Upon first glance, the role of a Resident Assistant (RA) may seem a bit glamorous. Free room and board, an enhanced meal plan, and all they have to do is sit at a desk once a week and check out items to college kids? Sounds rad.
But an RA’s role is much deeper than that, basically amounting to an around-the-clock on-call job with duties that make them babysitters for the drunk and clueless. The perks are definitely there, but RAs go underappreciated, overworked, and mistreated by students and higher-ups alike.
Your average RA is a full-time student dealing with the usual trials and tribulations of the college student on top of their RA duties. They are required to take on desk duty shifts that run from 8 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and to 2 a.m. on weekends, regardless of their schedules the next day. During these shifts, they serve as concierges to their entire building’s residents. They check out a variety of items to students, they let dozens of students per night into their rooms because the students have locked themselves out, and they otherwise handle any situation that may arise that evening. They go on multiple sets of rounds to assess the safety and conduct of the residents in the building, and they act as first responders to a number of potentially unsafe situations.
For example, RAs often deal with situations where a simple noise complaint turns into a bout with uncooperative, sometimes violent, drunk students. Until campus police arrives, RAs are left helpless and sometimes outnumbered. Other times, RAs are the first to deal with actual criminals, such as the “Cauthorn Creep,” the intruder who had gone on a burgling spree before making a stop at the Cauthorn Residence Hall last year, where RAs were first on the scene after he’d made his leave.
RAs are also expected to be first responders to any and all needs of their residents, and their bosses, as needed during the day. They are responsible for putting on several events in their residence halls throughout the term and for ensuring all pertinent information is delivered to their students, regardless of the student’s willingness to listen.
Pay is delivered in the form of free room and board, the highest tier of Oregon State’s meal plan, and a $50 monthly stipend.
To summarize, being an RA means being a full-time student with a job that can require almost 24 hours of your time with no true means of escape. Working where you live means you should be fairly available at any given time.
One would hope that someone with as much work and responsibility is treated with care and respect by their residents and employers. Well, one would also hope Donald Trump would fade into the darkness, but nothing really turns out the way we hope, does it?
While some RAs can find luck and develop lifelong friendships and genuine connections with their residents, most can expect anything from a passing acknowledgement and tolerance to outright hatred and disdain. For some reason, students consider them enemies. They see them as “the man,” as pawns of “the authority,” and they naturally rebel against them. At times, even personal vendettas arise and those potentially unsafe situations have risen in occurrence.
Then on the other hand, RAs find no blissful relief from their employers as UHDS stiffs them almost as badly. Term after term, RAs are shuffled between buildings and stuck with new supervisors, mostly without any say. Contracts, and as a result the duties of an RA, change at a moment’s notice without any requirement for these student workers to re-sign or agree to their new duties. As such, RAs often find themselves doing more than they signed up for, literally.
You can only imagine how this takes a toll on these student workers. Mental health deteriorates, grades suffer, and general social conduct falls apart. According to a study released in The Journal of College and University Student Housing in 2005, RAs are more susceptible to burnout, specifically depersonalization, which essentially means they feel detached from reality or themselves.
Just read some of the quotes released in the study that RAs said they identified with.
“I feel emotionally drained from my work as a Resident Assistant.”
“I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job as a Resident Assistant.”
“I worry that this job, as a Resident Assistant, is hardening me emotionally.”
“I’ve just become callous toward people since I took this job as a Resident Assistant.”
These sound like quotes from businessmen at the end of their rope after years of menial work, but instead they reflect our best and brightest: college students working as RAs who are meant to be role models for their peers. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) just recently started an RA support group. A SUPPORT GROUP. There is a clear and present problem here and little is being done to help these student workers.
So, if you just so happen to be a student living in a residence hall this term, listen up.
Treat your RAs well.
Be kind. Be educated. Listen to their speeches and try to be cooperative when needed. Go to their events, because they work long and hard planning those things and their success is directly reflected in your attendance. And remember, they aren’t “the man.” They’re a student just trying to get by like you. Be chill and remember they’re just there to help.
Oh, and on a related note: even though weed’s been legalized in our wonderful state, OSU is a federally funded college and as such, that dank law doesn’t affect the college or any of the properties on campus. Regardless of the law, OSU remains a smoke-free campus. So save yourself and your RA some trouble and just leave the weed off campus.
Generally, be wary when you think about crapping all over your RA this term. You never know what they might be dealing with. They might have just spent the night dealing with a crying sorority sister over Mom’s Weekend, because their mom slept with their crush behind their back and it’s just so devastating. They might have been woken up at 3 a.m. to deal with a fire alarm or blackout, having just fallen asleep after a late night of desk duty. Hell, they might have had to deal with their trouble resident who just hailed a slew of profanities and threats their way. You never know.
So just… treat your RA well and maybe they’ll remember you fondly instead of shuddering in fear when they think back to their years at college.
By Nathan Hermanson