RAs sometimes get a bad reputation for making their rounds at night. Yosemite Hall’s staff at Cal Poly talks about what they do to keep the building safe and some strange experiences they’ve had on rounds.
Though most advisors will be returning home this Thanksgiving break, some will be staying at Cal Poly.
Everyone can get homesick, even RAs.
Campus Dining can actually put on a good Thanksgiving meal.
I’ll admit it, being an RA this time of year makes me a litte sad. While all my residents are packing their bags for a long Thanksgiving weekend at home, I hardly even feel like there’s a break coming up. Being one of the three advisors staying in Yosemite Hall this week will probably not make for my best Thanksgiving on record.
But I’ll be the first to admit it, I asked for this. Because the residence halls are open for both Thanksgiving and spring breaks, advisors do need to stay in the halls. And, honestly, I will have quite a bit more fun during spring break than I would during Thanksgiving going back home. Still, it will be sad to spend my first Thanksgiving away from the family.
“I’m definitely jealous of a lot of people getting to go home, and I’m ready to see my family. But, I’ll make it.” -Graphic design junior Hailey Brook
Coordinator of Student Development Mike Korona, who works with me in Yosemite, is the point person for advisors staying over break. He’s coordinating duty schedules and desk shifts, as well as ensuring all the residents are safe during the holiday.
“We encourage students to leave, and most do,” he said. “But since we do have students living in the halls, we do need staff here to maintain safety and security.”
Two front desks will be open over break, one in the Poly Canyon Village apartments and one in Sierra Madre for the residence halls. Korona said advisors will be working these, as well as taking duty shifts at different times during the day. Advisors will also do “light programming, to provide the students here with some options for activities,” he said.
Korona said usually less than 10 percent of students will stay for Thanksgiving, many of them from states other than California that are difficult to travel to. Advisors, such as architecture sophomore Mike Johnson from Colorado, also tend to stay during the break if they are from out of state.
“I don’t mind,” he said. “It’s good, being out of state, to stay for Thanksgiving rather than spring break.”
Johnson is one of two RAs staying in Sequoia Hall who will work with all the advisors in the residence halls on desk shifts in Sierra Madre and duty in 13 different halls.
They will be joined by four other advisors in their sister residence halls, Santa Lucia and North Mountain Halls, as well as RAs in other residence halls. Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village apartments will also have community advisors working during the break.
One of the advisors staying from North Mountain is graphic design junior Hailey Brook. Brook, whose hometown is Park City, Utah, planned to work last year on Thanksgiving. Homesickness, however, forced her to return for the holiday and find another advisor to cover her shift. This year, she’s planning on making it all the way through.
“I feel kind of homesick,” she said. “But winter break is right around the corner. I’m definitely jealous of a lot of people getting to go home, and I’m ready to see my family. But, I’ll make it.”
In place of a Thanksgiving night dinner for all the RAs to enjoy with their fellow advisors, University Housing and Campus Dining worked together to put on a Thanksgiving dinner last Friday night. Campus Dining, the same corporation that runs VG’s Cafe (less than affectionately known by its patrons as “The Vag”), actually put on a full meal, complete with turkey, potatoes, green beans…the works. And it came with what no Thanksgiving feast would be without: friends.
“It was a good spirit refresher since I’m kind of burning out toward the end of the quarter,” microbiology junior Melodi McKay said. “Sometimes I ask, ‘This job is so much work, why am I doing it?’ But those little things add up, for sure.”
Advisors who are not staying will be leaving their halls Tuesday afternoon, and will return on Sunday. And whether you’ll be spending it in a dorm, an apartment or a house, have a very happy Thanksgiving!
Coordinators of Student Development Michelle Dimmett and Briana Enriquez taught an RA in-service on weekend programming on Nov. 9 in Santa Lucia Hall at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Sometimes it can be easy to get lost in the job of being an RA. Between staff meetings, community building and duty rounds, the job can slowly take over someone’s life, until it just becomes part of who they are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but, like most things in the job, it requires moderation and balance.
