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The Resident Assistant (RA) is a student who is employed by the Housing Department of their respective college or university to serve as a live-in member of the Residence Life Staff. The RA works with the directors of the dorm in which they live in order to establish a positive living environment for the resident students.

The essential functions of the RA position include the ability to: Read reports, gather and compile information for reports, perform cash transactions, communicate effectively with residents, staff, and guests, and direct and respond to fire alarms.

The RA is primarily involved in creating a community environment. In order to accomplish this, the RA is expected to play a variety of constantly changing roles. The RA must be flexible and creative in meeting the residents' needs by serving as a counselor, advisor, activity programmer, educator, and friend. This position requires a serious time commitment and willingness to be available and accessible to other students.

Hi, there. I was an RA. I was in charge of what was called "The Zoo" in Bruce Hall at the University of North Texas.

An RA's job description is different at every university -- possibly at every dorm. Jabooty's writeup looks accurate for most of the dorms I'm familiar with, though I never had to do any cash transactions where I worked, and we did only a couple of fire alarms a year. We also did regular desk shifts, put together programs ranging from dances and concerts to cultural/literary/scientific lectures and everything in between, and did daily safety checks on the building. We got room and board, plus minimum wage for our desk shifts. On the other hand, at one dorm I lived in as a lowly resident, we saw our RA very, very rarely. I think he had an off-campus apartment. No one seemed to mind. I've also heard of RAs who never do any work, who harrass residents, who break laws willy-nilly. If you're unhappy with the lack of services you're getting from your RA, take your concerns to (1) your RA, (2) the head resident, or (3) the Housing Department, preferably in that order.

As an RA, I had as few hall meetings as I could. They were hard to schedule, they were utterly unpopular, and I was more effective when I got to speak to my residents in small groups. But the university insisted on big hall meetings, and they insisted that the same boring information be conveyed everytime, so I had to do 'em sometimes. If you, as a student, have to sit through a big hall meeting, remember that your RA is probably finding it as unpleasant as you are.

We posted flyers whenever they came in, important or not. If the important flyers arrived late, it wasn't our fault. And we were required to keep the bulletin boards as clean as possible, 'cause it was a fire hazard. Luckily, the fire hazard rules didn't apply to residents' doors, so they could plaster them in tabloid headlines and Playboy centerfolds.

We very rarely dealt with any maintenance ourselves (Do you want a Philosophy major roaming your dorm room with a hammer and spackle? No, I thought not.), but we did fill out maintenance and repair work orders. Heck, sometimes, we'd give the work orders to the students so they could fill out exactly what they wanted done. If the maintenance guys didn't come in at convenient times, it wasn't our fault. We weren't in charge of scheduling their time. Of course, sometimes, the students would wait a month or two to fill out their work order, then complain that the work wasn't done fast enough for them.

As for fire drills, we did those because we were required to do them. You think fire drills are fun for RAs? Hell, no. Sometimes we had to do them in the evening, because the fire department wanted us to do them then. But we sure as hell didn't do them when it was cold outside. You think we wanted to sit out there and shiver? Double hell, no.

We were asked to serve as general counselors, just because we saw most of our residents daily and had a pretty good idea when they were having problems. Many of us weren't particularly comfortable with being counselors, but we understood why it was necessary. In fact, one of the RAs in my dorm counseled two of her residents who were contemplating suicide, and another counseled a girl who was bulimic. In all those cases, the students were also put in touch with trained counselors.

Yes, we spoiled everyone's fun by not letting you have that keg party in your dorm room. Yes, we got all huffy about you breaking out your windows to get a bit more breeze in the spring. Yes, we made you get rid of the dog you were keeping in your room. Yes, we were horrible mean bullies for telling you to flush the goddamn toilet after you finished doing your dirty sinful business. Yes, we made you turn down your fucking stereo when you started blasting it at 2:00 in the goddamn morning. Yes, we busted you for smokin' de ganja in broad daylight in the middle of the lobby while the university president was watching. Yes, we wrote you up when you smashed liquor bottles in the shower and took a dump in the hallway. We were horrible mean old fascists for not letting you live like a beast in the wilderness.

