Reflections on life as a Residence Life Advisor

Naveed Islam

(Rose Wasielewski)

I opened the door to my single room in Trever and set a stack of envelopes down on my study table. The room next to mine played loud music between 6 and 8 p.m. but I came home early enough to catch the end of a rousing heavy-metal set list.
I slid out of my shoes and let them dry in a corner where my trek to and from Memorial Hall on a snowy winter day collected in a puddle on my welcome mat. I took a bite out of my mock chicken tender pita and began sifting through my mail. Among the envelopes was a small note informing me that I had been recommended for the Residence Life Advisor position and was encouraged to apply.
“It seemed like a fun job,” said Assistant Dean of Students for Campus Life Curt Lauderdale. “It was a great way to be more involved with the community.”
Before graduating from Lawrence in 2001, Lauderdale worked as an RLA at Ormsby, Sage and Hulbert House, a residence hall that stood where the Campus Center was later built. He returned to Lawrence as a Residence Hall Director in Plantz and the newly opened Hiett Hall.
“The job is great because it helps you reach out and connect with a wide-group of people,” said Lauderdale. “For me, it was the first step in figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.”
I remembered passing by a smoothie station at the Trever Front Desk or coming across a ping pong tournament in the basement during a trip to the laundry room. The job seemed like it could be a lot of fun, but I didn’t know if I had it in me to put up with the brunt of the negatives that loomed behind the rosy words of an ad for the position.
I didn’t think I could stop a party or tend to a drunken resident stumbling through the lobby after quiet hours. “They must train you for those things,” I thought as cheese from my mock chicken tender pita hung precariously over my recently laundered bed sheets. ‘But do they train you on how to go out and meet people?’
Junior David Rubin faced similar questions when deciding to join last year’s residence life staff. “I became an RLA because I wanted to challenge myself,” confessed Rubin, “I tend to be somewhat shy and reserved. I knew that being an RLA would make me venture outside of my comfort zone. I would have to meet new people and learn to be more assertive. And all of that turned out to be true.”
Rubin was a Residence Life Advisor his sophomore year in Trever Hall and is currently living at the McCarthy Co-op House. As a member of the Trever RLA staff, Rubin has many fond memories of the group’s meetings with RHDs Brandon Parrott-Sheffer and Christina Martinez.
“I cared about everyone on my staff, and the hour or two we spent together each week – planning hall events and making sure everything was running smoothly – was really special to me, even though I didn’t realize it fully at the time,” Rubin noted.
Junior Eli Hungerford’s best memories from being an RLA also involved bonding with his staff. “We once tried to do a staff bonding outing with something starting with each letter of ‘Ormsby,'” recalls Hungerford, who was on the Ormsby staff last year. “This ended in us having a movie night and going to Buffalo Wild Wings all dressed in yellow.”
Hungerford has been involved with residence life for two years and is currently an RLA in Colman. “I decided to become an RLA to give back to my community,” said Hungerford. “I wanted to help people acclimate to college life like my freshman year RLAs did for me. It seemed like a really fun job because you get paid to get to know people and help them with their problems, which is something I’d love to do anyway.”
“I had a really good experience at LU my freshman year and I believe that my RLAs deserve a lot of credit for that,” said senior Emily Hoffman. “They were amazing and I became an RLA to try to sort of return the favor by helping new freshman make the transition.”
Hoffman lived in Ormsby as a freshman and is currently the Head RLA at the same dorm. “It’s all come full circle,” said Hoffman, “but it feels different. It’s not the same from when I was a freshman but that’s not a bad thing. Dorm communities always change from year to year.”
My own freshman year in Kohler was a mixed bag of experiences. I enjoyed living on my floor and am still in touch with a number of my neighbors. But, I had two different RLAs and half of one term without one. I did not attend many of the programs the RLAs hosted, save our regular sessions of Smash Bros. in the third floor Kohler Lounge and finals food gatherings before exams.
“I think attending programs is great,” said Lauderdale, “but putting on programs is even better. You get to be creative and have fun but also it’s an opportunity to get to know the people living near you.”
I was a sophomore when I applied to be an RLA, which meant I would have to spend junior year planning events and waiting for people to show up.
Super-senior Amanda Ketch-paw decided to apply to be an RLA “at the ripe young age of 20” and wanted to work with freshmen.
“I was incredibly interested in helping younger students grow and experience the diverse opportunities at Lawrence,” said Ketchpaw. “I found some of my greatest friends through being an RLA and would never trade this experience for anything.”
As a fifth-year student here at Lawrence who became an RLA as a sophomore, Ketchpaw has worked on four different staffs with several past and current RLAs.
“You can really get to know so many different people through this working environment,” Ketchpaw remarked. “One night while I was on duty in Hiett a neighboring staff and their residents came to attack me with bouncy balls. It was incredibly random and an all-around fun time! I still have laughs with those individuals.”
I sat with that note in my hand, signed by an RLA whom I had met only a few months ago and who had now deemed me fit to fill his shoes. I realized that it wasn’t up to me to decide if I was the right person for the job and chose to apply and see what would happen.
“We’re looking for candidates who want to be leaders in their communities,” said Lauderdale, “people who want to challenge themselves to try new things and work with their peers. There is no ‘right type’ of person for this position.”
I have been an RLA for two years and am currently the Head RLA at Kohler Hall where I lived as a freshman. Oh, and I ended up having to wash that cheese off my comforter.Editor’s note: There will be information sessions on applying to the position at your residence hall that will be hosted by the RHDs and RLAs. Applications will be due at the beginning of spring term. You will be receiving nominations in the mail soon.