For those living on campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, there are a couple of people who stand in the spotlight on move-in day: roommates and the numerous resident assistants, also known as RAs.
The RA position may look simple, but there is a lot of work put in to keep the floor lively throughout the long school year.
Before the school year even starts, there’s a two-week training session that every RA goes through, no matter how much experience someone has, according to Sandoz Hall resident director Tobey Brockman.
The training session has many parts to it, but the main focus is on how to get each resident to feel comfortable on an RA’s floor. Hunter Parker, a junior RA and physics major, said the two most effective ways of bringing a floor together are having one-on-one conversations and hosting floor activities for all residents.
“We’re taught a lot about diversity, versatility and inclusivity and how to make sure that everyone, or at least as many people on our floor, are comfortable,” Parker said. “That comes a lot down to first impressions.”
A simple greeting on move-in day is the framework for creating a floor community. According to Parker, making everyone on the floor feel comfortable at the beginning of the year is essential for creating an open-minded floor environment, as residents can reveal more of themselves without judgment.
An RA is the leader of the floor but may not have the answer to every question. However, campus-wide events are thrown early on to help newcomers find their place at UNL. This is an essential part of the new POWER acronym launched by the university this year.
According to Brockman, the “P” stands for students finding purpose, “O” is for ownership by embracing who they truly are and being open to others, “W” is for personal well-being, “E” is for being engaged on campus and “R” is for developing relationships. POWER gives RAs a guideline for events to throw and how they can help students.
James Morrill, a junior finance major, was the RA of Floor 8 at Sandoz Hall last year and said he threw many events. He hosted activities with other floors, food socials and gaming competitions such as Rocket League.
“One of the things that I like to start with is ultimate frisbee versus the other floors,” Morrill said. “I think right there starts a lot of community, that you’re able to get guys not only doing some activity, but they’re being competitive — they’re representing their floor.”
However, it’s ultimately up to the resident to decide if he or she wants to participate, as an RA cannot force them to go to any events or activities. Sometimes those events or activities do not go as planned because of a lack of people in attendance. According to Parker, keeping a positive attitude can make all the difference.
“You kind of have to keep your chin up the entire time because maybe it’s not so great working with those residents,” he said. “But there are a lot of other residents who are really happy to have you, a lot of other residents that really look up to you and a lot of residents that you’re inspirational for.”
Within the RA position, there is also an emphasis on intentional conversations with residents. Parker said there are two ways to execute the conversations: going through them quickly just to get them done or taking the time to make each conversation genuine.
“We have these things called intentional conversations, and there are particular questions that we have to ask residents to get to know them a little better,” Parker said. “What I have found is having genuine conversations with at least one person at a time works absolutely great for me.”
An RA schedules these conversations during his or her free time. For Parker, these talks with his residents take 30 minutes and were influenced by his own RA, alumnus Matt Mendoza, during his freshman year. The conversations allow for residents and RAs to relate and find common ground among them, Brockman said.
“Those one-to-one intentional conversations between the RA and the student is really what drives our programming,” Brockman said. “This is really the heartbeat of an RA position — get to know each resident.”
These conversations have evolved over the last couple of years from starting with small talk to now scheduling individual times to speak with each resident. Brockman said these conversations answer questions about where to go for help and how to deal with academic struggles.
According to Brockman, 250 to 300 people applied for 50 to 70 open RA spots last year. With the times changing, the RA position has evolved to fit more with today’s era. Brockman said that one way is by talking about mental health challenges and creating initial interventions.
An RA’s main goal is to create a comfortable place for their residents to reside in and a solid, reliable foundation for them throughout the year.
“I want to see all these guys on the floor like being here, do well in classes and go to the different resources they need to,” Morrill said. “I want to make sure that these kids are comfortable in college, and that’s what I strive for.”
This article was originally published in the October 2019 edition of The DN.