Sitting Down with Student Life

Past and Present Resident Advisors’ Comments on their Positions

When asked to describe the Resident Advisor (RA) roles and responsibilities, a current RA describes it as threefold: community life facilitation, spiritual leadership and mentorship, and support and crisis management. Each of these areas of responsibility encompasses a large subset of roles and responsibilities. For example, community life facilitation includes implementing a system for chores, ensuring that funds on the dorm meal card are budgeted appropriately, enforcing residence policies, and maintaining harmony within the dorm by promoting positive interactions and communication between dormmates.

While this is only one of the three aspects of an RA’s responsibilities, it could very well be a full-time job in and of itself. The Director of Residence Life at Redeemer acknowledges that the the role may feel like a full time position: “While the RA role is classified at ten hours per week, the role has a lifestyle element to it due to the live-in nature; in some ways it is similar to a camp counselor role in this regard.” 

A current RA reflects on how “I didn’t realize how often I had to be on. If I came into the dorm, I felt like I had to be acting in my RA position 24/7.”

Another RA echoes this sentiment, stating, “While we are supposed to have set hours when we are helping those we live with, because we are in such close proximity to one another, it becomes hard to have boundaries. It starts to feel very 24/7 unless you specifically set those boundaries—which is hard to do.”

One of the key contributing factors to a difficulty in setting boundaries could be attributed to the fact that some RAs are required to share a room with a first-year student. For many people, their rooms are a safe haven where they are able to unwind after a long day of work. By sharing a room with a student that they are being paid to support, there can be a loss of separation between work and home.

A current RA who had her own room in first semester and who now has a roommate reflects on the shift that has occurred as a result of sharing her space: “Having a roommate has somewhat affected the dynamic of the house. I feel there is no boundary between my room and my space, it is free and open. The girls come in and out more frequently; oftentimes people will casually be hanging outside my room. I have had to put up my own boundaries, which is harder.”

While Residence Life recognizes the importance of boundaries and does their best to ensure that RAs have their own space, various factors impact whether or not an RA will have their own room. Dean of Students Kevin Johnson comments, “There have been various approaches over the years. It can vary depending on the dorm situation, housing numbers, availability, etc.”

In addition to community life facilitation, RAs are required to be available for support and crisis management. In preparation for this part of the job, RAs engage in a week-long, paid training session in which they are equipped to deal and respond to various situations, including mental health crises and sexual assault.

An RA from last year expresses some concern in what he feels was a lack of proper preparation: “I felt that the training was less equipping us to be helpful people and more about systemizing things rather than teaching us how to empathize.” 

A current RA reflects this sentiment: “Training was mainly policy and procedures which could very well be communicated via email. Mental health was covered in the training, but we were encouraged to push students towards counselling—but how do we provide immediate help and comfort in these situations?”

One RA suggests that while training is helpful, the best way to learn how to respond to various situations is to actually experience them firsthand: “The best way I have found to learn how to be an RA is by doing the role itself. Over the past semester and a half I have learned more about how to be an RA to my specific dorm than I did during the week of training because it is focused on the things that my dorm needs.”

While there are still concerns surrounding the position, current RAs acknowledge that Residence Life is aware of staff concerns: “They are making good changes and recognizing that the pay needs to be increased.” 

Working as an RA requires sacrificing time, energy, and much of yourself to serve those you are living in community with. Although the pay is increasing and may be more reflective of the work done by RAs, one student emphasizes what he believes should be the motivation behind working as an RA: “ I  firmly believe that you don’t become a Resident Advisor for the money; you do it for the experience to help and support those around you.”