This article addresses the personal concerns of being a Resident Assistant and some concrete ways of developing a more well-rounded community within a Residental Hall.

Written by Andrew Cassens – The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

In May of the 1999/00 academic school year, I was offered a position as a Resident Assistant here at Oregon State University. It was a very demanding interview process and when I signed my contract accepting the position, I had a great sense of pride and accomplishment. During my freshman and sophomore years, I set very high goals for myself to get involved and become more of an intricate part of Oregon State’s community. Even though I had been involved in many different programs and activities, there was only one position that offered me the chance to really challenge myself and grow from. That position in my mind was being a Residential Life Staff Member. It was during this past summer that I began contemplating how I was going to be the most effective Resident Assistant in developing a solid and well-rounded community in my residence hall.

It was during this self-reflection that I began to breakdown conceptually what made up the key elements of a community. There are six main parts to a community that when combined, form the most productive and efficient living environment within a residence hall. The six main aspects that help develop this ideal community are being purposeful, open, just, disciplined, caring and celebrative. When one or more of these concepts are left out, it can change the entire make-up and success of a community. I would at this time like to discuss these six ideals in more detail. These will help foster a better overall understanding of a community and how it can develop.

The first essential aspect to developing a community is making sure it contains purpose. A purposeful community is one where faculty and students share in academic goals and work together to help strengthen teaching and learning on the campus. This aspect of community places the highest importance on academics and would support each student’s pursuit of academic success. After having established purpose to a community, residents would then need to be able to express themselves openly and constructively.

Being an open community would be one where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected where civility is powerfully affirmed. This type of living environment seeks to make students feel secure and protected in their right to express themselves. Just as it is important to have an open community, is it to have a community where each person’s individuality and uniqueness is protected.

Having a just community is living in an environment where the sacredness of each person is honored and where diversity is heavily pursued.

Developing a community would require a certain degree of discipline to make sure that residents behaved in a safe and mature manner. A disciplined community is one where individuals accept their responsibilities to the group and where clearly defined policies guide behavior for the common good. It is a common human need to feel like each of us is part of something bigger than ourselves. People want to feel liked and cared for by others.

Having a caring community would be a place where the well being of each member is sensitively supported and where helping others is encouraged.

The final aspect to building a community would be to make sure it was a celebrative one. A celebrative community is one in which the history of the university is remembered and where rituals affirming both tradition and change are shared. It is important to note here that each one of these elements contain themes and ideas that are built out of basic human rights/needs. It is when all of them are combined does a person see just how much they encompass and how they help to build solid communities.

Now that I have discussed the key elements in helping to develop a well-rounded community, I would now like to spend some time talking about the role Residential Life staff members play in it. In my mind, a Residential Life staff member plays main very important roles both in daily interactions with residents and in developing community. Some of these roles include being resourceful, responsible, fair, organized, supportive, involved and capable of resolving conflicts. I can say from personal experience that during the first eleven weeks that I have been a Resident Assistant, I have had to call upon each one of these roles. Being resourceful or rather a resource is critical for a Residential Life staff member to be. It is important to have answers to questions that residents might have or at least know where to get them if you don’t. Responsibility is something that can be looked at in two different perspectives. It can be viewed as being mature enough to accept the consequences of your actions. It can also be looked at as being a role model by setting good examples. If residents see their RA act maturely and responsibly, the chances that they will act the same greatly increase.

