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The Resident Advisor
by Karen A. Myers
St. Louis, Missouri
Welcome to "Campus Voices." In each issue you hear the voice of a college student and learn about college life from the student's perspective. Each article features a composite of real life experiences taken from students with real voices. What is it like to be a college student with a visual disability? How do you use the library? How do you work in a lab? Do your professors provide the accommodations you need? Let's listen in ...
Hello. My name is Grace, and I am a third-year college student majoring in psychology. My goal is to be a high school or community college teacher. In order to pay my way through college, I am a resident advisor in a transfer student residence hall. It is a job that not only provides room and board, but comes with its challenges and rewards--and is one that I thoroughly enjoy.
I have lived in a residence hall since my freshman year. I always admired my RA, Liz, and saw her as a mentor, big sister and friend. Although it may be different at other colleges, our RA was an upper-class paraprofessional who lived on our floor with 36 students and was responsible for our safety and welfare. She was a warm, personable young woman who led meetings, provided advice and coordinated programs for our residents. I wanted to be just like her.
So after living in the hall for two years, I applied to be an RA. Liz told me that the more leadership experience you have, the better your chances for becoming a resident advisor. I took that to heart and became involved in extracurricular activities. My experience as a representative on Hall Council and an officer in the Psychology Club definitely helped me get an interview. It was during the interview, however, that the challenges began. We were given various scenarios and asked how we would handle them. For example, a student falls down a flight of stairs. What do you do? A student has not been seen for two days. Her roommate is worried about her. What do you do? You discover that underage students have beer in their rooms. What do you do? A student is depressed and will not leave her room. What do you do? I believed I could handle most of these scenarios. I knew who to call and what resources to use, but then came the question, when you are doing rounds alone, how can you tell that no inappropriate behavior is occurring on your floor?
Up until this question, the fact that I am blind did not come into play. Several of the people in the interview knew me and were aware of my capabilities. I could sense, however, the concern of the others. How can this woman who cannot see possibly be an RA? Tactfully, I allayed their fears by explaining how teamwork comes into play. It is customary for RAs to do "rounds" in pairs, and although I may not be able to actually see the alcohol on the closet shelf or the marijuana hidden in the drawer, my RA partner can. And in turn, I am capable of writing the report, which must accompany such findings--a job that is often dreaded by many. I also mentioned the fact that I can smell Scotch, cigarettes and pot a block away--"not a sixth sense," I said, "just a blessing, I guess." This brought a laugh from the group, and I was relieved I could lighten the mood.
Two weeks later I was thrilled to receive the news that I had been selected to be a resident advisor. I oversee 24 transfer students (12 males and 12 females) in a co-ed residence hall. All of my students are over 21, which is nice when it comes to the underage drinking policy. Our college is not a "dry" campus, which means that students who are 21 and over are allowed to have alcohol in their rooms. But alcohol is only one problem on college campuses. Students deal with anxiety, depression, competition and eating disorders. They experience loss of friends, loss of parents, loss of partners and loss of pets. On the flip side, they experience joy and elation when they receive good grades, awards, job offers, marriage proposals and acceptance into graduate schools. Life in a residence hall is a microcosm of life. Students face a myriad of emotions and experiences, and as their RA, I am there to share it all.
So what does this have to do with blindness? Very little--and that is my point. I am a human being with strengths and weaknesses. I care about other human beings, which is why I wanted to be an RA. According to the Resident Advisor handbook, my job is to "provide immediate support and guidance for students in the residence halls in the many areas including personal development, community building, programming, academic support, and referrals to campus resources." I am grateful to have the opportunity to do so on a daily basis.
For more information about residence life on college campuses,
see St. Louis University Housing and Residence Life, www.slu.edu/services/residence/fye/terms.html#ra ;
The Association of College and University Housing Officers International, http://acuho.org
and College Student Educators International Commission for Housing and Residential Life, www.myacpa.org/comm/housing .
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