When the basement flooded, the RAs had to clean it up. When the freshman decided to drink a full gallon of milk in the cafeteria, then puked it right back up in the hallway, the RAs had to clean it up. When that kid got drunk and passed out in a puddle of his own vomit, the RAs were the ones who called an ambulance for his alcohol-poisoned ass. We hosted Star Wars marathons in the TV room, sponsored a wiffleball tournament with prizes we bought ourselves, did countless end-runs around the bureaucrats in the Housing Department to keep things running smooth, and looked the other way when you carried six-packs disguised in those oh-so-stealthy plain paper sacks through the front door.

I won't claim we were all heroes. One RA I knew used the job to pick up chicks, another beat his girlfriend, and another would show up drunk for her desk shifts. We all gave in to the arrogance of power from time to time (We had an unofficial slogan at Bruce: "Power corrupts; being an RA corrupts absolutely." Gee, was we funny). But most of the RAs I knew were great people who gave up blood, sweat, and tears for their dorms and their residents. I still consider being an RA to be one of the best jobs I ever had.

Resident Assistants are often criticized by residents who think RAs do little or nothing to add value to the dorm. In fact, an earlier (since deleted) post did just that, suggesting that RAs only had to do a few "pointless" tasks, such as "posting unimportant flyers," in exchange for a free private room. This seems to be a not-uncommon belief amongst dorm dwellers, so allow me to "set the record straight," as it were.

As a Hall Director, I was responsible for a co-ed dormitory for two years, and I had an exemplary staff of four Resident Assistants. Jet-Poop is correct in pointing out that RAs are responsible for numerous services, most of which the residents are barely even aware; more "behind-the-scenes" things go on in your typical dormitory than people realize. RAs do much more than they're given credit for and, in most cases, they're compensated fairly poorly, even when compared to their friends who flip burgers and make minimum wage.

In my dorm, RAs were required to fulfill a host of daily, weekly, and monthly duties. They had to do all of this, mind you, while balancing a full course load and (hopefully) maintaining some modicum of a social life. Meanwhile, they were also responsible for keeping a watchful eye on everything so the dorm didn't burn to the ground and/or become a gigantic meth lab.

Owners of perhaps the single-most thankless job, Resident Assistants are also generally expected to stay late and return early for all school holidays. So while the residents who think RAs do nothing are off at the beach developing their tans, it's usually safe to assume that one or two of the RAs had to stay behind to "lock up" and/or come back early to get everything ready for reopening.

While Jet-Poop does a great job of discussing the basics of being an RA on an individual level, it's also important to remember the group dynamic necessary for running such a large facility; in most cases, in addition to their regular work, RAs have team projects that are delegated to them by the Hall Director. These responsibilities can include dispatching workers to areas in need of repair, working with troubled residents to ensure they get proper attention and/or counseling, developing programs (Halloween parties, study breaks, talent shows) so the residents can socialize, etc.

It has been my experience that people rarely become RAs just for the free room. First of all, the life of an RA isn't that glamorous. Who would want to place themselves in a position where they regularly get knocks on their door at 3:00 in the morning because someone's smoke alarm is going off? Who would subject themselves to a job that put them on call pretty much 24/7, so that even if they have an exam the very next day, they still have to be responsible for the health and well-being of 30 or so other students should any of them slip and fall in the shower? Who in the world would do any of this simply to get a free room in a frickin' dorm?

No, during my years with Res Life, it became abundantly clear to me that RAs take the job because they are either very responsible people or they would like to become very responsible people. They do it for the experience. They do it because they like working with other students. They do it because they know they're going to look back one of these days and say, "Hey, I made an impact on someone's life."

After hearing complaints from students at other universities about their RAs, I can only assume that some folks simply have terrible experiences with either (1) an awful housing department that doesn't train their people worth a shit, or (2) an RA who shouldn't have been given the job and probably doesn't have said job anymore.

When I first got involved as a Hall Director, I too thought that the RA job was probably superfluous. But then I spent a week in a dorm with 120 residents living, eating, breathing, fighting, screwing, and God knows what else under one roof. My job was made monumentally easier by the seemingly tireless dedication of four, insanely responsible, RAs.

So while there may be one or two bad RAs out there, dissing the group as a whole is surely a mistake. (And if I come across as if I think the dorm would fall to pieces without RAs, that I never could have done my job without my RAs, etc., that's because I feel exactly that way, and I very much intend for that to be my point.)

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