So, my first year at UPS, I lived in a first-year hall called Todd-Phibbs. (#TP2forLyfe!) I had two RAs, one on my side of the hall and one on the other side. I definitely became closer with the RA on my side, it didn’t hurt that she was only two doors down. She encouraged me to run for Residence Hall Association (RHA) and ended up being the “Programmer” for that year. We even collaborated with the RAs in the building on a popcorn program. As I watched them do their jobs, I became more interested in what exactly RAs do. I’d seen reprimands for hair accumulating in shower drains, late night talks, leading floor meetings, and putting on activities for residents. I didn’t feel like this really covered it all so I chatted with them some more as application season approached. I applied, primarily hoping to be a Resident Assistant in a first-year hall, and ended up getting the job! I was psyched, but secretly scared. If you want, you can read this Facebook post I wrote not long after I learned I was hired. I saw being a RA as an opportunity to meet people, help them through some of the difficult parts of college, and to grow as an individual.
My sophomore year I had the Garden Level (basement) of Anderson-Langdon to myself as a RA, and went through some ups and downs with my ~32 residents. One of the biggest lessons that year was that it is okay to ask for help, especially if you’re struggling.
I decided to reapply, even as I was going through a rough patch, because I felt like I was able to make a difference. I reapplied, hoping for another first-year hall, but Res Life had other plans for me. I was rehired as the Resident Programming Adviser (RPA) for Smith and Oppenheimer Halls. I remember feeling shocked and apprehensive, but determined to make the most of it.
This last year was by far my hardest in Res Life and in academics. It wasn’t the balance I struggled with so much as motivation to do anything. Luckily, I had a dedicated and tight-knit staff team to carry me through. I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten through junior year without them. Not to sound too cliche, but I learned a lot about myself this year. Some of it was hard to admit, some was genuinely uplifting, but all of it was important for me to know. A lot of it stemmed from one event.
This fall, I had a resident die by suicide. This both shocked me out of my lethargy, and drew me further into it. The resident wasn’t one of those you get to know super well, not because they aren’t friendly, but because they go their own way and do their own stuff. The weeks leading up to the funeral were some of the hardest of my life. I knew it wasn’t my fault, but couldn’t fight the feeling that I could’ve done something more. Sitting in the church for the funeral was wrecking me emotionally, but I knew I needed to be there. As each memory was shared, laugh was laughed, and tear was shed, I realized I could and should do better. The moment of true closure came for me when a man sang a sad song, while picking a guitar and occasionally playing the harmonica he had around his neck. I rededicated myself to the people side of the job, and resolved to improve where I could, to try and prevent this from ever happening again. I also bought a harmonica, and have decided to learn to play it. Whenever I pick it up, my resident and that funeral are the first things on my mind.
As I was going through the year, I would occasionally feel really sad and unmotivated. I’ve kind of hovered around the thought that I may have had depression, but as it was never diagnosed (still working on asking for help apparently) I’ve mentally referred to it as my periods of abiding sadness. In these times, going to hang out with friends sometimes helped and sometimes didn’t. Even things that generally made me really happy like going bowling or reading a good book didn’t make much of a difference, or seemed like too much work.
The one thing that was almost guaranteed to make me feel better was helping someone else through a rough patch in their life. I had been trying to support friends and other RAs/RCCs throughout the year, but it was in spring semester that I came face-to-face with another revelation, which I think I didn’t really have words for until my girlfriend casually sent them in a text. “You need to feel needed.” We had been talking about if I would reapply for Res Life after having such a rough year, and if I did, whether I’d ask for a first-year hall or not. I decided to reapply pretty early, then kind of thought maybe, and then swung back to yes again. In the end, I did reapply, was hired, and was placed back in TP, where my Res Life journey began.
So, I don’t exactly have a big picture or “moral of the story,” mainly cause I’m still trying to figure out what it all means to me. I guess if I had one takeaway, it would be:
Don’t forget to ask for help, there’s always someone out there who cares. Even if they can’t solve your problem, being understood and heard makes a huge difference.
You’re all caught up now. I think in future Res Life posts, I’ll touch on parts of the job/what I feel a RA should be, some advice, and maybe even more about learning about myself.
Thanks for reading,