“The RA position just kind of becomes your life.” -David Van Schooten, Sierra Madre Hall RA
As anyone who’s worked as an advisor will say, maintaining an outside social life is one of the most important aspects to staying sane on the job. There’s a reason we all get two or three weekends entirely off duty, and are allowed, even encouraged, to get out of the hall and go take time for ourselves.
Mechanical engineering sophomore David Van Schooten began working as an RA the third quarter of his freshman year. With only two weeks notice, he had to pack up everything from his dorm room in Yosemite Hall and start his new job in Santa Lucia hall. That meant saying goodbye to the friends he had made during the first two quarters that year.
“I was still in the residence halls with them, and I had to tell them all that I was leaving to go be an RA,” Van Schooten said. “It was pretty sad, but at the same time, I was stoked and they were stoked for me. It was bittersweet I guess.”
Living in Sierra Madre Hall now, Van Schooten said he still needs to make a conscious effort to create time to spend with his friends outside the residence hall.
“The RA position just kind of becomes your life,” Van Schooten said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s extra work, it just kind of assimilates into who you are. But I have definitely found it difficult to keep in contact with my other friend groups, and it’s just something I have to be intentional about.”
Sociology sophomore Rachel Stochl, Van Schooten’s friend from back in Yosemite, said she was excited for Van Schooten when he left the hall. She does, however, not get to see him as much since he left.
“I was excited for him. I was kind of sad, because I didn’t think I’d get to see him very much anymore, because he would be busy, and he was,” she said. “But I was excited. He was good enough where he would be picked as a freshman to lead freshmen.”
Van Schooten said that his busy schedule as an RA makes it difficult to meet with friends as often as he would like, so he normally just grabs lunch with them between classes.
Liberal studies sophomore and Muir Hall RA Ashlee Evonc also experiences this problem due to her busy schedule working in Muir, she said. Meeting with friends can be difficult for her, but she said it’s gotten easier as the year has gone on.
“It definitely gets easier as the year goes on,” she said. “I feel like you get into the swing of things and figure out how long things are going to take. Time management is key. Without that, you wouldn’t have the job.”
In an residential setting where advisors don’t see their residents nearly as often as they would like, community advisors (CAs) in Cerro Vista Hall need to be creative in the way they communicate messages to their residents. From putting signs in elevators to literally forcing residents to view their advertisement before they key into their apartment, the CAs have developed their own strategy of tackling the challenges of resident communication.
Being an advisor is all about balance. RAs and their apartment counterparts, Community Advisors (CAs), learn this almost immediately on the job. Should we get seven hours of sleep or knock out a few program evaluations? Should we start our week-in-review or chemistry first? Or, possibly most important, should we be our resident’s friends? Or should we maintain the authoritative facade of a stone-cold advisor? Is there really any one right answer?
During advisor training, advisors are told that one of the most important things they can do is become close to their residents. This makes the job so much easier in everything from programming to warnings to documentations. But they learned this comes with necessary limitations, and advisors must sit somewhere in the middle of being an advisor and a friend.
Child development junior Katlyn Roobian is a CA in the Cerro Vista apartments. She said she worked hard in the beginning of the year to remain fair and carefully toed the line between a friend and an advisor.
“It’s really important to remember the balance,” she said, “and it’s really difficult sometimes because there’s not necessarily a wall, but there’s definitely a line where you can be friendly but you can’t be friends.”
Roobian said she has succeeded in creating a balance between the two, which, in her eyes, should be a goal of all advisors.
But for mechanical engineering sophomore Bodin Rojanachaichanin, who also works on Roobian’s Cerro Vista staff, it is not always necessary to perfectly balance the two positions. Roobian described Rojanachaichanin as, “the nice one.”
“I think for me I tend to be more friend-ish toward them,” he said. “So around me they tend to be more comfortable around me.”
Rojanachaichanin does, however, see the possible downfalls of being too close of friends with his residents.