From time to time, residents will develop the urge to test authority and that authority is generally the Residential Life staff. If discipline needs to be administered, then it needs to be done so in a fair and effective manner. Residents need to feel that they are being treated fairly and that no one resident is more important than they are. Organization is a huge part of being on staff in a residence hall. I have had to not only balance my staff obligations, but also my academics and my social responsibilities. This can become very difficult at times, but good time management and planning skills help greatly. There are going to be times when a resident will come to their RA and want to discuss a problem or concern in their life. It is important that the RA shows sensitivity to these individuals through good listening skills and an overall show of concern for the person. Sometimes letting them know that they are a valuable part of the community and well liked is exactly what they need to hear. Being involved can take on many different faces when you are speaking in the Residential Life context. To me, involvement means knowing what events or activities are taken place on campus, knowing what your residents have been up to through daily interactions and setting up programs that will be beneficial to your community. Finally, being a Residential Life staff member requires the ability to deal with conflict issues and knowing how to resolve them effectively. It is important to note that the goal is not to solve the problems for your residents, but rather to offer them tools or advice to help them solve it for themselves. Being confident and open-minded in conflict situations is an absolute must for any member of staff.

So far, I have established the six main elements to forming a well-rounded and solid community for residents to live in. I have discussed in detail what I feel it means to be a Residential Life staff member and what roles they play in their respected communities. Every community however, will have different issues or concerns that will come up throughout the academic year. This is where the Residential Life staff member must call upon their talents and their training to help solve those problems. Below I will be taking a much more detailed look at different community situations and how I as a staff member would help to rectify those situations.

How To Continue Facilitating Acquaintanceship Among Students On The Floor
When this academic school year started and my residents began moving into their new homes and onto my floor, I realized how many different personalities and diverse backgrounds they all had. I knew this would be a good thing for the character of our floor, but I wasn’t sure if this group of sixty individuals would form relationships with each other during the year. My goal as their Resident Assistant was to provide them with opportunities very early in the year to meet the other residents on the floor. I knew that only if I started doing events and programs early, would I have any chance of building a stronger community on my floor. The very first program that I thru during the first week of class was a flag football game involving my floor and sixth floor Finley Hall. My goal in doing this program was to build teamwork amongst my residents and to give them a common goal to achieve, which of course was beating Finley Hall. One of the most key elements to developing community is having a common goal and working as a group to accomplish that goal. Needless to say, I had over 40 people from my floor attend the program and it immediately helped to establish relationships with almost 40 percent of my floor. Even though I had a lot of residents participate in my program, I realized there was still a small group of residents that needed to get involved.

What I found to be most intriguing about the residents who did not interact with others much, was the fact that they either had friendships on other floors or in other halls who they spent much of their free time with. The problem here lies in the fact that they are not on the floor much to know what is going on and they feel no need to meet new people when they already know quite a few. At first I was not sure how to deal with this problem and so I began to ponder what the best course of action would be. I felt that the best option for me to pursue was to start small with my programming events and then aim for bigger ones later down the road. So what I decided to do was start a floor dinner night where once a week I would invite the entire floor to join me for dinner. I wanted to give the less interactive individuals a chance to attend a more relaxed and easy-going program that did not place them in any uncomfortable situations. The very first night that I held the program I had over 25 people show up for dinner. What was really pleasing to me was the fact that a few of the residents that came had previously been considered “anti-social”. The other idea I used to help solve the interaction problem with some residents was by doing social rounds on the floor every night. I would knock on doors and start up a conversation with any of my residents that happened to be home. My other reasoning for doing this was to help inform them of programs in the hall and to make them feel like they were a crucial part of the floors community. This was also met with great success and many of the previous residents with interaction problems, no longer are a concern.

Encouraging Recognition Of Individuals And Achievements
One of the things that I have noticed during my first term as a Resident Assistant, is the fact that many of the freshman I have daily interactions with a very open about the events in their daily lives. It is becoming more apparent to me that they need a venue to express and display their accomplishments. I had three ideas that could help give them that chance to be recognized for their achievements both in the academic realm and in the social realm. My first idea was to create an academic achievement of the week board, which would allow residents if they chose to, to display a test or paper that they did exceptionally well on. That way others members in the community could recognize those students for their achievements and at the same time, maybe encourage other residents to work harder in their own courses. The second idea that I had was to create a program where I would recognize a resident based on their involvement on the floor thru a “Student of the Month” club. I would make up small plaques and present them to the student during one of the monthly floor meetings. This is a program that I hoped would help foster more involvement on behalf of the residents on my floor.

