In my job as a Resident Advisor (RA) on campus, I serve as an agent for both my boss (the Resident Director) and the residents who live in my wing of the building. These two principals do not differ entirely on what it means to be a successful RA, but there are several important differences.
The Resident Director (RD) is a professional housing staff member (often a graduate student or young professional in student affairs) who is in charge of the entire residence hall. As my boss, the RD of my hall requires me to make educational bulletin boards once a month, create “Door Dec” artistic nametags for each of my 45 residents, and hang up flyers for different events put on by University Housing. I am also required to plan educational and fun programs for the residents of my wing and for the whole building, go on rounds of the building to help ensure safety in the hall, and fill out paperwork to document any alcohol, drug-related, or bias/intolerance incidents that happen. I attend weekly staff development meetings, create program lesson plans, and hold extra programs once a month pertaining to aspects of student wellness (health and fitness, stress management, self-reflection, etc.).
On top of all these measureable and objective tasks, my RD also expects me to build community and develop relationships with each one of my residents. I am required to hold “open door hours” at least five hours per week for residents to stop by and chat or ask questions. Though these actions are encouraged, the RD essentially has no way to tell if these events are happening, so it is not formally measured in success from an RD’s standpoint.
Doing all this is what counts as success in the eyes of my RD. Residents, on the other hand, would see their RA as a success for different reasons. It must be noted that a lot of what the RD uses to measure success is insignificant to the residents. Most residents will not look at the bulletin boards I put up or come to the educational programs. Usually, just two or three residents from my wing come to an educational program; maybe ten residents come if the program is meant for the whole building. Residents don’t generally care about whether their RA is going on rounds of the building. In general, they don’t care as much about the technical parts of the job; residents just want an RA who is friendly, caring, and helpful. Residents have come to me with ideas for programs that they think would be fun. They have asked for tips on how to find a campus job, study more effectively, and make friends. They have come to me to sort out roommate disagreements and occasionally knocked on my door in the earliest hours of the morning to talk about life struggles. To residents, a successful RA is one who shows care for each and every one of his/her residents. It’s one who plans fun events, helps floormates become friends, and lends a listening ear. It’s also one who is there to help when a resident gets locked out of his/her room or when neighbors are being too noisy.
Ideally, my Resident Director also considers these qualities as part of a successful RA. The problem is that the qualities that residents tend to look for in an RA are hard to measure. There is no way for an RD to know how many times an RA has interacted with each resident or how friendly he/she is on a day-to-day basis. My Resident Director is in charge of me and my fellow RAs, but she’s also responsible for all nearly 500 residents who live in the building. This makes her extremely busy. So, realistically, it’s impossible for her to attempt to measure these intangible assets of successful RAs.
This causes a dilemma for the RA as an agent of the RD and of the residents. Evidently, the most important part of the job is supporting residents - that is what RAs are there for. The difficulty of measuring this facet of the job encourages emphasis on less important parts of the job (bulletin boards, program planning, paperwork, etc.)
It is nearly impossible to be successful at both the measurable and immeasurable aspects of the RA job. Most importantly, the RA should be successful for the residents. But this doesn’t always happen because the residents are not as demanding as the Resident Director; the resident director checks up on you and makes sure you are completing requirements, but residents don’t ask anything of you unless they’re having a specific problem. Coming up with creative bulletin board ideas, hanging up flyers, and attending weekly staff development meetings takes away from my time with residents. My job comes second to my position as a full-time student, so I have only limited time to begin with. As a result, it’s easy to push the community-building aspects of the job to the back burner.
There multiple potential ways to solve this problem. The first is to do only what the RD says, taking care of the measurable aspects of the job while ignoring the others. This would make my look good in my boss’s eyes, but I wouldn’t be very connected to the residents. Basically this method would make me a bad RA who looks like a good one. Pleasing the RD principal does not often do much to help me be a successful RA for my residents. In this case, pleasing one master would leave me failing for the other.
The opposite extreme would be to skimp on the formal duties given to me by my RD to maximize my time with residents. In this solution, I do just enough of what my RD says for her to see me as successful, and I dedicate most of my energy to the residents. This, in my view, is the best solution because it allows both masters to be satisfied to some extent.
Disregarding the requirements of the RD to focus only on the residents would not work because I would very likely lose my job that way. It must also be mentioned that although they are less important than interacting with residents, the duties that my RD gives to me do contribute to my success with residents.
The only other option I see would be to sacrifice my learning or my personal well-being in order to be a “perfect” RA. I could complete all the requirements that my RD gives me and be there constantly for all 45 of my residents, but I would have to give up sleep, study time, and exercise in order to do so. At the beginning of the year, I tried this method and it ended up backfiring - I could not be a successful RA without getting enough sleep or feeling like I had put enough effort into my studies.
Though it is not ideal in some ways, doing the bare minimum of requirements from my RD and spending as much time as I can with residents seems to be the optimal solution. I must complete the checklist of measurable requirements to satisfy one principal (the RD), and I must build community and form bonds with my residents to satisfy the other. The two principals are not directly opposed, as pleasing one often helps in pleasing the other, but there are important differences which must be accounted for.