Becoming a Resident Assistant: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

Being an RA simply isn’t for everybody. It is neither glamorous nor easy, and for some, the challenges outweigh the benefits. Before deciding whether or not being an RA is for you, it’s worth remembering what an RA actually is, or, even better, is not. An RA is not a whistleblower or snitch. An RA is not, on the other end of the spectrum, a mother or babysitter. An RA is an advocate, and sometimes a friend, but she is first and foremost the go-between for residents and campus authorities. So let’s look at the life of an RA, for better and worse:
The Good
First off, the benefits of being an RA can be pretty huge depending on your campus. Some schools provide free housing for their RAs, while others compensate with hefty paychecks. The best part, though? Having a single. Especially after the challenges of freshman-year rooming, having a dorm to yourself is a pretty enormous relief.
Being an RA also looks fantastic on a professional resume. It demonstrates that you’re responsible, mature, and independent, and it’s a position that puts may of your skills to the test. You have to stay organized and set an example for an entire floor of students, which is a true testament to your abilities.
This may also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career. You get to be a role model for any number of women, which is incredibly fulfilling. In a few cases, you may even make a critical difference in someone’s college life; whether it’s solving roommate conflicts or giving much-needed advice on first year survival, you could be the difference between a wonderful freshman year and transferring to another school.
The Bad
Bad is a strong word, but in some cases, it does apply. First off, you’re probably going to be surprised at how much responsibility being an RA entails. Orientation and your initial application interviews filled you in on all the logistical elements of the position, but the day-to-day life of an RA can’t really be summed up so neatly. Each RA’s situation is unique; depending on your residents and campus policies, you may end up hosting weekly hall meetings to remind people not to have shower sex—or you may never speak to your residents other than during obligatory residential life events. The bottom line is that being an RA is a 24-7 job; even when you’re not on call, you’re expected to be available for your residents just in case. You might get lucky and have an exceptionally well-behaved hall of residents, but you may just as well get stuck with a hallway of late-night partiers.
The Weird
As indicated in the paragraph above, being an RA is a gamble; your experience depends immensely on your residents, something you can’t anticipate the summer before you begin. The weird comes in when you find yourself surrounded by residents who go beyond rambunctious and loud. This includes: dirty (as in residents who never bathe or leave food around); sex-crazy (disturbing the entire hall with her nightly, loud, evening romps); emotionally disturbed (texting you with personal problems or knocking on your door every other hour); and just plain strange (holding abstaining from clothes whenever possible)—and yes, those are all based on true stories. My RA experience was a mix of Good, Bad, and Weird. It was disturbing, exhausting, uncomfortable, but ultimately one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.

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