ORLL to eliminate lead resident assistant role for next year

The Office of Residential Life and Learning is pictured on Oct. 22, 2019. Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily

The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) told lead resident assistant (RA) applicants by email on Jan. 31 that they would be eliminating the lead RA role entirely, and therefore would not be interviewing any candidates to fill the position next year. 

This announcement came at the end of the week during which interviews would have taken place, but the ORLL did not notify the applicants that they were considering eliminating the role.

Lead RAs, a position that is still operational this semester, are similar to RAs but work more closely in assisting the resident directors and mentor other RAs.

Associate Director for Residential Education Nadia Vargas indicated that the ORLL did not make this change due to the pool of candidates and that the decision had instead been in the making for some time.

“It was not a reflection of the quality of candidates … I think this past year, we’ve had several conversations regarding just leadership development in general,” Vargas said.

Vargas explained the implications of the lead RA title and the misconception that this is the only role that carries leadership qualities.

“One of the things that we’re noticing … is that there is a lack of agency if you don’t have the title of lead, and I want folks to have ownership over the fact that they are leaders regardless of whether or not they are in the lead role,” Vargas said.

Vargas underlined that there is a possibility the lead RA position will be reinstated in the future, depending on the ORLL’s need for support, adding that first-year Residence Hall Councils might create a need for additional support from ORLL student staff.

According to the ORLL website, Hall Councils allow first-year students to take on leadership positions within their residence halls and work on strengthening relationships with key members of the Tufts community.

Vargas indicated that she would like to create a common identity among RAs first before considering the reestablishment of the lead RA role.

“I want to foster a cohesive team identity of what it means to be a leader outside of your title … and then we can revisit what it looks like to have a lead,” Vargas said.

She explained that the reason for having announced the elimination of the RA position after students had already applied was because the ORLL was unsure about making this change.

“There were ongoing conversations and … I didn’t want to make that call prematurely,” Vargas said. “I wanted to see what a full semester looked like, and I wanted to come back and make that decision more informed after training.”

She underscored that all applicants had to indicate if they were interested in being a lead and then the ORLL would proceed with lead interviews.

“I felt like it was better to ask people if they were interested and gauge interest, and then from there make a decision,” Vargas said.

She added that her goal is to ensure that the ORLL can depend on the whole team to be leaders, not just those who hold the leadership title.

Josh Hartman, the director of residential life and learning, said that such restructuring is not unique in his department. He acknowledged that within the ORLL there have been several similar changes throughout the years, emphasizing that for the ORLL to continue to adapt to the needs of students, current structures must be reevaluated.

“I think that in order for us to be evolving to the changing needs of our student population we need to look at the structures we have,” Hartman said.

By assessing the various roles and structures, the ORLL may reallocate resources in a different way, according to Hartman. He echoed Vargas’ statement that the decision to eliminate the lead RA position was not due to the quality of applicants.

“[The decision] was not a reflection of the pool of applicants that we had … the folks who apply are very, very strong student staff members,” Hartman said.

This was a programmatic decision that was designed with the goal of enhancing the ORLL’s leadership development, according to Hartman.

Katherine Powers applied to be a lead RA and expressed her disappointment at the ORLL’s abrupt decision to eliminate the role.

“It’s certainly disappointing, but more than that I’m really frustrated by how it happened,” Powers, a sophomore, told the Daily in an email. “We were all left in the dark for a week, preparing for interviews that were supposed to happen in the week after we applied.” 

However, Powers added that she will apply again next year and will reuse her application.

“The same application I submitted will be used as an application to be an RA next year … I still love the job and am excited to continue next year,” she said.


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