The Insider: RAs facilitate community building

Rider University’s Statement of Community Values was adopted in 2001. This article and photo illustration highlights one of the eight principles. This is the first column in a series that will examine whether these missions are upheld.By Jetty Hartsky
At 7 a.m., draped in pajamas and my hair a mess, I walk to the hall office in my fuzzy pink slippers to finish a night of duty. I reset the office phone and return the block to its rightful place. I mosey back up the stairs to dress and hurriedly gather my books. On the way, one of my residents asks me a bubbly question, and even though it’s early, I respond cheerfully. As a Resident Adviser (RA), its my mandate to see that no one roams these halls a stranger. As a community, we can look to the Community Values Statement to see which principles strive to unite us all. On my quest to fulfill the second mission, I continue with my day.

I rush to appear half-decent and half-prompt to class. The professor asks the class about a campus event that I received a voicemail about earlier that day. I instinctively resist the temptation to blurt out the information and instead wait to see if anyone says anything first. I give in and tell the professor what I know. I appear as a Ms. Know-it-all, but that is far from the truth.

Later, I report to a staff meeting and disclose my plans for future programs. I discuss what I have learned about my residents through living and interacting with them. Returning to my room, I realize that it is 9:30 p.m. and I still have not touched a smidgen of my homework. I think to myself, I have plenty of time, since I don’t have class until mid-morning. However, at this hour, plowing through two acts of Shakespeare is not my cup of tea. Although I am tempted to become a hermit in the midst of my work, I open my door. I want my residents to feel welcome.

I have seen many relationships nourished within my community members. Paper slips lie on my desk containing interesting facts about my residents. Perusing through them, I find that there are similar interests and distastes among them. Future programs will surely incorporate these things. Last year, I wanted my residents to see the scope of opportunities that college life offers. More specifically, I wanted my female residents to know that there was more to experience, other than social events, clubs and organizations. I hosted a program that focused on the fact that maintenance of one’s self-image, electronic-image, networking abilities and career opportunities can begin now. About 20 people attended my program, “College Life: It’s Your Life,” and I was honored with the Residence Life Program of the Year Award. After the program, as a newly formed group of motivated, career-minded young women, these residents felt a special connection with one another. They had the opportunity to make a few more faces familiar.

Programming helps to acquaint people with one another. I use programming to reinforce that no one roams these halls a stranger. The community I live in is building itself, and I am a mere observer and supporter. When closed doors mark residence halls, how does one engineer a community? If the goal is to build community, what can one do in the face of disunity? Be available, be receptive and go out of your way to facilitate connections.

Having better things to do than to be chums with their neighbors, many say that they do not want to be bothered. I challenge this. Wouldn’t it be nice to be acquainted enough with your neighbors that if you sneezed in the bathroom, the person next to you would actually say, “Bless You?” If your hands were full, wouldn’t it be helpful if someone opened a door for you? This is what a community does; it takes care of its members in the simplest of ways.

As John Donne, an English poet, wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” In short, we exist as a landscape of people. Everything done, or not done, has an effect on someone else.

Do we have tunnel vision? Or will we accept this? What can unite us? I chose the RA position because I wanted to be there for my peers. The other RAs on campus and I work to ensure that no one roams these halls a stranger.

This is the first column in a series that will take a critical look at the fulfillment of the Community Values Statement.

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