I was having dinner with a few of my coworkers earlier this week. After a couple minutes of conversation, one of my coworkers pointed out that the only things I had spoken about were in regards to work (being an RA). Even after he pointed this out, it happened a handful more times during that same meal until I had to leave. While it he was joking around, it really stuck out to me.
So what does it mean if you talk or think about something constantly? That’s not a difficult question to answer- obviously, you are very invested in the subject, or you spend much of your time on the topic, or you have strong emotions about it. For me, all of those statements apply when thinking about how I feel about being an RA.
Everyone has their own reason for being an RA. When new RA interviews roll around, we hear a lot of the same answer when that very question is posed: “I just want to help people.” One of the professional staff members told an applicant who had said this that that statement was the most cliche response possible and to dig deeper to answer the question.
I know exactly why I am doing this job, and the desire to help people is certainly a huge factor, but it’s even more specific. In my nearly 2 years as an RA, I have discovered how amazing it feels to know you have made a significant difference in the lives of residents. During my first year, I was incredibly discouraged because I came in expecting every one of my 60 residents to want to interact with me and come to me for anything. I quickly learned just how unrealistic this was, but I was still disappointed. I came into my second year with the same goal in mind, and while I feel so much closer to this accomplishment than I did last year (I only have less than 30 residents now), I also feel a sense of peace. By building the intentional relationships that I have with my current residents, they know they can come to me when they need me (or when they don’t NEED me) and that I will be there for them no matter what. Granted, there are still individuals who prefer to talk things out with their friends, family, or someone else, I would say that I notice a much greater relationship with my floor this year.
So when someone asks me why I choose to be an RA and live in a mostly freshman building as a junior going on senior, I have the most truthful response possible; at the end of the day, when all is said and done, if I feel like I have given someone hope, a push in the right direction, or a shoulder to cry on, then I’ve done what I set out to do and can feel no greater form of happiness. My passion for residents goes beyond a need to satisfy the urge to help people, because it is more than just helping people. It’s about facilitating growth as leaders. It’s about making residents’ time at UIC and in Campus Housing the best possible experience. It’s about forming relationships that last beyond this year. It’s about making an impact. And it’s about doing these things on a frequent basis, not once.
I received two great forms of good news in coordination with being an RA. This weekend, I will join a few of my coworkers and head to Illinois State University for a leadership conference attended solely by other RAs. Even more exciting to me is the fact that I was given a Senior RA position for the upcoming academic year- something I have wanted to do since I started as an RA. In this role, I will not only get to continue to better the building as well as the lives of the residents, but I will have an official role in acting as a source of information and assistance to the other RAs.
And that’s why my job was the only thing I was talking about during dinner. Because I love my job, I love helping my staff, I love changing the attitudes and lives of residents, I love working to better the residence halls, and I love telling you about why I love it. Next year will be a huge change for me, but I am eagerly awaiting the change. Until then, I will spend my last few months as an RA attempting to strengthen the relationships with my residents and create unforgettable memories with them.