Confessions of Resident Assistants

Student Life

Confessions of a Resident Assistant

Reflection for Student Staff Members

Saturday 10:00 am 

 Dear Journal, 

I haven’t had a lot of time to write to you lately.  Of course, this time I think I have an excuse, you know, with the the student down the hall issue and all.  Still, this might be a great time to get things down, a good time to just think, think, because my head has been so full lately. 


Like usual, I said “I’ll deal with it later, I’ll take care of it later.”  However, I think later is now.  The bottom line is, I’m thinking about hanging it up as a Resident Assistant.  Yeah, me, Superman, thinking about hanging it up, thinking about quitting.  I just don’t want to take it anymore. 


I know what you are saying, you’re saying “Steve, you’ve had a tough week, let it rest.  Everyone goes through this, let it rest.”  But I know all that and I can’t let it rest.  And it’s funny because I am usually the one going around saying “God, I LOVE being a Resident Assistant.  It’s the greatest job in the world.”  But, I don’t know if it is worth it. 


You know, in college, they tell us whenever we have to make a decision, look at the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages.  All right, let’s look at the advantages, that shouldn’t take too long.  What do I get for being a Resident Assistant?  Well, let’s see.  I get to move in before everyone else so I am not waiting for any elevators or laundry carts.  That would be great, but my move-in comes two weeks before everyone else’s which means I miss out on two weeks of my summer job.  Oh, and I do get paid for this job.  I get a check every couple weeks for a couple bucks off of tuition.  A friend of mine figured it out one time, it came to 31 cents an hour.  (Haha)  Gee, thanks a lot.  You know, people in Poland during World War Two made more money than I do right now.  People washing dishes in the cafeteria make more money, in less hours, with a tad bit less stress than I do right now. 


And, uh, let’s not forget this room.  I get this 10×10 cell all to myself, and, if I am one of the really lucky ones, I get my own bathroom.  So, what do I get for being a Resident Assistant?  I get to move in early and miss out on two weeks of summer pay, a couple of bucks a week, and I don’t have to walk down the hallway to take a shit.  THAT’s what I get for being a Resident Assistant. 

Page BreakOf course, I didn’t sign up for the job for the fringe benefits.  Anyone who would, would be crazy.  I wanted to be a Resident Assistant so I could help people, so I could share my experiences.  But, sometimes, I don’t think they want your help.  No, I wonder if you ask Jay Johnson what kind of help I was, what kind of answer he’d give you. 


So, those were the advantages, now let’s look at the disadvantages.  You don’t have to look really hard, check it out.  I’m up at 10:00am on a Saturday morning because it is the only time I get to be alone.  The rest of the hall is either sleeping late or hungover, so I’ve got this place to myself.  I live for these mornings.  They are kind of like my sanctuary, kind of like an oasis.  Funny, huh? 


What the hell?  Who is knocking on my door at 10:00 in the morning?  Guess I have to take back what I said about having these mornings to myself. 

Come in!!  Come on in!!! 

Hey Johnny, what’s up?  How many times can you lock yourself out of your room in one semester? 

And what if I had been sleeping?  I know I wasn’t but what if I had been? 


Yeah, yeah.  Where’s your roommate?  Silly question.  At least “she’s” not sleeping in your room anymore.  We ought to talk about that, huh?  Whatever.  You just want me to open up your door.  Tell you what Johnny, I saw Dick the maintenance man down by the bathroom about ten minutes ago.  He’s got a key.  Have him open up your door. 


What?  What the hell does that look mean?  I know I am the Resident Assistant, but I am also Steve: part-time human being.  Go, get out of here, if he’s not there, I’ll open it.  Now go!! 


All he wanted me to do was open up his door.  I just didn’t feel like it.  I guess I am a little bit testy lately.  Of course there are some people who say that what I did was a good thing.  That it is good to set limits with your residents.  But you don’t have to.  Your residents set all the limits you can take. 


