Some of us in the graduate world find ourselves balancing the various duties of our studies along with responsibilities within a residential hall. While the role of an RA may vary depending on the university’s culture, some basic guidelines hold true. Over my last year as an RA, I’ve learned a few basic tips to help keep my sanity while juggling the rest of my life.
Set boundaries early on in the semester. If there are set quiet hours or if you have an open door policy, figure out how you will want handle life inside the dorm from the start. Some RAs choose to have their contact information readily available, some schools have their campus police intimately involved with decision making–either way, know what the campus-wide policy consists of and make it your own. Keep in mind that as you get busier and more stressed out, so do the other students living in your building. Plan ahead and understand that you may have more incidents in your dorm during peak times of stress. Also keep in mind that there may not be a big difference in age between you and your residents. Make sure you’re comfortable with where you on the spectrum between friend and RA.
Engage the students on various levels to make your RA job more enjoyable. Keep in mind that these students are just like you and find things that you have in common with them. Often planning social events such as ice cream socials or a movie night will give both you and these students a nice break from all the class work. If you have a hobby, you may be surprised to find others in the building who are also interested–start a club!
Know your resources both on and off campus. It is vital to realize that you don’t have all of the answers. Knowing who to call in the Counseling Center or what the protocol is for a student who has been assaulted is critical. It is not always appropriate for you to fix everything so guiding students to the correct office is instrumental in ensuring a safe environment to protect your students. Feel free to lean on other RAs or support staff from the Res Life office, but beware of FERPA and violating confidentiality.
Get a life outside of campus. Go out with friends and enjoy life. Finding a hobby that takes you off campus can help give you that needed break. As RAs, it sometimes feels that you never get to leave campus. Make it a point to see that movie or go to that exhibit that you’ve had your eye on. This will help create a separation between your personal life and your job(s).
While being an RA can be a lot of fun, it is important to remember that it is an entire job in itself. Keep in mind that your own studies, your assistantships, research, and publications must fit into your busy schedule as well.
[Image by Flickr user hantlas and used with Creative Commons License]
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