On every college dorm floor, there is one individual who both is equally admired and avoided: the resident adviser. As the floor leader, the R.A. holds meetings, acts as a mentor, and looks to nab residents who are too thirsty on Thursdays.
Now I'm one of them!
I applied because scrounging for change under my parents' couch just wasn't enough to cover Syracuse's ever-increasing tuition. I hoped for the free room and meal plan; helping freshmen adjust to their new life helped sweeten the deal. After a four-week class in February and an interview, I was selected to lead the all-male 18th floor of Lawrinson Hall.
I had past experience as a "team player' and "leader" leading up to the job. In the middle of the eighth-grade basketball season I was demoted to the seventh-grade team. I fulfilled "mad hoop dreams" by being two inches taller than the average 12-year-old there! And when I ran for class office at St. Joe's, I promised a brighter future, and a free doughnut once every quarter. It was a little harder getting those doughnuts approved once I was elected!
Training took place before classes started. We learned how to break up parties, prevent suicide, put out fires, program fun events, accept all people, and make nifty bulletin boards. I think we would have learned the meaning of life had training gone longer. Once my residents arrived and classes were about to start, I was ready for a break.
Going into the job, I worried most about weekly duty, in which resident advisers walk through every floor a few times a night to ensure all is in order and break up parties. I had visions of acting as a 1920's Prohibition officer, yelling "Scram!" into student dorm speakeasies and hacking into barrels of moonshine.
Sure enough, I had to break up a party on my first day. The hostess decided to invite about 15 people to her room for a wee gathering of friends. After she was caught, she ran around in hysterics and pleaded to us, saying that her important dad would lose his election because of her. I haven't seen her around much since.
Another task is conducting floor meetings. Once, I was instructed to have my residents write poems about where they were from. As I gave the instructions I could watch 29 pairs of eyes slowly glaze over and wander to the blank television screen above my head where the Sunday night football game had been. Three minutes later, one student's completed poem read: "Roses are red. Violets are blue. I'm from Long Island. The food is good too."
I also had to lead a discussion with my primarily 18-year-old floor on the importance of "National Coming Out Week." The awkward silence during the "discussion" was about as uncomfortable as downing Robitussin cough syrup in second grade. And at the last meeting I discussed the KFC boxes I often found strewn about the lounge, left-over shavings in the bathroom sink, and unflushed toilets. My residents seemed to get the message, but I wouldn't be surprised if Colonel Sanders' face reappears before the semester is done.
There's a lot I enjoy too. Many of my residents turn to me with issues. When they have a problem with their roommate, I can share my roommate problems last year. When they are struggling academically, I give them suggestions on what to do. One even came to me wondering what to do with a tooth he broke off during hockey! They don't teach you THAT during training!
My residents know I'm not actively looking to get them in trouble, and in turn never get too wild (Though last Saturday at 2:30 a.m. they were all singing Billy Joel at the top of their lungs. I didn't yell at them this time: I'm a fan of "Piano Man.") Getting them interested in floor-sponsored activities is tough, but it's hard when everyone is always split in different directions.
I've also grown close with a lot of other R.A.s too; I have a great staff that is a new group of friends for me. And on the whole my residents are good guys.
The job would be great if I didn't have classes, too; this year has been overwhelming because of it. I'm still a student trying to figure out my life here and where graduation will spit me out in a couple years. Whenever I'm down and out, my mom reassures me that it's just another "great experience" and that I'll make it through a better person. I'm sort of tired of these "great experiences" but know she's right. If I can help even one freshman who's struggling like I was a year ago, this job will be worth it. Until then, I'll act like I have some idea of what I'm doing and greet my residents with a smile every day. Things have a way of working out.
Brian Hayden, a sophomore at Syracuse, offers another installment in his College 101 column.