I spent two years in the trenches as a Resident Assistant, and it’s a crappy job. You’re expected to be the first line of defense against everything from sexual assault to homophobia. You spend hours in a special class, hours on duty, hours talking to your floor, and you have to go to class, too. By the time I was done with my first year, almost everybody I’d started the year with had quit.
Needless to say, it’s the kind of job where even the people who care tend to burn out fast. And some of them just aren’t any good in the first place. Here are five common types you’ll run into.
1.) The Way-Too-Into-Their-Major
There’s nothing wrong with being excited about your major. After all, it’s the four years you’ll spend learning skills you’ll probably never use in the better-paying job you’ll get outside your major two weeks after you graduate. You should be enjoying your major.
On the other hand, there’s a point where it crosses the line. For example, one of the R.A.s in a different building on my campus was an early education major…and made her entire floor look like a kindergarten, complete with big letters on the wall.
The worst part is usually these people don’t realize that they’re doing this. They’re so deeply into their major that it doesn’t occur to them that somebody might not enjoy, say, learning about the great actors of history for two solid semesters. Or that their major might be the yawning portal to hell for some people. On the other hand, when they corner you in your room for ten minutes to blab, you can practice your “pretending to be polite” skills.
2.) The RHINO
Sure, you saw your RA…at orientation. But since then, you haven’t seen them once. Their door is always closed, they never answer their email, you never even see them at floor meetings.
Congratulations, you’ve got a RHINO (Really Here In Name Only). Rhinos pop up for any number of reasons: maybe they’ve got a new relationship that’s really hot and heavy, maybe their semester workload traps them in the library, or maybe the job is just way more responsibility than they thought.
Either way, they’ve worked out a perfect strategy to fit their RA duties into their busy lives: never actually show up or answer any questions. Perfect! Well, for them.
3.) The Wannabe Cop
Most people whining about the R.A.s busting them are, to be frank, stupid. In the two years I worked, every time I busted somebody, it was for something stupid, like leaving their door open while chugging beer, trying to lug an entire trash barrel of empties down the hall at 10am, or blasting their music at 3 in the morning and then opening the door with a bottle of whiskey in their hands (I assure you, every one of these things happened to me).
Most R.A.s don’t want to write you up. It’s a pain in the ass. They have to fill out an incident report, and then deal with the resident whining about how it’s not fair they have to follow the rules and waaaaaah why can’t we drink underage in a college dorm waaaaaaah. It’s aggravating as hell.
Then there’s that one guy. The guy who never should have been given even one drop of power. The one who looks for people breaking the rules and writes them up with glee. You think you hate this guy? Try working with him.
Guys like this inevitably get security guard jobs after college, because they can’t be actual police officers due to psychological issues.
4.) The Drunk
The polar opposite of the wannabe cop, this guy decided to become an RA so he could drink with impunity in the dorm. Hey, he has his own room, and enough authority to intimidate anybody who would actually complain. He can whoop it up as much as he wants!
This is the guy with the floor that blows up the toilets, the one where half the lights are knocked out, the one that racks up thousands of dollars in damage every year. Maybe he even hands out booze to the most obnoxious guys on the floor, just because he thinks they’re funny.
So, until he gets fired, his floor is the worst place in the world. But everybody will have fun…until they flunk out.
5.) The Burnout
This, as you might have guessed, is actually the most common one of all.
The burnout has just lost his or her ability to care, and what’s tragic is that it’s usually because of something bad happening that drags on forever. If a resident gets hurt somehow, it’s the R.A.’s responsibility to check in on them and help them any way they can. And we’re talking about a bunch of teenagers on their own for the first time, chock full of hormones, and with easy access to alcohol, and not all of them are entirely stable.
As a result, residents get hurt a lot. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and, although you’re not the one who’s supposed to be helping them in theory, in practice, you’re the only one there, and the only one who cares.
And it’s exhausting. If you’re really lucky, it’s just a bad breakup with the high-school sweetheart or a bout with alcohol poisoning somebody survives. If you’re unlucky, it’s an attempted suicide or a sexual assault.
Then there’s the paperwork and the administrative BS. R.A.s fill out paperwork, which nobody higher up the chain actually reads, and then they force you to fill out even more paperwork. Then there are meetings, and discussions, and emails, and this is before you get to class, or try and have a real life.
As a result, at some point, you really just go numb.
Yeah, something terrible may have happened, but something terrible is always happening. You deal with it, you’re an adult.
Of course, Residental Life programs across the country are fully aware of this problem. And what are they doing, to combat it? Making R.A.s fill out more paperwork and go to more meetings.
Welcome to the real world: your boss will be like this too.
By Dan Seitz