If you’ve lived on campus, you probably know about them. They might live in the dormitory right next door to you. They have a reputation among students as party killers, maybe even tattletales, but in reality, the job of a resident assistant is not as easy as you think.
“I wouldn’t recommend this job to a shy person,” said Jennifer Noel, a former RA for the Libra community. “I’ve been placed in situations where I felt uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. It can be a pretty intimidating job, but it definitely helps you grow in your confidence and your public-speaking skills.”
Noel was tested early in her career as an RA when she became aware of a student who was unstable and potentially dangerous to himself and his roommate. Over the course of two semesters, Noel listened as student complaints poured in before she realized it was time to take action. The student was eventually involuntarily committed under the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, more commonly known as the Baker Act, and law enforcement discovered that he was involved in undisclosed illegal activities.
“It’s a matter of listening and making a judgment whether you can help or not. Luckily, in this case, I had a great supervisor, and we got the help we needed,” Noel said.
Noel, who graduated in August 2011 with a degree in health services administration, served as an RA from May 2009 to May 2012. During the course of those three years, she witnessed plenty of nightmarish scenarios. But the job is not without more lighthearted moments, such as the time one student took chairs from the common room and rode them up and down the elevator all night.
“He would take all this furniture and make so much noise at 2 a.m.,” Noel said. “Sometimes people would sit with him in the elevator and have a conversation, and I’d be like, ‘What the heck?’”
A common problem for RAs is underage drinking, as Jayson Wadzinski found out during his tenure at Lake Claire. Wadzinski remembers doing a routine fire extinguisher check in the dorms when he found a large stash of alcohol sitting right next to the extinguisher.
“When we inquired about the alcohol, he had a thousand excuses that he tried to use saying that it wasn’t anyone’s in the apartment,” Wadzinski said. “But his stories were just plain crazy. They were all underage to begin with anyway.”
Wadzinski, a senior studying health sciences, was an RA for four years at Lake Claire. For him, one of the most challenging aspects was coming up with entertainment for the students in his building. His favorite activity was hosting games in the style of the Olympics, with events that included pie-eating contests and hula hooping.
“It helped teach me how to manage a schedule of work and school as well as how to plan events on a relatively low budget to still make them fun but inexpensive, both crucial skills for college life,” Wadzinski said.
Although any student willing to live on campus can apply to become an RA, there are strict qualifications. Each student must have a 2.75 GPA before they apply for the position, which they must maintain throughout their employment. A student must also submit to a background check as well as be enrolled in 12 undergraduate or nine graduate credit hours.
For Kevin Lachat, the interview process was different from other job interviews that he had experienced. Although he first had to apply online, the senior civil engineering major had to go through an interview process where his employers emphasized the communication and conflict resolution skills required of the job.
“It’s not like they just asked you questions through an application, instead they try to feel out who you were as a person. It’s kind of unique and different to me, especially when I began to help out with the interview process,” Lachat, who was an RA in Libra for more than two years, said.
But as Wadzinski points out, being an RA was a great way to network and become familiar with a core group of friends nearly every night.
“I feel like I was part of a family. You always had someone to cover for you and you were always able to work something out with [the other RAs],” Noel said. “You can clearly pick out the RA in a person; their personalities help make people feel more comfortable around them. After long meetings, we’d go out, hang out, talk with one another. It really used to feel like an extended family, and people accept you as you are.”
Overall, Noel enjoyed her experience as an RA.
“I keep in touch with a whole bunch of residents. The good times far outweigh the bad times,” she said. “I would do it all over again.”