A friendly face in times of happiness and hardship is one of the most important people we can know. For many of us living on campus, in the present or past, one of these people is our Resident Assistant (RA). They provide support and connect students to resources, ensure safety and security and provide opportunities for community growth.
I am an RA this year, which has come with both more difficulties than expected and more joys. I was hired last February, before anyone knew the world would be shut down in March and that covering our mouths and noses would become universal and essential.
We had one RA leadership class in person before we were online for the remainder of the semester, and I mourned the loss of community with my new colleagues. Then came the decision to return to campus or stay at home for the fall semester — did I want this job that had changed considerably since I had signed up?
I decided that I did and that I felt safe doing so, knowing that I was very fortunate to even be able to make this decision. There was still uncertainty in what exactly life in the residence halls would look like during a pandemic, but I thought I was ready for the challenge.
Throughout last semester, some of the central questions I grappled with as an RA were: How can I build community among over 30 people if we can’t all meet in person? What even does community look like now? How do I balance taking care of myself and supporting residents with classes during a pandemic? Am I really going to be able to remember everyone’s names with masks and on Zoom?
There still aren’t perfect answers to those questions (except for the last one, yes, I do remember everyone’s names), and there aren’t going to be in a human world. With or without COVID-19, all we can do is our best in the moment, no matter what that looks like.
Something that has been beneficial to me as an RA and as a person is to not compare. Don’t incessantly dwell on what life should be now or was last year; instead, focus on the positives today. As many of my residents and co-workers have demonstrated, those of us on campus are very lucky to be here, and it is a blessing we all have the ability to still attend class, even if remote.
Safety is always paramount, so events have been held either in small groups or on Zoom, which was a challenge at first. I’ve learned to especially value human connection, and it’s no less valid whether we’re decorating mugs in the common room in shifts or we’re making Rice Krispy Treats on Zoom.
Community isn’t attained or artificially constructed — it is organic, with growing and changing needs. It is also resilient and collaborative, and I am proud of the one I am an RA to, even if leadership is occasionally scary.
I also have a wonderful support system with my fellow staff members and know I could not have done much alone. Their care and flexibility and encouragement are especially needed, and I am continually impressed by their work, in difficult situations, with bulletin boards and door decs and in doing their best.
Overall, I am incredibly grateful for my experiences as an RA and encourage any who are considering the role to pursue it. The opportunities to build lasting friendships, support communities and grow as a person have all been well worth the struggles and uncertainties. Here’s to another semester.