“We ought to talk about that, huh?”  Right, whatever.  When it comes to the important stuff, they don’t want to talk to you about it.  They shut you out.  They push you away.  The important stuff, I guess what I thought was important and what they think are important are two different things. 

Page BreakGod, I remember when I first applied for this job.  All those stupid question they asked us.  “Why do you want to be a Resident Assistant?”  I want to help people.  I want to share my experiences with people.  What I should have said was “I am a sadomasochist in disguise.” 


“How will you gain your residents’ respect?”  By building community, by being there for them and answering their questions.  I should have said “With a gun and large viscous dogs.” 


What we imagine the Resident Assistant job to be and what it turned out to be are two completely different things.  Originally, this job was called an “RA.”  Someone thought that changing the name would change the stigma attached to it.  Yeah right.  Everyone still thinks of me as a RA.  Now, I don’t have to tell you that the initials RA can stand for many different definitions.  The original definition, Resident Advisor.  Some residents have their own definition too:  RA= Real Asshole.  The administration has their own definition for RA as well:  RA= Regulate Alcohol.  Alcohol, the number one curse to RAs and Resident Assistants across the country, but we’ll get to that later.  In this case, it’s not later yet. 


God, I remember the beginning of the year.  Like, “this year, I’m going to get organized.”  Organized, yeah, somewhere over there in that stack of papers is the connection log from two weeks ago, and I still have to fill out an incident report from last week, and if I find time, I’ll go back and fill in the log from last night’s duty. 


Oh duty, let’s not forget duty, another gift to Resident Assistants.  Twice a week, one of course being every other weekend I get to be on duty.  Which means I get to sit at a desk, walk the hallways, turn off lights, answer all situations, solve all problems.  And if that night happens to be a Friday or Saturday, though Wednesday and Thursday are getting to be more like weekends than weeknights, I get to wait around until 2 in the morning for drunks to come home and pass out.  Thanks for the wonderful social life. 


Friends!   What’s left of them are tired of me saying “I can’t tonight, I’m on duty.”  “I can’t tonight, I have to catch up on homework.”  “I can’t tonight, I’m in charge of the intramural game.”  Friends.  I don’t spend time with my friends.  I spend time with my residents… and my residents friends.  I don’t know. 

Organized.  About the only thing that is organized is the staff manual that I haven’t opened since training and that stack of textbooks that never seems to get read.  The only thing that has sunk lower than my energy level is my GPA. 

Page BreakOrganized.  Yeah, the plans were made.  Like this year, I am going to keep my door open, let my guys come in.  Well, I got my wish.  People come by day and night.  I mean day and night, which, I guess, is good.  I want them to have some place to go.  They sit around, they play cards, they talk.  It gives me a chance to be with them.  You know.  They watch TV and sometimes I wonder if it is me or my digital cable. 


I came home about two weeks ago and they thought I had freaked out.  I walked in and not five minutes later four guys come in and on goes the TV.  It was late, I was tired and I just wanted to make a phone call.  I said “uh, guys, can you turn it down a bit?  You know, I am on the phone.” 


They said, “Steve, you know, it is not too loud, we’ll be gone in a second, you know, it’s almost over.” 


I went “OH, EXCUSE ME!!!  I JUST THOUGHT I’D ASK BECAUSE IT’S MY DAMN ROOM!!!  You wormy little shits, I’m the person who lives here.  Now get the hell out!”  They thought I lost it. 


And the phone rings; 10:00, midnight, 2:00am.  I used to think they called me because I am a good Resident Assistant.  Maybe they call me because I don’t say no.  Maybe if I said no, they’d stop calling, but if they stop calling, does that make me a bad Resident Assistant?  That’s pretty risky stuff. 


So sure, c’mon by, I’ll be here.  I spend more time in this room.  And you want to know what the funny thing is?  The number one thing on my Resident Assistant evaluation was “he’s never there.”  You hear this shit and you just get fed up and don’t want to take it anymore. 


