The transition from high school into college is one of the most difficult changes to face, especially when moving to an urban campus like GW. Freshmen can feel as if they have been thrust into the middle of a bustling city, but having a resident adviser who serves as a friend and mentor can offset many of the challenges that come with this transition.
The application to become an RA closes this week, and as students consider applying for the program – they must only apply if they plan to be dedicated to this important job.
Serving as an RA is a privilege that comes with many perks. RAs are compensated with a single dorm room and a yearly stipend of $2,500. While free housing and some extra cash are enticing, RAs must be committed to supporting their residents.
An RA’s job is not just decorating bulletin boards and hosting mandatory meetings at the beginning of the year to craft a roommate agreement. RAs are expected to work 20 hours each week and must serve as a mentor or mediator for all of their residents.
In many cases, a freshman’s RA is the first upperclassman they meet on campus. Depending on the RA, they can either serve as a support system or someone that simply tells students to not be so loud during quiet hours, but it is up to them to put in the work needed to do their job effectively.
Our campus does not naturally make freshmen feel at home, so the importance of an RA is heightened at GW. While several of our peer schools, like Georgetown and Syracuse universities, have traditional enclosed campuses, GW is situated in the middle of the city which can make students feel like they don’t have a community to call their own. Residence halls have a lack of common spaces and some buildings have more than 100 people on each floor, which also adds to a feeling of isolation that can plague the freshman experience. Especially for students who are not used to living in an urban area, D.C. can feel big and overwhelming and contribute to making the transition to college more difficult.
Resident advisers are hired to serve as advisers, as the title aptly states. So all RAs – especially those who serve freshmen – need to fulfill their duties as a mentor and friend, rather than just a last resort conflict-solver and hall decorator. Having an older mentor that freshmen can look up to and ask for advice, rather than just an authority figure, will help freshmen feel like they have someone to go to for social and academic support. RAs should regularly chat with their residents, check in and see how they’re handling their first year of college, send out weekly email updates and make it clear to their residents that someone cares about their well-being. While some RAs do all of the above and more, there are some who don’t and that makes it seem like these individuals are in the position for the benefits and not because they want to support their peers.
The college transition can be socially difficult. Many students come to college leaving behind friends they have known all their lives, and find themselves without friends for the first time. If freshmen come to campus and feel as if they have a support system with their RA – which is what their role should be – students will feel more welcomed in their own dorm and in the long run, feel more welcomed on campus.
Students who are considering applying to be an RA for the next academic year must consider what their motivation is for applying. The benefits, like free housing and a stipend, cannot be the reason why students fill out their application, and students who are hired as RAs must put in the work necessary to support their students so a freshman’s experience doesn’t differ floor to floor or building to building.
Hannah Thacker, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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