Ahh, dorm life—a sweet new taste of freedom and the power to come and go as you please. The possibilities are endless! But wait; here comes your R.A. to break up the fun. That killjoy…
R.A.s have a gotten a bad rap for years as dorm downers who look for ways to get you in trouble, but they’re really students, just like you. They just happen to have more responsibility. And their own room. And a clipboard.
Nick Voelker and Eric Catalano are both former NYU resident advisers. They assure us that it is possible to have a great relationship with your R.A. and you might actually find you really need them. They shared their craziest stories and their best advice.
What is one of your most memorable moments from your time as an R.A.?
Catalano: The craziest thing I ever dealt with was when a group of girls signed in a stranger who said her friend lived in the hall but wouldn’t be back for a few hours to let her in. The stranger was a college-aged girl who had just flown in from Italy, was using a fake ID, and was on the run from her family, an ex-boyfriend, and what appeared to be a former business associate. The former business associate had somehow tracked her down to the dorm, police were called, and for some reason the fire department was, as well. There was a very dramatic confrontation in which the girl’s true identity was revealed and she was taken away in cuffs. This was all at 4:00 am… on a Wednesday.
R.A.s can have tough jobs, especially when they are forced to discipline. What are some of the things you wished your residents would remember about you?
Voelker: I think R.A.s are only looked at as the “people here to break up the fun”. That’s simply not true. That’s like hating the police officer next door. R.A.s are there as facilitators of community and to keep the community safe.
Since R.A.s are there to help, what do you want students to know about their options about coming to you for help?
Voelker: R.A.s get extensive training. They not only come with their own background of school advice and knowledge, but they are professionally trained to deal with health, wellness, mediation and conflict issues. If even they don’t know how to assist you, they can refer you to professional services.
Catalano: Most R.A.s apply for the job because they want to help others have a great college experience. I tried to always let my residents know that they could come to me with any sort of issue they were facing, whether trivial or serious. That said, part of the job is allowing people to learn their own lessons, so I’m probably not going to help you, say, mediate a roommate conflict, if you haven’t first tried to do so yourself.
What’s some advice for creating a good relationship with an R.A.?
Voelker: I think the most important thing to realize your RA is a person and student too. Don’t look at them like you would a hall director or professor. They’re actually just another student that is great to know because they know so much about your school!
Catalano: Approach your R.A. as you would anyone else you want to form a relationship with at college. They’re probably a bit older than you and have likely gone through exactly what you are. Just don’t invite them to your “secret” beer pong tournament.