporated into them. Boone has most recently used Pixar and Harry Potter as themes for her hall, with door tags of Toy Story characters and symbols of the different houses at Hogwarts.
Barnes-Nelson has used TV shows and Moran has used Spokane in general. Her door tags were cut-outs of Washington with a heart signaling where Spokane is located. In the background were words relating to Gonzaga and the surrounding community, like “Tent City” and “Cookie Night.” She also made posters for the top date spots in the area.
“I think when there are ways that you can pair some sort of… learning outcome with a really funny or really aesthetically pleasing set up on your bulletin board, then that makes it really fun,” Moran said. “And of course, looking on Pinterest for hours on end is a great time. Just by making one poster, even if like one person sees it and gets an idea from that, then it makes it worth it.”
There are others who work non-stop to make sure their residents feel comfortable in their new home. They support each resident one-on-one, plan events to strengthen the community in their dorm and prepare flyers and bulletin boards that are not only informational but aesthetically pleasing as well.
“You have to put a lot of work into it, but it’s worth it and the relationships that you get to build with both your staff and your residents are truly incredible,” Boone said.