Every now and again I think about my role on this team…other than someone who is just hanging around,other than an honorary addition, or even an oddity. Yesterday I had a new perspective.
As I have said many times before, I have been working professionally in this field – student affairs at a university – for over 25 years. It all started when in my first year at the University of Guelph I was hired to be a Resident Assistant or R.A. (that was 30 years ago). I was responsible for a floor of over 50 students. I was the older student who could answer questions about university life, help support someone struggling with a personal problem or crisis, refer students to various services and supports available on campus, or just try to be a helpful presence in the community.
It was the fun I had getting to know the students on my floor, getting the opportunity to be helpful and make a difference for some, and just being part of a community where I could contribute something useful, that made me want to stay on the Residence Life Staff the following year. Eventually I applied for a full time job managing a whole residence building. More than 25 years later I am a Vice Provost, Students responsible for many large operational units at the university – with a large budget to manage, over 300 full-time staff, etc. But I am here because of that first taste I had of this work when I became an R.A. in Arts House at the University of
Guelph in January 1986. The only problem is that now I rarely have the opportunity to have a taste of that experience – the one that sparked the whole thing – the experience of getting to know a group of students well, being able to help some with their problems and continue to interact with them…getting to be part of a community with them. Until now. This is my role with this team. I am the R.A.
They all know me. They are all friendly to me. I know some better than others. I have helped with how to file an academic appeal. I have helped with a transfer credit issue. I have suggested opportunities for involvement in leadership positions on campus. I have written letters of reference. I have listened to personal secrets. I have sent messages of support and encouragement. I have met parents. I have participated in Secret Santa. I am not one of them but I am a part of their community. I am the R.A.
I am the R.A. It feels familiar and comfortable and natural and like putting on a comfy old sweatshirt. I am so grateful to unexpectedly be reminded of the thing that made me choose the career that I have today, so many years ago.
Not everyone gets to be the R.A. during their university experience. Hardly anyone gets to be the R.A. again 30 years later…lucky me!