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The “RA” in Residence Life: Students helping students

JACKSON, Tenn.May 8, 2002 – From answering phones, manning a desk at 1 a.m., to getting a call at midnight to check a room for fireworks, the Resident Advisor, or RA as he or she is typically called, is a vital part of residence life at Union University. Requiring responsible individuals with open hearts and caring attitudes, the position requires a great deal of interaction with others and involves creating unity among the buildings, says Pam Schock, Resident Director (RD) for Union’s all-women residence Hurt Complex.

The RA selection at Union has become more and more competitive each year, raising the quality and quantity of candidates who apply for an RA position, notes Dan Herr, RD for McAfee Complex. All three of the RDs – Herr, Bobby Ludwig (Watters Complex) and Schock, concur that the entire RA selection process is one that is basked in prayer.

“Choosing RAs is a big decision which has life-lasting effects,” says Shock. “In knowing the potential that is there to make the right choice or the wrong choice, it would be absurd not to seek God’s wisdom to determine who these people should be,” adding that the number one quality sought for in RAs is a strong Christian commitment.

In 2002, more than 80 Union students applied to be RAs when there were only 18 openings. The decision on who should and should not get the job is a grueling process, but one in which the Resident Directors seek out help from their Resident Student Advisors as well.

“Selecting RAs is a long, hard process,” said Bobby Ludwig. “You pray over the applications and ask for guidance from God.”

The application process to become an RA involves three key steps. The first is to fill out an application which asks specific questions on one’s relationship with Christ, personal beliefs, motivation for wanting to become an RA, special abilities, how they deal with confrontations, and explaining their view on the mission of Resident Life and suggestions on how Resident Life could be improved. This initial application is several pages long and requires the applicant to seriously contemplate the position and reasons for applying for an RA position. An applicant must also provide three references, two from peers and one from a current RA.

The second step in the RA process is an individual interview that is either one-on-one with the RD or with both the RD and Resident Student Advisor (RSA). This is a time when the candidate is put on the spot to answer questions and discuss his or her insight on the RA position. The third part is a group interview with all the RA candidates, which allows the RD and RSAs to observe how the various applicants interact, respond to group situations, how well they can communicate with others and how candidates respond to conflicts. After all three steps have been done the RD confers with the RSAs and begins the tedious task of choosing RAs. Whoever the RDs select as RAs will undergo a training session and go on a retreat with all RAs before school commences in late August. All RAs selected arrive roughly 12 days before all other Union students before the fall semester gets underway.

“Being an RA is a tough job because you have to balance relationships with confrontations and that’s not always easy,” remarks Bobby Ludwig. “RAs must help individual students, connect residents, keep things in line, enforce the rules, and handle maintenance issues. We handle bits of everything. Most importantly though, RAs must see their position as a ministerial position.”

According to Kathy Southall, director of residence life, 91% of a student’s time is spent outside of the classroom which means the RA must work hard to interact with the people in his or her building.

“Outside of the classroom is where students spend the bulk of their career and Resident Life is here to make it enjoyable,” says Davie Moore, a senior communication arts major who has served as an RA for the past two years. “It has been really great to build relationships with the guys in my building and plan activities to promote a sense of community.”

"My position as an RD is to educate and equip the RAs to take their gifts and abilities and use them in their position. I always tell my RAs not to bring up an activity unless they are prepared to make it happen,” says Schock. All three RDs agree that it is vital to select a variety of unique personalities for the RA positions. In fact, it is essential in order for the RAs to reach out to different groups on Union’s campus.

Having such a diverse staff means being able to see how each person develops differently, yet the same. The three resident directors all agree how amazing it is to watch the level of confidence grow in the individuals chosen as RAs as they fulfill their duties.

“Being an RA at Union is the most wonderful opportunity I’ve had as a student to grow in many areas,” says Lauren Robbins, an RA for Hurt Complex. “For example, my relationships with the girls on my street, spiritually, and with the other female RAs has increased. Being an RA has been a chance for me to impact others lives.”

The job of an RA involves much more than most people would like to think, but is one that is extremely rewarding for those who are appointed to the position.

“Most RAs don’t realize the impact they have on residents in their buildings, but then it comes like a revelation once they realize all their time spent as an RA was fruitful,” says Ludwig.

He recalls an incident at the Watters Complex in which a male student at Union had a tobacco problem. After speaking and praying with his RA, the two were able to set up an accountability system and the student was able to kick his tobacco habit.

“Seventy-percent of what I learned in college was what I experienced as an RA,” says Christy Thomas, RA for the Hurt Complex and a graduating senior. “The biggest thing you have to realize is that being an RA isn’t a position of authority – it’s all about the ministry.”

By Jennifer Eastman,
Class of 2005

Media contact: Sara B. Horn, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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