They’re the ones you call at 3:00 am when water is pouring from the walls of your residence hall room from a neighboring shower. When your suitemate is having a panic attack. When you just need someone to watch The Bachelor with.
They’re Resident Assistants. They hold floor meetings, relay and enforce College policy and help students navigate college life, act as first contact for student concerns, organize residence hall events, and are just generally supportive to all people at all times. That, plus they keep up with classes and projects and try to maintain some semblance of a social life.
Why would anyone do that to themselves?
“It’s literally life-changing,” said Tommaso Di Blasi ’18, a Journalism major and first-year Little Building RA attending a Spring semester training held Monday, January 9, in the Ansin Building. “It sounds cheesy, but there’s no other way to put it.”
Emerson currently employs 58 RAs across its four residence halls. The RAs report to a professional Residence Director. Students undergo a rigorous, multi-step selection process, as well as an intensive, weeklong training in August and a three-day refresher course in January.
Many, if not most, RAs are involved in myriad campus organizations, plus hold jobs and internships, said Molly Caron ’17, a second-year RA in Piano Row and a Marketing Communications major. Many were selected for the Purple Key Leadership Society, she said.
But resume building aside, the RAs Emerson Today spoke with all said they were attracted to the job because when they were freshmen or sophomores, their RAs made their Emerson experiences so much better.
Caron said as a student-athlete, she came to school early and was basically alone on her floor—apart from her RAs, who made her feel welcome. Di Blasi said when he moved to the LB his sophomore year, his friends had gotten involved with a lot of different groups and he didn’t see them as much. His RA kind of stepped in and filled the gap.
Junior Johnson ’17, a third-year Paramount RA and a Design/Technology major, said he formed a “really strong connection” with his floor RAs and saw how helpful they were to everyone—including him, when he needed help figuring out how to get things done on campus. Thanks in part to the confidence his RAs gave him, he went on to design the EVVY Awards and reached out to some of Emerson’s more notable alumni.
“They really helped me understand I could accomplish things,” Johnson said.
Now, they’re the ones helping students get their footing. While the job description is the same for all RAs, the nuances and specifics of being an RA have a lot to do with which residence hall they’re in.
Paramount, because it’s a couple of blocks off campus, is really a tight-knit group, Johnson said. He’s come out of his room to find 25 students playing improv games in the common room, he said.
“The thing I love so much about Paramount is because of the distance from the rest of the residence halls, you really have a community to come back to,” said Johnson. Even on campus, the Paramount crowd is easy to spot and quick to bond, he said. “They’re the ones who are dripping wet and freezing cold because they had to walk to campus.”
Piano Row is made up of suites, each with their own large common areas, so socializing tends to center around smaller groups, making it harder to establish a hall-wide community, said Caron. Colonial, where Caron was an RA over the summer, seemed pretty mellow (it’s probably less so during the school year), but did have the advantage of full kitchens where students could gather around cooking and food.
Little Building is huge and “incredibly social,” said Di Blasi, who said he wanted to work in LB because of its high percentage of freshmen. “I wanted to be an RA for a first-year student.”
All that team building and supportiveness comes with a cost, naturally. Caron said she’s found it hard to separate her “RA life” from her “Molly life,” especially when she’s known as an RA not just on her floor or in her residence hall, but on the wider campus as well.
“I go to bed worrying about it at night,” she said. “[B]ut this is my second year doing it, so I’ve come to realize not everything can be fixed.”
Johnson said he’s had to work out how to be the best RA he can be and still get the full benefit of the education he came to Emerson to get. Sometimes he has work that just needs to get done, but he realizes that residents aren’t coming to him with a problem to monopolize his time; they’re coming to him because the problem is too big for them to handle on their own.
“I really had to come to terms with what I can and cannot do in creating that boundary,” he said.
But the joys and benefits far outweigh the downsides, the three said.
Caron said it’s a great feeling when a resident tells her she got the internship Caron recommended her for, or when members of the baseball team who live on her floor ask her to come to a game.
And there are more material benefits to being an RA, too. Whenever she’s gone on job or internship interviews, the person sitting across the desk never fails to be impressed when they learn she’s an RA. As someone going into public relations, she can tell potential employers she’s good at communication, she’s good in a crisis, and she knows how to manage people and situations.
Di Blasi said as an RA, he was able to turn a moment of grief into one of strength on Election Night, when his residents were crushed by Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Donald Trump. He was just as upset as they were, he said, but he knew he had to do something. So he asked everyone in the common room to get in a circle and share their fear and comfort.
“I came to the realization that night of how important it is to create a community with our residents. We can all benefit from each other,” he said. “I’ve had so many great conversations with residents because of that night.”
Johnson said when he became an RA as a sophomore, while his friends were off partying, he “had responsibilities…had places to be.” Those responsibilities made him mature, he said.
“I’m so happy this job happened to me,” Johnson said.