And who is going to remotivate me?  The residents?  I don’t think so.  Oh, we have this staff training every other week, but I just don’t want to go, I just don’t want to go.  I always feel like I am hearing the same stuff over and over.  There is nothing new that I can take back and say “God, I love being a Resident Assistant.  I am going to take this back to my hall.”  Being a Resident Assistant is becoming less of a challenge and more of a job. 

Page BreakAnd you want to know what the sad part is?  When I’m good, I’m really good.  Too be able to say to someone “you know, I am interested in you.  I’ll pay attention to you,” is a great thing.  There are very few great truths in life, but one of them is people would rather talk than listen.  No one’s listening because they are all too busy talking.  Well, I’m a good listener.  I used to love that about the job; walking down hallways, stopping in there, popping in there, checking out this room, going into the lounge, just chatting with people.  I used to love that. 


Now, I can’t get motivated to do the things I normally love to do.  Now, instead of saying “Hey, how’s it going?”  I say “What do you want? 


Instead of saying “Sure c’mon in.”  I say “Can you stop by later?” 


Instead of saying “Let’s take care of that right now.”  I say “I’ll come by your room in a little bit.”  But I don’t go, I just don’t go.  It’s not the beginning of the year anymore. 


You know when the guys like me the best?  When I let them off the hook.  If there’s a big fight on the floor and two guys are beating the shit out of each other, they don’t come to me and say “Hey Steve, can you talk this over with us?  We’d like to work it out.”  No, they come up to me and say “Steve, you aren’t going to write us up are you?  Steve, buddy old pal.”  They want me to be see no evil, hear so evil, write up no evil.  And if I don’t, if I try to do my job and enforce the rules, they look at me like I’ve done something wrong. 


“What are you doing, Steve?  We had an agreement.”  And now they look at me like a policeman and when I walk down the hallway, door slam in my face, one right after another: Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.   

And so your vision gets a little blurred, and your hearing gets a little worse and you start saying things like “if you make me, then I’ll have to deal with it.”  “If you guys flaunt it in my face, then I’ll have to take care of it.”  “But if I don’t see it, or smell it, then I won’t suspect it.” 

Page BreakAn now, I have just given everyone on the floor permission to do whatever they damn well please.  And I’m stuck in my room, afraid to come out, because if I come out, I may have to deal with something.  And if I handle it, then they won’t like me, but if I don’t, then I won’t like me because I know I’m not doing my job.  And sometimes I get so frustrated I just want to run out into the hallway and scream.  But I figure, me, if no one else, should obey the community standard we set for quiet hours. 


And it’s the little things that drive you crazy.  It’s the little things, like “once a Resident Assistant, always a Resident Assistant.”  Twenty four hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  I want to get one of those glasses with the nose, you know, kind of a disguise to walk around campus with.  I don’t think it will help.  I think, as I’m walking around campus that there is this guy behind me going “Warning, warning, Resident Assistant approaching.”  It’s as if after you get the job they put you to sleep and put a beeper in your head emitting sound waves letting everyone know you are coming.  Once a Resident Assistant, always a Resident Assistant. 


I have been on duty dozens of times and gone on rounds at least a hundred times and people cannot even begin to imagine what I have dealt with.  It amazes me how little residents listen and how they continue to do dumb things.  Time after time after time I tell residents that if they are going to drink, be smart about it.  Don’t drink with your door open.  Don’t walk out into the hallway with a beer.  And what do they do?  They do just that. 


I was on rounds last weekend and I was walking passed this room just as one guy walked out with a Bud Light in his hand.  He saw me and I saw him with the beer, so he put the beer in his pocket like it was nothing.  I mean, c’mon.  Do you think I am that dumb? 


It’s the little things, like dealing with drunk people.  I’m on duty a couple of weeks ago and I hear this noise coming from the lounge.  I walk in there and there’s this guy throwing beer cans at the lamp.  I ask him “Buddy, what are you doing?”  He starts yelling at me, going off on me.  I had no idea who he was.   


