What does it mean to work in residential life? What does it mean to be an RA? And how are these two questions influenced by my experiences, of not only working as an RA for the Brown University Office of Residential Life, but in working with high school residents in a college setting?
I think I have some answers.
Over the past month and a half of working in residential life, I have found that there are diverse meanings to my role–varied as the students I come to know and numerous as the several parties that hold stakes in my work as a pre-college RA. To work in residential life, chiefly, means that I will serve as a resource and role model for students, work proactively to build community and strive to provide them with the best experience possible. I build rapport and/or relationships with students & provide resources and opportunity for their growth. I didn’t imagine myself making such an impact on students, but from the few powerful experiences and ties I have made with residents, I see that there’s something meaningful in what I am doing this summer.
This role also involves constant teamwork with my staff of 12 other RAs and our supervisor. These are the people who’ve made the job special for me, really. With them I have shared the summer and the experience of being an RA. I have traveled throughout the Northeast US, spent long dinners talking politics, and religiously watched the summer season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I can’t quite describe how deep the relationships I’ve made here are, but I hope the following photo helps. . .
However, this job hasn’t been the smoothest. At times I’ve even hated it. Working for residential life feels like a 24/7 commitment (it often is), and it easily takes over my life at times. As someone who has to be the first to enforce rules–rules I did not have a hand in making, nor agree with fully–I feel like I am playing a dangerous role. Constantly having to check students’ uses of space (as to follow ‘the rules’) I feel like I am working to reproduce the culture of surveillance and authoritarianism that pervades our society. When fulfilling the disciplinary aspect of the RA job, I feel like a fledgling fascist–or at least someone who is active maintaining the reactive and punitive sides to our culture. To an extent, then, I’d say being an RA means to feel slimy and complicit. Yuck.
To be an RA at Brown University’s pre-college program is to be resourceful, empathetic, passionate, and a friend. It is to be complicit with dominant culture. Overall, and in many ways, it is to be responsible.