The Resident Advisor
COVID on Campus: The Resident Advisor
Frankly, everything about this year has been unpredictable.
Before coming into the semester, I had the idea that being an RA this year would be a little bit of a different job than what was described to us back in the spring. We had a revised contract that was sent to us sometime in July that talked about COVID precautions and what to do in case of a spike in cases. I went in with the mentality that things were gonna be tough, and that I had to be prepared to adapt.
I wanted to be an RA because I thought it would be a great way to help further integrate new students into the campus community. And honestly, I was inspired by the great time I had last year on my floor with my friends. I was close with my own RA and everyone on my floor, wanted to be able to give other people that experience too. That, and the fact that being an RA would save me thousands of dollars and give me a room with a bathroom. Especially during a pandemic, that seemed like a pretty sweet deal.
I’m an RA in Lawrinson, so my residents are all freshmen. I recognized that a lot of these kids were coming from a summer where they didn’t really get to see their friends, they didn’t get to go on trips and they didn’t really have a graduation.
My number one goal coming in as an RA this semester was helping my residents to have as close of an experience to what I had. I think I came as close to achieving that goal as possible. Right off the bat, I planned several activities to try to get people mingling. We had a door decoration activity at the beginning of the year where people could put anything up on their doors, as long as it wasn’t obscene and didn’t violate the fire safety code, so they just couldn’t cover more than half of their door. Most people put up throwback pictures from high school, pictures from places they’ve been and just stuff about themselves or where they’re from. That was a great conversation starter. Then I had the idea for residents to put their classes up on their door, so others could see if they had the same classes as anyone. That, and movie nights in the lounge helped people socialize, even though they could only be five people at a time.
I wanted to make the floor a familiar and welcoming environment where residents didn’t feel like they were being policed by their RA all the time, while also keeping the COVID restrictions sensible and following the university’s health precautions. I think every RA has those stories of having residents who always try to get out of wearing a mask or stand too close to one another. Not frequently, but they were definitely there.
I was pretty freaked out about the idea of one of my residents struggling to make friends, feeling isolated, or experiencing a mental health crisis due to COVID. Right off the bat, I gave them all the Barnes Center mental health resources, like the 24/7 helpline, but also academic resources like the writing center. I think that resulted in me not hearing from anyone saying they felt lonely or isolated, or that they were falling behind in classes.
At my first floor meeting, it was so much better than expected. We asked everyone to go around and introduce themselves, but it felt a little awkward just asking majors and where they’re from. So we ended up just talking about something they’re looking forward to this semester, and that turned out working better for people getting to know each other.
If COVID didn’t exist, I think it would have taken a lot of personal anxiety out of the job for me. Throughout this semester I’ve always had the worry in the back of my mind that residents are gonna violate a restriction and I’m going to have to write them up for it. So without COVID, I think I’d have more peace of mind.
Right before we were pushed off campus, I had several notes at my door, messages from residents thanking me for putting together a decent floor community. At the end of the semester, I definitely connected with my residents.
While a normal semester sounds great on paper, I don’t think I would do it differently, because I think I’ve learned a lot, and frankly, I think we’ve all learned a lot. I wouldn’t do it any other way. My only hope for next semester is that we get to come back. With the changing situation across the county, I don’t really know how feasible that is.
This as-told-to interview is part of COVID on Campus, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Fall 2020. COVID on Campus documents the experiences of students, staff, and faculty living through this extraordinary time.