I say “I am going to have to call security.”  Then he becomes this emotional basket case.  “No, no, don’t call security.  I do your laundry, I’ll rake your lawn.” 


“Buddy, I don’t have a lawn.”  It drives you crazy.   

Page BreakIt’s the little things like trying to follow undergraduate love lives, the hallway that’s always dirty, people getting locked out of their rooms, the signs that you hang up that are torn down or gone twenty minutes later.  You know, it drives you crazy. 


And I don’t think most people know what it’s like to be a Resident Assistant, I really don’t.  I don’t think most parents, administrators, even hall directors know what it’s like to be a Resident Assistant.  Here we are, student leaders, but we’re not like the basketball player.  It’s not like the guy we saw at the game Tuesday night that we can go up to and say “Hey, I saw what you did Tuesday, way to go.  I don’t have people coming up to me, I don’t have teachers stopping me in the hall saying “Steve, that roommate crisis, way to go.”  It just doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t happen.  I just don’t think they know. 


And the residents aren’t the only ones who want something.  Parents and administrators want everything to be fine and dandy in college life and they want you to make sure of it.  And if something goes wrong, “Well, we’ve got a policy for that, thank god for that policy.”   


Now, I don’t have a problem with policy, as long as people don’t expect one line in the student handbook is going to change all problems.  I mean it’s fine and dandy to have a policy that says “Illegal drugs are not tolerated on this campus.”  That’s fine, it’s better than having a policy that says “Go fucking nuts, we don’t fucking care!!!”  But it’s not going to change the fact that 1 in 10 people are getting high on a regular basis, that’s MY problem. 


And it’s fine to have a policy that says “We adhere to state and local laws and we adhere to the 21 year old drinking age.”  That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that most people started drinking when they were in high school.  That’s my problem. 


You know, maybe in a perfect world, everyone comes from good families, goes to all their classes, studies four hours a night and waits until they are 21 to start drinking.  But that’s not the description on my floor.  I can’t get away with going up to somebody and saying “You can’t drink because you aren’t 21” because nobody, nobody will buy it. 

Page BreakSo, I got to change the rules.  I got to reinterpret the rules to make them make more sense.  Now the rule becomes “You can’t drink in my building.”  Or maybe it goes down even further to “You can’t drink and get caught.”  Or maybe it goes down further to “You can’t drink and make noise.”  Or maybe it goes down even further to the ultimate common denominator: “You can’t drink irresponsibly.” 


And now it’s a judgement call and I have to decide what’s responsible drinking and what’s irresponsible.  I have to decide between “Hey, it’s what they do on a Friday night” and “Hey, I think his drinking is getting a little out of control.” 


I have to decide between “She’s just buzzed and a little emotional” and “Hey, I think she might hurt herself.”  I have to make the decision and there is no one there to help me.  But sometimes, like last week, you make a mistake, but you’re not allowed to make mistakes.  You are the role model for the floor. 


Now, if you’re a normal human being, you’re going to want to play your stereo a little bit too loud now and then.  If you’re a normal human being, you’re going to want to have a beer or two in your room.  If you’re a normal human being, you’re going to want to have your boyfriend or girlfriend stay a little longer than normal.  Does that make you a hypocrite?  What, for being normal?  But if your residents catch you, they sure as hell will throw it in your face.  No, you’re not allowed to make mistakes.  You have to be the rock. 


You have to be able to solve all situations and handle all problems.  Not because you are supposed to, but because people think you are supposed to.  The maintenance man comes to me on Saturday morning and says “Someone puked in the bathroom.”  What?  I didn’t do it, but his tone of voice says “Take care of it.” 


Another Resident Assistant from another building call up and says “ So and so from your building is causing trouble in my building.”  Tone of voice says “Take care of it.” 


