What is an RA? And what do they do?

One of our Deac Dads sent me a link to a really good article in the New York Times about college students and sleep. This is a startling fact: “Studies have shown that sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating.” You can read the article and get tips on sleep health. It’s a worthwhile read for sure.

Sleep is closely related to your students’ experiences in the residence halls – which leads me to think of our Resident Advisers (RAs) and the many roles they serve on campus. The 2018-19 Guide to Community Living is now online, and that is a fantastic resource for all students, but particularly our ’22 incoming first-years, so they know what to expect.

To help you better understand what your students can expect out of residential living, IDr. Stephanie Carter, Director of Residence Life recently sat down with Dr. Stephanie Carter, Director of Residence Life, to talk about their important work.

What is an RA and what do they do?
Resident Advisers (RAs) are upperclass Wake Forest students who, first and foremost, are excited to share their Wake experience with other students on campus. We consider the RA position one of the premier student leadership opportunities on campus because of the complexity of their work and the positive, influential benefit a good RA has on the student residential experience. RAs uniquely wear a plethora of hats. They serve as a mentor, a friend, an authoritative voice, a resource/referral agent, and a community developer to name just a few.

One of RAs’ primary roles is to build a sense of belonging/community on their floor or within their residential community. RAs are assigned to either an entire floor or to a set of rooms on their halls (depending on its design/structure). It is their job to get to know each student (on as personal level as is comfortable) so they can best provide their residents with resources or help get them get engaged within the residential community and on campus.  The RA is there to make sure students learn about all the great things Wake can provide and how each student can take advantage of those resources. As well, RAs are here to ensure adherence to University polices/procedures and to help students stay safe and healthy in the process.

How do the RAs normally interact with their residents? Particularly on a first year hall?
RAs should be a very visible member of their communities (floor or residence hall).  Yes, they are students too, so they are not around all the time. Students should expect to interact with their RA several times a week formally (intentional face-to-face conversations or programs) or informally (passing them in the hallway or in the elevator and saying hello, etc…).  We have intentionally designed our South Campus buildings to allow for this type of interaction.  Our first year residence halls have a fairly low RA to student ratio, typically 1:25.

What is out of the scope of what RAs do?
Our RAs do a lot, but they certainly cannot do everything. RAs will do their best to help students make connections to resources on campus or to other residents as needed, but they cannot force student friendships/connections.  If residents are having trouble connecting with others on campus or within the residence hall, they should let their RA know. They will suggest ways residents can get involved within the hall or perhaps with a club or organization on campus as a way to meet other students.

What kinds of activities do RAs plan for their halls, especially for first-year students during the first few weeks of school?
The first six weeks is the most crucial time in the life of a new student on campus. First year students are getting acclimated, finding their way, and hopefully making connections with others on campus.

During this time, the RA will host floor meetings and social events to get students outside of their rooms and mingling with others. There are usually board game nights, group television show watching gatherings, walk overs to campus events, pizza (or other food) events and many other things. The RA will have ideas of activities to do but rely on suggestions from their residents or others within the building to understand what residents want to do. If it’s a reasonable request, then it will probably be granted.

The RA wants to hear from residents because suggested programs from residents are where we are more likely to find other residents interested in attending and that makes programs/initiatives more successful. Getting involved within the residence hall community is an excellent way to make a mark at Wake Forest!

What sorts of issues/concerns/problems would residents tend to take to their RAs?
One of the many hats an RA wears is that of a listener. RAs hear everything from roommate concerns or conflicts, to student concerns as they are trying to better manage their mental/physical wellbeing, to issues concerning next door or upstairs neighbors being too loud. Issues or concerns that come to the RA can run the gambit.

While the RA is capable of providing assistance regarding some of these matters, keep in mind they are not licensed counselors, therefore some things are beyond their job scope. It is their job to connect students with the appropriate resource to help with difficult issues. The RAs are successful students and they want the same for each of their peers. When life starts to get off track, residents should let their RA know so he/she can connect them to the right person to help folks stay the course.

What kind of specialized training have the RAs been provided?
RAs attend a week and half of training on a variety of topics, including but not limited to: community development/creating a sense of belonging, learning campus resources and how to refer students to the appropriate office, leadership/role modeling, event planning, budgeting, listening/empathy skills, Carefrontation (confronting issues with great care and concern) and supporting students to name just a few. They also run through mock scenarios to proactively plan for issues they may encounter during the academic year.

The Office of Residence Life and Housing takes staff training seriously. Our RAs train during the summer just prior to fall semester, throughout the year with in-service offerings, and again in January to make sure they are well-versed in how to best serve our student population.

Anything else you’d want families to know about RAs?
My best piece of advice to our students (especially our incoming first-years) is get to know your RA and the rest of the staff in the residence hall. They are all available as a resource. If the RA specifically assigned to your floor/area is unavailable, find another to help you out.

As well, it is good to know that your RA has a supervisor that lives in the residence hall along with you – the Graduate Hall Director (GHD) – and they are an available resource, too.  If, for some reason you have any issues or concerns with a RA, feel free to reach out to your GHD for assistance.




Categories: campus life


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