The last idea that I had was to create a birthday board where I would recognize the birthdays of the residents on my floor. This board would be updated each month and at the time of a birthday, I would present the resident with a small cupcake honoring their special day. The board would not only help to develop a sense of community, but it would also allow residents the chance to feel a greater sense of belonging. It would be a lot of fun maintaining the board and I would also seek the help of some residents in acquiring the supplies and in maintaining the board. Furthermore, I would encourage residents to do their own creative party ideas to celebrate the birthdays of their fellow residents. Overall, I feel these three programs would be a great first step in trying to recognize individual residents for their achievements.
Facilitating The Establishment Of Mutual Expectations Among Residents

During the very first week of Residential Life training, I realized that my expectations of my residents and possibly their expectations of me were going to be high. I felt that it was very important for me to establish exactly what those expectations were by discussing them early in the academic year. Knowing that my interpretation of what role a Residential Life staff member should play might be different from what my resident’s interpretations were. I decided that during our very first floor meeting that occurred the night of move in day, I would spend a certain amount of time discussing exactly what my expectations were and what their expectations were. This I felt was the best venue to pursue because it gave everyone an open forum to express themselves and for me to see what the overall make-up of my floor was.

My discussion with the floor concerning expectations went very well. I allowed my residents to explain their expectations of me first, because I wanted them not to be at all influenced by my expectations. What I was looking for was honest and open feedback of what they wanted to see happen this academic year. Some of the expectations of me expressed were being open minded, fair in administering policy, available to talk with, and planning programs that the floor could have some say in. My reaction to these expectations was one of confidence, because I felt confident enough in myself to fulfill these expectations and then some. After making sure everyone had a chance to speak, I began to explain what my expectations of them were going to be this year. I was concerned at first that maybe my expectations were still too high, but I soon learned that they were more than fair.

Some of my expectations of my residents included being respectful to me and others on the floor, willing to understand and follow policy, willing to participate in programs, and helping to make the floor a clean and secure place to live. Upon going into some more detail concerning each individual expectation, my residents felt that they were very understandable and reasonable. After having established both parties expectations of each other, I began to brainstorm what I could do each term to revisit those expectations and see if the residents and myself were meeting them. My idea was simply to create a small evaluation form that I would give each one of my residents at the end of each term. My reasoning behind this idea was to allow residents a chance to freely rate my performance as an RA without feeling pressured or uncomfortable. The whole purpose would be to simply get honest feedback and see what areas of my leadership need to be worked on. These forms would not contain names or any personal information, so that confidentiality would be protected at all times.

Supporting And Advising Floor Level Student Government
During my sophomore year here at Oregon State University, I had the great opportunity to participate in Hall Council. I served as Bloss Halls Vice President for two terms before I joined staff and it was a very enjoyable experience for me. There are three main things that I feel are critical when trying to support or advise individuals getting involved in student level government. The first key element is developing a solid relationship between staff members and the Hall Council members. This goal can be achieved in a very easy and simple way. By attending Hall Council meetings as a Residential Life staff and by supporting Hall Council functions, you are showing your support of the entire community and its members. It allows members of Hall Council to see your leadership abilities by taking the time to attend different functions even with your busy schedule. Furthermore, it places you on the same level as the members of Hall Council and the residents of your community. You do not want to be seen as only the “RA” and not a resident concerned with the well being of the community.
The second main aspect to help in support student government in a Residence Hall is by forming a good working relationship with the Assistant Hall Director. The ARHD is directly in charge of Hall Council and give wonderful advice in how to help support Hall Council and its members. Not to mention the fact that he/she can help inform staff of upcoming events or programs that the staff could help participate it. Through this type of interaction with the ARHD, I have been able to help out with Hall Council in the most effective way and at the same time maintain great relationships with all its members. My involvement has helped in gaining the support of Hall Council when I hold programs or functions in the hall. It can make any staff member’s year a good one if they have help from Hall Council.

