Lately, there have been concerns about low return rates of student Residential Assistants. Residential Life Staff report that the return rate for CSB/SJU RAs is 42 percent and 40 percent respectively, which is typical for this type of what rates have been in years past. Being an RA is one of the highest paying jobs on any college campus. However, not all students understand what the job entails, so the Record spoke with students to find out more about the job.
RAs oversee residents in the dorms while Community Advisors oversee residents in apartments. Student’s experiences with the position can vary.
“RA training taught me a lot about how to handle tough situations with people, and that is definitely a good skill to have in life personally and professionally,” SJU junior and former RA Logan Dahlquist said.
Others have said they have been able to build strong connections with fellow students and supervisors alike, such as CSB senior CA Megan Russell, who wanted to return to be able to work with her supervisor.
SJU Senior Andrew McIntyre has been an RA since his sophomore year and said he has benefited from the job.
“This position speaks waves in other job interviews about learning how to communicate and work as a team,” McIntyre said.
Director of Residential Life for CSB Christy Brown said that the RA position offers students skills that employers value.
“We looked at some of the attributes that employers look for in college graduates, and leadership skills were at the top,” Brown said. “Teamwork and communication skills are also valued, as is flexibility. These will serve you well wherever you end up and are all things the RA position teaches employees.”
Not all students returned
While many RAs agree that this job provides skills to be used in future careers, others said they didn’t return to the RA/CA position for various different reasons.
Some said they chose to live with their cohort instead of being an RA or CA, while others chose to pursue other career opportunities since RAs/CAs are not allowed to have another campus job.
“I really liked being an RA, but I got offered a job that was really specific to my major and I need that experience,” Dahlquist said.
Some current and former CSB RAs/CAs said they believe that the time commitment required for the job is unrealistic for full time students, and they cannot pursue their extracurricular interests for fear of not being able to complete what is expected of them.
Area Coordinator for Apartments and Housing Alyssa Teubner said that Residential Life understands how time consuming this job can be, and at CSB there is a self-care initiative throughout the year that encourages students to take care of themselves.
“In younger years we have a lot of sessions about time management and a lot of times the returners have been mastering that,” Teubner said.
At CSB, RAs/CAs are told that they are a person first, student second and RA third. However, some former and current CSB RAs said they feel that they have had to prioritize being an RA over other aspects of their lives, which impacted either their grades or personal relationships. Several current and former employees said they want Residential Life to “practice what it preaches.”
At SJU, though, some RAs said they do not seem to have as many issues with time commitments.
“I can safely say that I have never felt overworked,” McIntyre said. “I have always had time for schoolwork and extracurriculars.”
McIntyre said that a typical workweek could be about six to eight hours with an additional two or three hours for meetings and planned events. CSB RAs are expected to work 20-hour weeks, but with flexibility, according to Teubner. Many CSB RAs said they end up working more than that to adequately perform all the tasks expected of them.
Students discuss racial dynamics
While the time commitment could be challenging for some, former RA and CSB senior Brianna Johnson said she chose not to return as an RA for a different reason.
“There is not a lot of diversity in Residential Life, and the RAs of color that I worked with last year were incredible, but they were sometimes punished when they shouldn’t have been,” Johnson said. “They were discriminated against.”
Johnson said there were several times when she, as a white RA, would make the same mistake as an RA of color she worked with, but she was not punished as severely.
Former RA and CSB junior Sameera Sheikh said that when she voiced her concerns about racial dynamics to ResLife, she was made to feel that she was “being too sensitive” and felt that she was not truly heard.
“There is a power dynamic that shouldn’t be there,” Sheikh said.
Brown, the director of Residential Life, said that extra care is being taken to provide training to Residential Life staff and avoid some of these issues in the future. Teubner also said that these issues arise due to different training experiences among the Residential Life staff. Since RAs report to different supervisors, experiences may vary.
“We have a split system,” Teubner said. “Most institutions have all masters level staff or all bachelor’s level staff for residential living, and so what you see is that the masters level staff often take more courses in social justice issues … so sometimes [those staff members are] able to think of things more culturally.”
Teubner said that there are changes being made that students don’t always see directly, but that feedback is being “heard and fixed.”
As a whole, there is a wide range of experiences in the RA position and there are career development opportunities within the job. However, for some it can be difficult to fully take advantage of those opportunities due to the time commitment, balance between major specific work and the need to bridge the gap between cultural understandings within Residential Life administration.
FEATURE PHOTO BY JILLIAN SCHULZ • [email protected]
A Resident Assistant (RA) patrols the hallway while on duty. RAs at CSB/SJU are are trained to be resources for students and provide help and support if needed.