January 28, 2005

Housing system begins search for Resident Assistants for next year

The Office of Undergraduate Student Housing (OUSH) is in search of students to fill at least 20 pairs of big shoes—those of Assistant Resident Head (RA) for the 2005-06 school year.

Atop dining hall tables across campus, people have noticed signs advertising information sessions for one of the most demanding jobs at the University. As the February 8 deadline for applications approaches, the housing staff is preparing for the coming onslaught of paperwork.

"I'm really excited about [finding] the new '05-'06 RAs," Christopher Barker, the assistant director of OUSH, said. "It's an opportunity [to re-create] the undergraduate housing system."

RAs are essential to the functioning of the University House system, and the application process is a daunting and complex one, designed to select those who can best fit the various needs of different houses.

The RA job description states that "most simply put, [the RA's] responsibilities are to assist the Resident Heads in helping to develop House communities that are supportive of the educational mission of the University."

RAs take on a full-time position, acting in varied and sometimes conflicting roles as friend, advisor, and disciplinarian to the residents in their houses. As Willie Jackson, the Salisbury House RA, said: "you're always at work, even when you're outside of the dorm."

Due to the intense level of interaction with the residents of the dorm and the necessary partnership with the Resident Heads (RHs), RAs are chosen not only for their accomplishments and leadership skills on paper, but for how they fit within a specific house itself.

Thelma Tennant and Tim McGovern, RHs at Dodd-Mead, have found that in searching for an RA, they look for someone who matches the personality of the house. "Someone who is super serious may not be the best match for us," McGovern said, "because our house likes to horse around."

Because of the necessity for compatibility of personality, not only with the house but with the RHs as well, two rounds of interviews are required for all RA applicants (in addition to the written application). The first round is a general interview in which the applicant is questioned by the RHs, an RA, and a couple of students from a randomly assigned house. The second round is house-specific, and is intended to give the RHs and the RA applicants a chance to see how well they can interact with each other.

Tennant shared that she also looks for maturity and the flexibility of a good leader who can also be part of a team in an RA candidate. It is imperative that the RA balance his or her time well, as "one of the dangers of being an RA is devoting too much time to the job and letting classes slip."

Balancing academics with the RA job does not seem to be a problem, however, as the average GPA of sitting RAs is currently around 3.4, according to Barker.

After the second round of interviews, RHs make up a "top five list" of candidates who they think would be a good fit. In houses with more than one RA, multiple lists are made and submitted to OUSH. Housing makes the final decision, based on the lists and what they think would be best. "It's kind of like the NFL draft," Barker said.

Successful candidates receive one offer at the end of April, though a few positions open in the summer.

Although the application process is labor-intensive and time-consuming, these efforts are ultimately rewarded with material and personal benefits. RAs receive room and board for the school year as compensation, though Jackson emphasized that these were the least important benefits of his job. He cited instead the impact that an RA is able to make in the residents' lives, and the opportunity to learn a lot about oneself through living in the dorm.

Emily Cornell, an RA at Dewey House, said: "The best part of the job, hands down, is spending time with your residents and getting to know them for who they are. You learn a great deal about the way people work from doing this job."