Finally, the last idea and maybe the most important is to maintain good lines of communication between Hall Council and the Residential Life staff. Information that is not given correctly or not at all can greatly influence how staff perceives student government and to what extent they want to dedicate their time to it. The ARHD has a very important job to keep the lines of communication up between staff and Hall Council. I am very focused this year on helping the ARHD in any way I can to help ease the burden of this responsibility. If I can relay information to my floor reps, make posters advertising events, or just helping in the daily functions of student government is something I am more than prepared to do. It is important for every staff member to remember that they are on a team and that it is critical to work together if anything positive is going to be gained during the year.

Seeking Student Understanding Of Hall And University Regulations And Policies
It can be one of the most challenging aspects to being a Residential Life staff member when you have to seek the understanding of university policies on behalf of the residents. During my time in the residence halls last year, I felt that many staff members just expected residents to know exactly what the policies were concerning different issues. I did not see a lot of discussion concerning policies in my hall and I could see where it would be easy to do something against policy and not know you were in the wrong. This observation last year helped me to foster a few different ideas to help seek the understanding of resident when it comes to university policy. The first and most effective one I have found so far is to have conversations with your residents about policies and regulations. Instead of just assuming they read their handbook and understood it word for word, I took it upon myself to make sure they knew exactly what all of them meant. I encouraged residents to come talk with me about policies even if they did not agree with what the policies stood for or meant. Ignorance can be a very dangerous thing when talking about fire hazards or alcohol consumption in the residence halls. It took some extra time on my part becoming familiar with the policies, but I found that it has been extremely helpful in establishing the rules.

The second thing I want to accomplish this year is organizing a couple large programs where policies and regulations are presented to the residents in an open forum type style. I have the idea of inviting members of Oregon State Police to come in and talk about what they do and what the legal rights of residents are when they live in the residence halls. This program would hopefully do two things. First, I would hope it fostered a stronger relationship between residents and OSP and secondly, I would hope that residents understood policies well enough not to break them. Even if they would walk away not agreeing with the policies, it is the fact that they would accept them is what concerns me most. My other ideas included having a lawyer come in and discuss the rights of residents after they have been arrested for example. Or maybe have a representative from the university come in and explain the history and reasoning behind different policies. The programs that I organize to help residents understand policy will be determined by what I feel my residents need the most and what they will feel compelled to participate in.

Fostering Respect And Consideration Among Residents
Being a Residential Life staff member can be very challenging at times and can force a person to do a lot of self-reflecting. One of the main goals for any member of staff to have is being respected by their residents and their staff as a whole. In my personal experience, I have found two possible ways to accomplish those goals. I have found that treating residents like adults and developing solid personal relationships with them is critical. It is important to not to treat residents like little children, but rather young adults who are growing and developing. This is where I have focused much of my attention in developing relationships with my residents. From the very beginning of the year, I tried to treat my residents like mature individuals who would probably make mistakes, but would be responsible enough to accept the consequences for those mistakes. To put it more simply, I have worked very hard to show my residents that I see them as equals, and this has proved very successful for me in acquiring their respect.

The second main element that I have found to prove useful in gaining the respect from you residents, is making sure that the staff members are respectful to each other, and certainly this must be done in the presence of residents. Any personal problems or issues that might occur involving the staff should be kept private and out of the residents view. If residents see that the leaders of their communities are fighting amongst themselves, what kind of message would that be sending to them about the structure of their community. If I have a problem with a particular staff member, I keep it in private and I go directly to the individual that I have the issue with. I am very open-minded when it comes to working with individuals, but this first term has been very challenging to me when it comes to some leadership styles. It is also important to note at this time that one of best ways I have found to earn the respect of residents. Lastly, I have placed a great amount of emphasis on “judicious leadership” and protecting the interests of the community. By placing a lot of focus on my community, residents feel more compelled to work with me in making it a safe and clean environment to live in. Residents have more respect for me because I place the whole community above any one resident. That is something that I intend to continue doing throughout the year.