Parents call up and say “I’m a little worried about my son’s new girlfriend.  “take care of it.”  The water’s not working, the heat’s too high, the phone’s not on, “Take care of it.”  Not because you’re supposed to, but because people “think” you’re supposed to. 

Page BreakBut sometimes,  it works the other way.  Sometimes they give you all the credit.  “Hey, thank god Steve’s here.  Steve, can you handle it?  We’re so glad you’re here.”  And what are you going to do, argue?  But sometimes, you don’t want all that responsibility.  Sometimes you don’t even want to deal with these situations. 

So what do you do, you try to “educate” your residents.  You put up bulletin boards and put on programs on safe drinking, but they don’t read what I put up and don’t listen to what I have to say.  I know that I am not going to stop drinking at college, no one is.  Drinking is a part of college life.  My hope is that I can just help people drink responsibly.  I have that hope because I have been to too many situations where people have not. 


I was on duty one night and got a call from the night receptionist.  He said the ambulance was on its way and they needed some assistance up on the floor.  So I went up there and this kid was so drunk that when he tried to get into his loft, he fell and hit his face on the ground.  Poor kid ended up breaking his nose.  Imagine having to call your parents because you had to go to the hospital because you were to drunk to get into bed properly. 


There was this other night where I was doing rounds and when I opened the door to one floor, this overpowering smell of poop hit me like a ton of bricks.  I ended up knocking on doors and finally found out where it was coming from.  This guy was so drunk that he could not get out of bed to go to the bathroom.  He ended up puking on himself and pissing and shitting his pants.  When the ambulance got there, they had to take him to the hospital because his blood alcohol level was .36.  He was “this” close to death. 


My roommate my freshman year went out to a party a few hours after giving blood.  He said if he had less blood, he would get drunk off just a couple beers.  Sure enough, he got drunk.  He came home and spent the next three hours puking and dry heaving into the garbage can.  Me and three others stayed with him because we were so scared.  We ended up taking him to the emergency room at 4:00am.  I was the lucky one because I got to make the phone to his parents.  One of the most difficult calls I have ever had to make.  Calling my best friends parents at 4:30am to tell them that their son was in the hospital for alcohol poisoning. 

Page BreakWhatever it is, I have probably seen it.  Whatever horror story there with alcohol, something similar has happened like that in my building.  Except for the Jay Johnson story.  No one but me has a story like Jay Johnson.   


Yeah, Jay Johnson lived on my floor.  Lived about eight doors down on the left, good kid.  He turned 19 last week and I was on duty that night.  I was walking down the hallway that night and heard a bunch of noise coming from his room, and you know, I’m not stupid.  I just figured that they were going to have a couple of drinks and then take him out. 


There’s a tradition on college campuses that says whenever it’s a person’s birthday, that person’s friends must take him out and get him obnoxiously drunk.  I never quite understood that, on what should be the one of the happiest days of that person’s life, the people that care for them the most feel the need to make sure that person is drunk and passed out by 10:00.  I don’t quite get it. 


Now, I went by the room a little while later and it was getting a little louder and it seemed like there were more people in there.  So, I figured I better do something.  So I knocked on the door, and whenever a Resident Assistant knocks on the door it’s better known as the two-minute warning.  Even though it takes no more than 7.2 seconds to get from anywhere in the room to the door, it is always two minutes before the Resident Assistant is let in. 


And the door opened and I walked in.  And there was Jay sitting on the chair and he looked up to me and said “Hey Steve! How the hell are ya?  Happy Birthday, Steve!”  Needless to say, Jay had been a little overserved.  Now, I didn’t see any alcohol, but I’m sure if I looked behind the desk or under the bed, I would have found something, but you just don’t do that.  So I played by the unwritten rules. 


“You guys wouldn’t happen to be drinking in here, would you?” 

“Aww no Steve, no way.” 

“Oh, okay, you know, be careful, eh?” 

“Yeah sure, Steve.  You know, it’s Jay’s birthday.” 

