Reflecting on My Two Years as a Resident Assistant

Written on March 21, 2017

It’s 8:45 p.m. on a Friday night, three weeks before the end of fall term of my sophomore year at UO. I am trying to write the first draft of an essay due Monday, when the phone rings, that horrible harsh metallic ring that I am not allowed to change. I shiver — how I hate that sound — nothing good comes from this ring. I compose myself and answer: “RA on call, this is David, how can I help?” My colleague informs me that while parking her car outside, she saw a resident downing multiple shots alone in her room with the lights on. At first I wonder how a resident could be so stupid — this is clearly against the rules, does she want to get caught? Then I pause and think: who does shots alone at 8:45 p.m. with their lights on? My mindset fades from “enforcement mode” to “support mode”: I hope I can help this person. I thank my colleague, hang up, and call my duty partner for the night and arrange to meet outside the resident’s room. I put on a coat and my badge, leave, hoping for the best.

My RA Badge My RA Badge

We made sure she was OK in the immediate future, talked to her about some of the stress she was having during her first term of college, and offered her some support services on campus. As per protocol, we still had to collect her student identification and log the interaction, but knew that any follow up to this conversation would be more supportive than punitive.

What didn’t turn out ok was the rest of the night: that legendary night would go down in RA history at the University of Oregon. My duty partner and I were on our feet continuously from that call at 8:45 p.m. to 3:15 a.m., responding to 19 separate incidents. During this time, we would respond to situations ranging from underage drinking in room parties and people lighting up blunts in their room, to anti-Semitism and relationship violence. We would call the police four separate times that night. At 3:15 a.m., exhausted mentally and physically, my duty partner and I did our best to log each ‘Incident Report’ into the online system. Only at 5:03 a.m. did we finish the last IR, and I stumble back to my room to go to sleep. On the door, I see someone has left me a message on my whiteboard. It reads: “WHY ARE YOU A DICKHEAD?”. I erase it, and fall asleep when I stop crying.

Whiteboard with “WHY ARE YOU A DICKHEAD?” written on it A kind note left on my door

Trigger warning: The next paragraph briefly mentions sexual violence.

Why did I sign up to do this for another year? Because of how much such challenges forced me to grow. In this job I learned how to be confident under stress, take command of large belligerent groups, support rape survivors, and balance working an average of 20 unpredictable hours a week with my studies. I became acquainted with my own privilege, and did my best to fight against institutional oppression. My second year was much better. I got to experience the joy of helping residents go from academic failure to academic success, and learned detachment when residents I cared about failed after giving them all the support I could. I learned to mediate conflicts, respond to emergencies at four in the morning, and during my second year, how to survive going to bed at 2 a.m. after a long duty night only to wake up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning for rowing.

One of the criteria on which I evaluate job opportunities is the potential for my personal growth. On this criterion, my role as a Resident Assistant has thus far been unsurpassed.

What was your experience with your RA? Applying to be an RA? Leave a comment or contact me, I’ll reply. :)

Kind notes from my residents Kind notes from my wonderful residents, which currently reside on my wall