Encouraging And Developing Understanding Of Cultural and Ethnic Differences
One of the most eye-opening aspects to being a Residential Life staff member for me was level of sensitivity that must be expressed concerning cultural/ethnic differences. It was critical for me not to assume that everyone had the same viewpoints or ideas that I had, and that I must be willing to listen to different perspectives even if I did not agree with them. In essence, I soon realized that the only way I could be a productive RA was by being open-minded and willing to listen closely to what my residents. One of the reasons that I decided to take the position as a RA in the first place was to expand my horizons and to experience new ways of looking at things. To take this goal a step further, I wanted my residents to leave this year with a more educated perspective about different cultures. I had a few ideas that might help me accomplish this goal and at the same time, have a really good time in accomplishing it.

My first idea that I plan on carrying out this coming winter term is holding at least four foreign food nights for the entire hall. This program would entail me inviting a resident from a different culture to prepare a meal from their respected country. I would provide them with all the supplies and would help them to advertise the event. As residents came down to eat the prepared dish/dishes, they would be exposed to many different aspects of whatever culture was featured that night. I would prepare information for them to look at and maybe even organize a way for residents to talk about their culture to fellow residents who attend the event. I would solve the program attendance problem by featuring food, which is always popular, and it would be a creative way for residents to learn new information.

My other idea was to utilize resources here on campus to help me borden the horizons of my residents. There are always events occurring here on campus that deal with different diversity issues and they are excellent venues to pursue. Looking at this first term alone, the university has featured many well-respected speakers and educators from many different walks of life. I realize that it can be difficult getting residents to attend these events, but it all depends on how you advertise the event and if it meets the needs of your residents. It is very important to pay attention to what your resident’s interests are and how you can work to meet those needs. I have noticed that many of my fellow staff members look so hard for diversity programs outside of campus that they forget to look to see what programs the university itself offers.

Helping Residents Deal With Interpersonal Conflicts
In the first nine weeks of this fall term, I have already been placed in many different situations where there was conflict between one or more residents. The most common one that I and many other fellow staff members have had to deal with is roommate conflicts. At the very beginning of the year I made sure that my residents know that I was always available to talk with them if they needed me. I didn’t want them to feel desperate if they started to have conflicts and did not know whom they could turn to. I think being available to your residents is one of the best ways to deal with conflicts, because if you are there to see the early warning signs, then you can deal with the situation before it becomes a much larger problem. The second thing that I have made sure to do is stay neutral in every conflict situation and to listen very carefully to what each party tells me. Having good listening skills is absolutely critical if you want to help your residents deal with different conflict issues.

The one thing that I have been compelled to do, but thought it better not to, is to help solve the problems for my residents. I feel it is important to offer advice and resources for my residents to use if they need them, but I never wanted to get in a situation where my residents needed me to solve their conflicts for them. College is a chance for people to learn more about themselves and I feel that by solving the problems for residents you are doing them a great injustice. Another thing that I have tried to do is during a one on one meeting with a resident, I explain to them that I can only offer advice and depending on how serious the conflict, I might even have to contact the proper authorities. This sets the tone very early that my attention is completely directed towards them and that I will work hard to help them get through their problem. Overall, being available, having great listening skills, and being knowledgeable of campus resources has greatly helped me in dealing with conflicts. I will continue to work extremely hard to maintain these three qualities for the duration of this academic year.

