Your resident assistant may know best

Kristen Russo

When senior English major Lori Miller was an incoming freshman, she thought resident assistants were only there to bust people.

Now she is one.

Miller said her first RA made her realize that, while resident assistants must make sure everyone stays safe and follows the rules, they are also a resource for students to help them adjust to college life.

“She brought the floor together and built a community,” Miller said. “She was a wealth of information. She always knew where to refer you for any problems.”

RAs live in the residence halls and are responsible for the floor, they live on.

RAs abide by the same rules as the residents, but they also have to watch out for everyone else in the building, Miller said.

RA duties and resident policy violations

Daniel Terrell, residence hall director for Wright Hall for the 2006-2007 school year, said RAs participate in conflict-mediation programs and a mock residence hall before the school year starts to prepare them for situations they will face. They also participate in six professional-development activities per semester, he said.

Terrell said RAs hold “office hours” for 10 hours each week. During these hours, their doors have to be open, and they have to be visible to the residents.

RAs make three sets of rounds in their building each weeknight, and on weekends they make four, he said. On these rounds, they walk the building, making sure everything is secure and that residents are following the residence hall policies.

Senior integrated language arts major Teresa Belfiore was an RA in Olson hall for the 2005-2006 school year. She said if there is a violation, RAs must be assertive but respectful.

Discipline depends on the severity of the situation, she said. If it is a minor violation, the resident gets a verbal warning. If it happens again, the RA fills out a residence hall warning, signs it and gives it to the residence hall director, who handles the problem.

“We can always be there to support (residents) or appear to be killing their good time, but their actions decide our role,” Terrell said.

Roommate disagreements

RAs give residents a roommate agreement to fill out when they move in, Belfiore said. On the form, residents write down their needs and preferences in areas such as sleep, noise, study time and visitation.

Miller said roommates should take the agreement seriously and spend time on it. She said open communication between roommates is very important.

“Talk about little stuff, because it can turn into a big fight if it just builds up,” she said.

Belfiore said if a disagreement does occur, the RA will talk with each roommate separately and offer guidance.

RAs can bring out the roommate agreement and go over it with the residents, or give residents a blank one so they can rewrite the agreement based on their needs, she said.

If the roommates cannot resolve the problem with the RA’s help, the residence hall director gets involved, and he or she may decide on a room change as the last resort, she said.

Building a community

Terrell said RAs put on four “community builders” per semester. Community builders are programs that help bring the residents together and educate them about certain topics such as sex, alcohol and drugs, student development, diversity, spiritual environment and community and academics.

Student attendance at the programs is voluntary, he said.

The programs focus on students’ needs, and they try to make students see outside the box, he said.

For example, Terrell said that Pride!Kent, Kent State’s LGBT group, came to a residence hall to talk to students about homophobia and to help clear up misunderstandings about gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Belfiore said she liked doing the research for the programs and delivering something educational and entertaining.

“The transition is challenging,” she said. “The RA’s job is to make freshmen feel comfortable and at home.”

Although the transition may be challenging, Miller said living in the residence halls helps students get to know more people on campus than living at home or in an apartment.

In the residence halls, she said, students also have people who can help them deal with problems — or at least point them in the right direction.

“RAs are here to make sure everyone has a positive learning environment and a safe place to live,” Miller said. “Don’t be afraid to use your RA as a resource — they are there to help you.”

Contact general assignment reporter Kristen Russo at [email protected].