“That can be a problem when they talk about things they would just say to friends, whereas you can’t say that to an advisor,” he said. “In a documentation situation you have to be more one sided and be the authority because you have to take control of that situation and not let them walk all over you.”
Poly Canyon Village (PCV) CA and biomedical engineering sophomore Luke Thompson also thinks he falls more on the side of friend than advisor. But this is for a somewhat different reason than Rojanachaichanin.
Thompson’s residents are actually his friends.
“Me as a sophomore, the majority of my friends do live in PCV,” Thompson said. “So if I want to hang out, I’m not going to hang out off campus. I’m going to be continuing to hang out in PCV and being seen by my residents. ”
Thompson says he’s lucky that his floor hasn’t had any disciplinary problems yet, since his friendship with the residents could be problematic. Still, though, he believes his residents would respect him as an authority figure.
” You need to be like the friends-ish thing,” he said. “This is good because hopefully you have that trust with your residents where they can come to you if they have potentially big issues but you have to maintain your authoritative figurehead. ”
“I want to build relationships with them so they’re more respectful of me if I have to be authoritative with them.” – Luke Thompson, Poly Canyon Village advisor
Business administration freshman Simon Manson said his RA in Yosemite Hall is more of a friend to him. Not entirely surprising, he prefers it this way.
“She acts very relaxed and she does her job but she’s not very stiff,” Manson said. “Like if she ever asks us to keep it down it’s not really stern, it’s more like ‘Oh if you guys could just keep it down, you know, it’s 10:15 so if you guys could just keep it down or take it to someone’s room that’d be awesome.’ Instead of ‘You guys need to shut up.’”
His RA, parks, recreation and tourism administration junior Chelsea Pugh, said that by maintaining this positive relationship it helps her as an advisor. Residents like Manson, she said, appreciate the effort she puts into being their advisor because of this and respect her for it.
“I think being friendly toward your residents and being open to discussing topics with them that friends would be able to discuss, you also gain respect with them as being something other than authority figure,” she said. “It just adds balance to your role.”
Coming into the RA job can be intimidating, no one denies that. Taking responsibility for 40 or more individuals is a big commitment. Luckily there is a 2-week training program all advisors go through, which covers many different aspects of how to succeed in the position. These are five things addressed in the training that every RA should be aware of throughout their year:
1. “You must learn to time manage like you’ve never time managed before.”
The time commitment of being an advisor is a huge struggle, Kat Beglin, English junior and returning advisor in Tenaya Hall, said. She says it is important to emphasize the importance of being involved in activities outside of the advisor position, in addition to working in a residence hall.
“You still want to be involved with all the things you’ve done before because those will keep you sane.”
-Kat Beglin, returning RA
Beglin said that managing time is nearly always a challenge to first-year advisors, but that it can be overcome by planning and keeping on top of time commitments. She also said it is important to remember that advisors are students at a university, and studies cannot be forgotten.
“Education should still be a big part of your life, because you are at a university to, first and foremost, study,” she said.
2. “You shouldn’t take things personally.”
Though Beglin says she tries to never takes things personally on the job, she recognizes that is important to be emotionally invested in her residents’ lives.
“When someone comes to you to talk about classes or friends or whatever, you need to care about seeing them succeed,” she said. “That will make you do your job better.”
She does say, however, that not taking things personally saves her a significant amount of stress as an advisor.
“If there’s an incident on duty that needs to be reported, you shouldn’t think about consequences for residents, just that it needs to be reported,” she said. “Residents and staff take notice and will copy you, and incidents on duty seem to go worse when you’re emotionally involved in the residents.”
Beglin said it takes time to know when an advisor should be personally invested in their residents, and when they should back off and remain an objective member of University Housing’s staff.
3. “Ask for help.”
Sarah Fernandez, Coordinator of Development (CSD) of Santa Lucia and North Mountain Halls, has worked with dozens of advisors in her time as a CSD at Cal Poly. All too often, she said, advisors feel like they need to know everything about the job on the day they start working with residents.
