By: Max Bruns ~Advertising Manager~
Xavier’s office of Residence Life selects resident assistants (RAs), the position I served in, who have a genuine care and concern for others. Xavier RAs jump at the chance to serve their residents and one another. They are kind, caring, smart people who aren’t afraid to make tough decisions quickly and who act with integrity. RAs are on the front lines every night, responding to social, mental, physical and emotional calls for help. They exhaust themselves with the problems of their residents, and they do it because they have a love in their hearts for their fellow women and men. While I was on the team, I witnessed amazing feats of compassion and strength, and I saw RAs sacrifice a lot to be able to serve. It was more than a full-time job; it was a lifestyle.
I speak so highly of resident assistants because they are the people who had the most positive impact on my life besides the residents themselves. I am so happy to have served amongst them. These accolades come with a heavy price for the RAs themselves, however. Everyone knows that the job must be difficult for the average RA, but not everyone knows why.
See, the position of resident assistant is a position that employs a full-time undergraduate student to assist in the general flow of life for other full-time undergraduates. This is a big job, as the average full-time undergraduate needs help with everything from moving in on the first day of college to moving out on the last. We need to know who to call if someone has alcohol poisoning, where to go if our friend gets assaulted, where to report that we’ve lost an item, how to get in touch with professors and staff members, etc. We need showers and heaters fixed and toilets unclogged. We need advice on social interactions gone wrong. We need shoulders to cry on and friends to laugh with. In a lot of ways, the first person we might turn to in these situations could very easily be our RAs.
Now, RAs are equipped to deal with many of these situations. But the problem comes when RAs are not equipped as they are also just human beings who happen to have a ton of responsibility. When an RA is put on the front lines of duty on a Saturday night and chaos in the form of raging parties, sobbing drunken first-years and roommates fighting loudly ensue, an RA is not always prepared to deal with it. The Res Life solution to this problem is to give the RAs a rulebook, a play-by-play that outlines in exact detail every step that the RA is supposed to take to ensure that nothing gets out of hand, ignoring that not every situation fits into a rulebook and some situations are already out of hand when the RA gets there. It’s a fallible system because a rulebook is too simplistic; it may even hinder the RA’s ability to deal with situations in a creative, human way.
Ultimately, the disconnect between university liability and RA response capacity is not the fault of Res Life. Res Life is a part of the larger machine that reports statistics on how smoothly this university is running, and if Res Life can’t teach an RA how to check every box in every situation so that the administration is happy, Res Life, and thus the RA, is at fault. But the problem is that RAs are human, and sometimes their desire to care for the residents in a way that doesn’t check every box in the rulebook outweighs their concern that the administration might be kept happy. In short, RAs have pressure on all sides, and there is, as I see it, no easy solution to their problems. So next time you see a stressed out RA, thank them for trying to fit creative human responses into heavily red-taped, administrative blowback because ultimately, they just want everyone to be happy.