Programming To Meet Special Needs And Exposure To New Ideas
One of the goals that I set for myself when I became a Resident Assistant was to be very open-minded and concerned about what my resident’s interests were. I did not want to do programs just to meet my quota, but rather due programs that would meet the needs of my residents. There are two main reasons for why I feel this is very important to keep in mind as a member of staff when trying to build community. The first being the fact that if you do programs that your residents are interested in, you will have much better attendance and your residents will be much more content. If you are only interested in meeting your quota, then you will probably have less attendance and possible less respect from your residents. Showing concern for your residents needs is also showing concern for them as individuals. You build a much stronger relationship with them and they see you more as a hard working member of staff rather than a lazy one.
The second reason I feel it is important to do programs that are in the interest of my residents is because, they would be more likely to help me in organizing the program and thus, help me to establish closer working relationships with them. Daily interaction is very important when trying to build community and by gaining assistance from residents is a wonderful way to accomplish that goal. But now the question lies in how am I going to find out what my residents needs are? Well, I have decided to do a survey at the beginning of winter and spring term. This survey will ask my residents what they want to see happen during the term and what types of programs intrigues them the most. This type of feedback will not only make me a more efficient RA, but also it will make my job a lot easier. My plan was to create the survey over spring break and present it to my residents during the first floor meeting of winter term. It is important that I do it earlier so as to establish what direction I will take during the term for programming. This is feel will ultimately help me to meet the special needs and expose my residents to new ideas.

Creating Building Ownership
When an individual chooses to accept a Residential Life position, not only are they choosing to be mature, responsible, educated, focused, positive and open-minded community leaders. They are also making the choice to be positive role models through their own actions and examples. One of the most challenging aspects of being a staff member is instilling within your residents a sense of ownership or pride for their residential hall. The role of the Residential Life staff member in creating building ownership/pride includes many different aspects, such as programs, signs, and creating a comfortable living environment. As a staff member, the most important parts of creating ownership/pride of the building is to make everyone feel they belong to the community, learning the names of the residents is a great way to start along with holding floor meetings and other activities. Setting a positive example and being enthusiast are also important to remember, along with keeping the community peaceful by enforcing university policy.

Some of the ideas for programs that I came up with included a self-help program, cleaning party, a monthly open-forum, and introducing the hall to the custodians. By putting on these types of programs you show the residents how they can help solve small problems, that they have a voice, and allows them to know who cleans their community areas. It’s important for staff members to understand and prepare for problems, such as vandalism and residents who are unhappy with the condition of their room or building. There are a few important concepts to remember when dealing with problems, one of the most important being letting the residents know the consequences of their actions. If they understand the policies and realize that they will be punished for breaking the rules, it will hopefully deter them from committing wrongful acts. Another important thing to remember that as a staff member, you do have limitations to what you can do with repairs and improvements, and don’t be afraid to let residents know exactly what your role is.

I have worked very hard to get any problems on my floor dealt with in a quick and efficient manner. This means more work for me at times, but my residents respect me for making sure our floor and building is well-maintained and taken care of. During winter term I want to hold a cleaning party on my floor where my residents can have access to all kinds of cleaning supplies to clean their rooms with. Not only will this build community, but it will also help to keep our floor looking clean and organized. Creating building ownership/pride among the residents of the hall isn’t something that will happen overnight, however, as long as I keep a positive attitude and use the ideas mentioned above, I should be successful in creating building ownership.

During the duration of this paper, I have talked about a lot of different ways in which I can develop a healthy and enjoyable community to live in this year. I discussed certain programming ideas and how I am going to organize them to meet the needs of my residents. The one thing that I want to make sure I do this year is to set realistic goals for myself as a Residential Life staff member. I do not want to place too high of expectations on myself and end up burning out half way through the year. It is important that I take care of myself and work hard to get the most out of this year. Not only do I want this year to be great for my residents, but I also want to have a great year for me personally. I whole idea of working to create a community is very exciting to me and I look forward to seeing what happens in the coming terms. I know that I will work very hard to give the very best to my residents and in return, I hope they work hard to maintain the community that I will build the foundation for. I can give them the tools, but only together can we build the community.

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