Page BreakSo I left them alone.  And I was greatly relieved about a half an hour later when I heard them leave the building.  You know, “Thank god they were not in my hall anymore.”  Course, I didn’t realize this at the time but Jay had already passed out and they had thrown him on the bed  And I didn’t realize at the time that they had tried another birthday tResident Assistantdition: 19 years= 19 shots. 


Jay made a pretty good run at it; got 15 or 16 down.  But, I didn’t realize this at the time which is why I was a little surprised when at 1:00 in the morning his friends came back to my room and said “There’s something wrong with Jay.” 


I went down with them to the room and when I walked in Jay was on the floor and two guys were sitting there slapping him in the face trying to get him moving.  One of them looked up at me and his eyes were scared and he said “Jay won’t wake up.” 


His friends were a little too drunk to realize that Jay had stopped breathing and by the color of his skin, it had happened some time ago.  I immediately knelt down and started giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation.  When I touched his skin, it felt cold.  And I yelled “GET AN AMBULANCE!  GET A HALL DIRECTOR,” and everyone was looking at me like “You’re the Resident Assistant, man, make him work, fix him!”  And we tried. 


I gResident Assistantbbed one of the guys who was sober and who knew CPR and we switched places.  And I sat there pushing on his chest screaming “BREATH GOD DAMMIT, BREATH!”  But Jay wouldn’t.  And the ambulance came and they stared working on him and I went into the hallway and I was the rock. 


“No guys, it’s okay, Jay’s going to be fine.  Clear out of the hallway, go back to bed.  It’s going to be fine.”  And they took him away and they told me what I already knew; that they were very sorry, but Jay was dead. 


And I spent the rest of the night with his friends who were emotional basket cases.  They were pounding their fists into the wall and they were yelling and screaming.  And I stayed with them all night because I did not want to have to bury more than one person that night. 

Page BreakAnd the next day we had this emergency Resident Assistant meeting and they told us that we would have to “be there for our residents, prepare to talk to them, to help them get through and get back to normal.”  I mean no one said it was my fault but everyone was looking at me like “You were there, man.” 


Now, it’s been a couple of days and everyone seems to be getting back to normal.  But nobody’s asked me if I’M back to normal.  Nobody has asked me if I’m okay.  A couple of people have said “Steve, you’re looking a little bit tired lately.”  But no one sticks around long enough to find out that every time I close my eyes I feel Jay’s cold skin on mine and I hear this voice going “Happy Birthday, Steve!”   


I’m not saying it’s my fault.  I’m not saying I could have done something different, but I can’t help but think that I have given a large chunk of my life for these guys and what have I got?  One of the dead and the rest of them don’t even fucking care. 


Now what?  (pick up note and read) 

Page Break 

Dear Steve, 

It’s been a tough week for all of us.  A couple of us guys got together and were just saying we don’t know how we would have made it thru without you.  We were just wondering if we could take you out to dinner.  Nothing special, just our way of saying thanx.  You’re a great Resident Assistant.  (crumple note) 

Page Break 

Dear Journal, 

I just told I hated being a Resident Assistant.  I’ve got every reason to quit.  The pay is lousy, the hours are terrible, you don’t get the respect you need.  The only reason I have to stay is one piece of paper with two words spelled wrong.  But I guess it might have to be enough.  It might have to be enough.  Those times when you think you are making a difference.  And maybe I shouldn’t wait for letter under the door, because if I do, I might have to wait a long time.  Maybe I just have to believe in my heart that something I’m saying is being heard.  Something I’m doing is having an effect, that people are glad I’m around. 


Dear Journal, 

I just told you I hated being a Resident Assistant.  I hate the sight of blood too, but it’s in my veins. 


Dear Journal, 

I’d like to write to you more, but I can’t because I have things to do.  After all, I’m the Resident Assistant. 


Hey Johnny, I take it you got into your room okay.  What are you doing, going down to brunch?  Well, hang on, old man’s going with you.  You know, we’ve got to talk about that roommate thing. 

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