If your student is heading off to live in a college residence hall, there is a very good chance that there will be someone there just to help make dorm life go as smoothly as possible and be as meaningful as possible. That person may be called by different names at different institutions, but may be known as a Residence Assistant, Resident Advisor, Senior Resident or other similar title. This person is often referred to as an “RA.”
Residence Assistants are generally trained peer leaders who live in the residence halls and serve as mentors and guides for the students- answering all types of questions and conducting programming to engage their residents. They work to build a sense of community on their floor and in their building. RA positions are often competitive and students are sometimes paid and sometimes receive discounts on housing or meals.
Residence Assistants are trained to understand many of the transition issues that new students face and are prepared to help students deal with issues that may arise – from informal counseling for homesickness or other issues to mediating roommate conflicts or advising about academic difficulty. They can provide support and resources, as well as explain community expectations. Residence Assistants are also trained to know when to refer students to professional staff or counselors. They serve as role models for new students.
Residence Assistants are also charged with enforcing school policies and dorm rules, which may involve everything from quiet study hours to guests on campus to enforcing alcohol policies. They are responsible for the safety of their residents and receive emergency training. They generally report to a Residence Director or Community Director, who is a paid professional staff person.
According to one web resource for RAs, several famous people have served as Residence Assistants while in college. Some of these may include Adam Sandler (NYU), Katie Couric (UVA), Mike Ditka (Pitt), Hilary Clinton (Wellsley), Wesly Snipes (SUNY Purchase), and Sheryl Crow (UMiss).
If your student is going to be a new college resident, encourage her to take advantage of her Residence Assistant for help, counseling, and an introduction to college life. Residence Assistants are generally anxious to connect with their residents and to help students transition and grow. Or perhaps your student will be interested in this leadership position in the future. Many colleges recruit in the early spring for positions the following fall.