Saturday December 30, 2017

My first Semester as a Resident Assistant

At the beginning of the semester, I posted my reflections on my reaction to being selected for my resident assistant position. It was something that I truly worked hard for, and when I got the position, I had a number of mixed feelings. Of course, I was excited, but I also began to understand that I would not truly comprehend every detail of the experience until I actually began. Being an adamant planner and an individual who finds solace in knowing details about what is to come, this was something that bugged me a great deal. But as training approached and my summer came to an end, I realized the only thing that I could do was enter the beginning of the academic year with an open mind and my excitement for a new journey. 

A room to myself (finally)

As I settled into my Marycrest dorm room for the second time of my college career, it became very real that I would finally have a room to myself--my own bathroom, my own closet space, my own little sanctuary. Let's face it, at this point I have already figured out that it is just best for everyone if I don't have to share a room with someone. I basically grew up as an only child and not only was having a roommate becoming problematic for me, it took me a while to realize that it's really not about the people I live with, it's about constantly sharing some aspect of the area in which I sleep with someone else at ALL times that I don't think I can deal with any longer! Having my own room means I can retreat into my own space after a long day, or talk to a resident privately in that space when they just want to get out of their rooms to have a tough conversation. I can definitely say that having my own space helped for the roughest of days and when I needed personal time off, but it also made my job easier, which was the most important aspect of it. 

Living where I work

Initially, I thought that living in the same building in which I worked would get old after a while, but I quickly learned that 1) you forget about that after at least the second week and 2) you literally have 24/7 support from the rest of the staff that cannot be beaten. It's also rewarding to live down the hall from another RA or even an RC, so that when I need some help with an incident or just have a quick question, I can just walk down the hall and chat with a staff member that's nearby. It's also great having the support of the desk assistants right downstairs whenever you need them, whether it's providing you with useful information, taking the necessary steps during yet another Marycrest fire alarm fiasco, or just to stop and chat with someone. Being able to just hang out with pals anywhere in the building and not having to go too far for staff meetings is a treat, compared to the other campus jobs I've had! It only helps that each of us have our own space so that when we do spend time together as a staff, it's definitely a treat no matter where we are. 


The Leadership experience 

When my residents first arrived to campus and were moving in, it was a feeling that I had so dearly missed and also enjoyed. The last time I felt this excitement was during my summer job as a Women in Engineering Summer Camp Counselor. I was so excited for them to finally be here and couldn't wait to meet them. After struggling for days to come up with a good door decoration idea I finally settled for "welcome home [insert resident's name] picket signs...no, it wasn't the cutest, but they were properly executed and I later learned that my residents loved them, which is all that matters. I'm looking to redeem myself this coming semester.

After a few meetings of breaking the ice and trying to learn names, I had the opportunity to communicate with each of the pairs of roommates and my one single room individually. Beyond performing my job in facilitating a roommate agreement, it really gave me the freedom to understand how each of my residents interacts with one another, what they like, what they're majoring in, and they're living styles. It also gave me the opportunity to make note of some crucial aspect of their roommate agreement so, if there is a conflict in the future, I can refer to my notes from the beginning of the year and understand the common ground of what my residents have decided on. I found that a lot of my RA job was like that--performing my main duties, but thinking outside of the box to make a learning experience comprehensive, intuitive, and appreciated.  

No matter how much training we had, I don't feel like you can be perfectly prepared for a serious incident until it happens. Within the first week of the school year I had a mild roommate conflict that, to me, was trivial and seemed to have an easy solution, but of course, I can't express those thoughts to my residents who are truly in distress about this situation. That was the first time I really got it. It's not about me. It's about making sure everyone can learn and grow in this community in peace, and sacrifices are expected to be made when you are suddenly living with someone you have probably never met before. That was the lesson for my first-year residents, but for me it was empathy, having the ability to identify the problem and the solution, and being able to communicate that to both of my residents in the best way possible. Now multiply those types of experiences to a few times a month...yes, that is a lot of "unique leadership exercise", I like to call it. the things that you cannot train for, but your earning experience allows you to handle them in ways that are unique to your leadership style and conducive to your group of residents. 

It is also important to note that while I was on this journey of discovery with my floor, I was enrolled in EDC 402, a ("real, 3-credit") class for first-year RAs and Fellows to take to become acclimated to the position, learn about themselves and become more self-aware, practice leadership and professional development skills, and articulate them to the class and in our own communities. Although mandatory for all new RAs and Fellows, it was one of the best classroom experiences I have ever had during my time at UD. It combined the challenge of a 400-level course with the real and challenging topics and material of real-world problems and ideas. We discussed things such as social identity, different types of dialogue, privilege, race, gender, listening skills, and much more and were challenged to apply them to our position as growing leaders. This class continued to give my RA position relevance and life outside of the walls of Marycrest as I developed a perspective that helped me in all areas of my leadership development, goal-setting, and social interaction with many groups of people. It brought to life discussions about Community Building Meeting topics that could foster a community learning experience outside of my hard work on a colorful monthly bulletin board. For someone who loves her job, this was the space for me to get more out of it when I wanted to It was truly a class that gave back tenfold what I put into it. It's this kind of support and constant learning that allowed me to become more confident in my abilities to be a role model to my floor. 

Closing thoughts on the semester

I am proud of myself, and I thank God every day for how He has allowed me to grow so much this year and stay on track with my studies. Granted this was a relatively "light" semester for me as far as course load, it allowed me to get used to new beginnings, get to know my floor, spend more time on things that are new to me, and have my door open more often for people who just wanted to stop by and talk. I valued the importance of meaning what I say when I have a group of 25 young women, new to this whole "college thing" looking to me for direction, guidance, solace, information, and more. I cherished the diversity of my community and worked to preserve it times when it was challenged. I got to literally help in defining my community on my wing, and it turns out asking a group of strangers what they value and asking them to throw them all together on a common "contract" does work, because eventually those strangers become friends, and their values become a sort of law and the area in which they live becomes a place where they are all comfortable to express themselves and flourish with one another in a supportive community. That has been the fundamental message of my first semester in this job. 

What now? Well, I still get to spend one more semester which my residents, and I'm excited to see the next step in their lives. They all have different goals, desires, interests, and I am so energized by the opportunity of supporting them in any way that I can. Marycrest is certainly an experience of its own, and I am glad I had the opportunity to practice so many areas of my RA position in a fast-paced, first-year area. I think every RA should be an RA in Marycrest at least once in their career. I think it's a unique experience that a good number of first-year RAs don't get the opportunity to experience--such a high volume of first-year students, all finding themselves in unique ways and getting comfortable with their environment. To me, it's not about how many annoying fire alarms there are in the middle of the night (note this is the second time they are mentioned in this blog...) but it's about the number of learning opportunities there is this community. These are young college students who are essentially a blank canvas, ready to absorb new information, lessons, interactions, social identities, diverse mindsets, etc. That is such a reward.

My goal next year is to take my talents to a second-year area, such as VWK, or a third-/fourth-year area such as Caldwell, where I would have the opportunity to experience the position from a new perspective and in a new community dynamic--a new canvas of community learning. 

I'm thankful for my supportive staff, supportive leadership, especially my supervisor Mimi G., who inspires me every day in many aspects of my faith and leadership life. The second semester definitely poses its own challenges, considering I will be taking 18 full credits again, continuing my work in Dr. McEwan's lab, preparing for the summer, etc. Despite these,  I have faith in my ability to find balance, patience, and determination to succeed in any way that I can. 

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