Former Resident Assistants discuss benefits, flaws in ResLife-RA relationship

The main entrance to the newly renamed Harleston Hall, which houses the Office of Residential Life and Learning, is pictured. (Alexis Serino / The Tufts Daily)

A first-year student’s Resident Assistant (RA) might be one of the first members of the Tufts community they meet when they arrive on campus. Assigned to a particular dorm and floor, RAs organize and facilitate community-wide activities and programs while also ensuring the safety of their residents, according to the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) website. 

But despite the many draws and benefits of the job, five former RAs expressed concern regarding the way that their supervisors at ResLife have interacted with them.

One major benefit of the job is the free on-campus housing and free 80-meal dining plan that comes with it, according to Gabe Rondon (LA ’16), who was an RA during his sophomore year and part of his junior year. Rondon noted that in his experience, a lot of students who look into the RA job receive some form of financial aid.

Mukesh Ghimire (LA ’16), who was an RA his sophomore and junior years and a senior RA during his senior year, agreed.

“A lot of people would say that the biggest draw is the money, as the financial burden lifted off [you] is a very attractive part of the package,” Ghimire said.

According to Ghimire, perhaps a more unspoken perk of the job is the skill set one develops as part of the experience of being an RA. He said that many students will leave the job with management experience, the ability to deal with different types of people and an understanding of how to mentor younger students.

ResLife Director Yolanda King said that being an RA is a unique opportunity for leadership.

“The RA role is a premiere leadership position for students who are interested in serving as a resource, role-model and mentor to fellow students,” King told the Daily in an email.

However, Rondon said that the work required by RAs is often undersold, leaving them feeling unsupported.

“Being an RA can definitely be a stressful job with a lot of pressure on you at all times of day,” Rondon said. “Not having a supportive base can make the job almost impossible.”

He noted that he was rebuked on several occasions for spending too much time studying in the library and not enough time in his dorm room. Rondon resigned from the job in his junior year with just three weeks remaining on the academic calendar, at the suggestion of Counseling and Mental Health Services, because of the immense toll it was taking on his mental health.

“As an RA, we were taught to spot mental health issues among our residents, and it was ironic that those people [who taught us] could not spot the same thing in me,” Rondon said.

King is aware of the problems that RAs inherently face in their jobs, and she feels her office handles these situations effectively.

“Some of the feedback my team has received includes the overall time commitment for being an RA and being a student, the challenge of when some things come up that need to be addressed and may not necessarily be clearly stated in the RA job description and the need to make the ‘areas’ smaller and increase more staffing for more support for the RAs and students,” King said. “We try and work directly with RAs to provide the assistance and support they need as a student and student leader.”

Nonetheless, both Ghimire and Rondon feel that there is a lack of communication between RAs and their employers. This disconnect contributes to the build-up of unresolved issues that RAs face on the job, Ghimire said.

RAs [do] not feel comfortable talking to central staff because they feel they will not address their concerns,” Ghimire said of his experience as a senior RA, a position that is supposed to help bridge the gap between RAs and ARDs, according to a Nov. 2, 2015 article in the Daily.

According to Ghimire, ResLife staff was condescending to him and fellow RAs, and that they did not seem to trust the students to do their jobs effectively. Additionally, Rondon said that ResLife asked him to set aside more time for the job than he felt was appropriate.

“Balancing time is a problem for most RAs, [and] there is an unrealistic expectation for how much time a student has to put into the job,” Rondon said.

Several RAs attributed this lack of communication to the shift from Residence Hall Directors (RDs) to Area Residence Directors (ARDs), implemented in fall 2014, according to a Sept. 25, 2014 Daily article.

Rondon explained that RDs each oversaw the RAs in one residence hall and were typically graduate students who understood that college could be grueling and stressful. During Rondon and Ghimire’s last years as RAs, four ARDs, who are generally older and thus more removed from the college student and RA experience, were hired in place of the RDs to supervise a cluster, or “area,” of dorms, according to Rondon.

RDs were more sympathetic to the schoolwork that RAs have, as they too were students,” he said. “They were the voice of the RAs, whereas ARDs are more a part of the system.”

Ghimire pointed out that ResLife understood the importance of his academic success.

“They tried their best to accommodate for my requirements elsewhere,” he said. “They know that academics is by far the biggest priority.”

Rondon added that he believes ResLife is committed to resolving some of these problems.

“There is change to be had and [ResLife] does try to fix it,” he said. “The intention is there.”

Nonetheless, in some specific instances, he recalled feeling unheard in his role.

[While] it might frankly be that they just do not understand, it felt at times like I was talking to a wall,” Rondon said.

It seemed to Ghimire that ResLife saw him and other RAs as replaceable.

“At times they treated me as if I was expendable, even though that certainly was not the case,” Ghimire said. 

Ghimire said that if given the choice again, he might not become a senior RA again, as the position was too stressful, and it was frustrating to navigate the communication gap with ResLife.

“[Being a senior RA] was not as great of an experience, as I do not feel like I thrived in the position,” he said.

He emphasized, however, that he would serve as an RA again, despite some of the issues he had with the position.

“It was such a great experience to learn how to be part of team and bring people together,” Ghimire said. “A highlight for me is that I got to know a lot more people than I would have otherwise.”