“Ask for help,” she said. “It’s really easy to feel like you have to know everything so don’t be afraid to do that. If residents ask you a question that you’re not completely knowledgeable about, ask a CSD to work with you and help find the answer.”
She said that often times in roommate conflicts, an advisor will try to mediate a situation they do not completely have under control. She recommends talking to the CSD and getting them to work through it together.
“In roommate conflicts, it’s better in the long run to walk through it with your CSD and have them help with residents rather than try to burden yourself with everything that happens between the residents,” Fernandez said.
4. “Don’t think your work goes unnoticed.”
No matter what happens with residents, Fernandez wants advisors to know that their work does not go unnoticed.
“No matter what your residents are saying or how you’re feeling, CSDs recognize all you do,” she said.
Fernandez said that when residents are being negative about a situation, it is easy to lose sense of the appreciation that CSDs have for their staffs. She wants advisors to know that they are always being watched by CSDs and are being recognized, whether they know it or not.
” CSDs don’t have time to comment on every good thing everyone does,” she said. “But they do see what you do and how much effort you’re putting into the job.”
5. “Don’t be afraid to talk to your staff.”
Being able to communicate with their staff is one of the most important things an advisor can do, Stephanie Hubbert, history junior and returning advisor in Sierra Madre Hall, said. Hubbert said dealing with issues as a whole staff helps to make all advisors do their job more efficiently.
“Working together to fix a problem will only make you stronger as a staff,” she said.
She said that one can talk to their staff about more than just job related issues. Other advisors, she said, are the only ones that can relate to experiences someone could be having in the RA position, and so they can offer good advice on many aspects of life.
“It doesn’t just have to be if you have an issue on staff, but it’s also like, if you’re having a bad day, you might want to tell your staff why because then they can help you,” she said. “They want to be there for you, and you’re supposed to be a family.”
Hubbert stressed making sure issues on staff are dealt with respectfully.
“Confront issues on your staff in a polite way,” she said. “If you have different ideas on how you should handle something, instead of bottling it up inside, if you talk about it, then you can either compromise or come to an agreement on how it should be done.”
When I applied to be an RA last spring, the job was advertised as taking up 20 hours a week. I assumed this didn’t count just being in the building, always being required to answer your door to residents knocking, so I thought 20 was a decent estimate.
But working as an RA, I almost immediately found out that was quite a low number. Between meetings, duty, programming and just general paperwork, I would easily spend 30 or more hours every week as RA McMinn. It got me thinking though, is that just me? Does my fruitless quest to be a perfectionist and determination to overload myself with work 24/7 make me do more than is needed?
I talked to biochemistry junior Joey Vacca, who is in his second year as an RA, to find out. I actually caught Vacca as he was writing some reports for a program he was working on. “The past week and this week have been really hectic,” he said nearly immediately after he picked up the phone.
Luckily, he agreed to take a few minutes to talk to me about the time he puts in to being an RA. These were the highlights of what he does each week:
- Program advertising (posters, flyers, Facebook marketing) – 2 hours (“United Way is going to come in tonight and talk about how they’re going to work with us throughout the year,” Vacca said. “So I had to make posters and stuff for that, which took a couple hours planning that program.”)
- Attending programs – 2 hours. Total: 4 hours
“Even later tonight, I have an hour long wing program, a floor meeting, then I’m making bulletin boards and planning a program for later this week.”
- Meetings with Coordinator of Student Development (CSD) – 2 hours. Total: 6 Hours
- Meetings with residents – 1 hour. Total: 7 hours
- Being on duty/on call – 36 hours (“I count this because there’s times where I’ll plan to study during this time and get calls all night from residents, and only be able to get 10 minutes of studying done over seven hours,” Vacca said. ” I’m on duty twice a week, and then I have duty weekends where I’m on duty then too, like this weekend. But we’re trying to get that cut down.”). Total: 43 hours
- Front desk shift – 3 hours. Total: 46 hours
- Bulletin Board making – 3 hours.
Total: 49 hours