Updated on February 14, 2018
My Experience as a Resident Assistant: From Knockout to Mom Jeans
An easy way to figure out what a resident assistant (RA) does is to think about your mom. You know how you call your mom when you’ve got a problem you can’t solve yourself, like taking a stain out of your favorite shirt? So, residents call their RA and ask them how to drop a class after the deadline. RAs are also placed in residence halls in order to stop karaoke night running into quiet hours, among other possible sources of mayhem. At Notre Dame de Namur University, where I’m an resident assistant, RAs also build community by organizing “walkovers,” events where we attend a chocolate fest or a lacrosse game as a group; or the RAs host “do nut stress” study breaks, where students drop in for a treat during finals.
I applied for an RA position at the end of my first year in college. I was ready to put on my mom jeans and guide freshmen through their initial year at university. Instead, I was assigned to be in charge of a hall with upperclassmen (third- and fourth-year students). I looked at my list of residents and I was “shook”—everyone was older than me. Being an RA for students who already have gone through their first two or three years of college was intimidating, because they would have experience and wouldn’t need me in the way I expected.
My challenge the first few months of being an RA was earning the respect of all my residents, despite my age. How do you tell someone who’s old enough to be your uncle to turn down the music?
Then one day I was attending Argo Madness, the annual basketball season kickoff in the gym. The event featured a game of knockout with a duffel bag stuffed with gear as the prize. My residents dragged me onto the court, probably thinking I was going to embarrass myself and they would get a good laugh when I was the first eliminated. They didn’t know I had been on the basketball team in high school. As the competition went on and I stayed in the game, my residents started cheering me on from the sidelines. When I eliminated the last player, there was a big cheer and we all danced together to celebrate.
From that day forward, my residents saw that we had something in common—in my case, it was basketball, but any number of things could have built that tie. After creating a connection, I noticed my residents trusted me more, and the respect was building. They began to come to me with issues, which I helped them solve; and with their accomplishments, which I shared their pride in.
As an RA, it’s not easy to be an authority when dealing with your peers. During the day everyone is just a student, but at night my role shifts. It’s difficult when I’m documenting a student violating a policy and then the next day I have to act like nothing happened as we’re in class together discussing the reading.
It’s not my job as an RA to get people in trouble, or as my residents like to say, to be “the feds.” I try to explain to my residents and peers that whatever I do is part of the job that helps me stay enrolled in college. That breaks the tension a little. Besides, it’s more paperwork and less sleep for me to document incidents, so I just ask, please follow the rules.
There are some personal rewards to being an RA. At Notre Dame de Namur University, we have a tradition that parents or other loved ones write a letter to new students when they drop them off at the residence halls at the beginning of the semester. The RA keeps the letters until midterms, a stressful time for all students. I get to be the one who knocks on their door and surprises them with this note of encouragement from their closest loved ones. It’s not unusual for both the student and the RA to shed a tear when they read that letter.
Joscelyn Q. Pardo is a student worker in Marketing and Communications at Notre Dame de Namur University, a sophomore majoring in psychology, and an RA in a residence hall.
For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page.