Telljohn: Why I’m breaking up with my Colorado State Resident Assistant position 

Rachel Telljohn

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

I am packing my room in November. I am no longer going to serve as a Resident Assistant.

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These are two sentences I never quite expected would leave my mouth prior to graduation.

I am breaking up with a position I fell in love with as a freshmen, four, not-so-long, years ago.

As of Tuesday, I officially submitted my resignation to Residence Life, after a year and a half in the position. I move out of Edwards Hall and into an apartment in Aggie Village this January.

I am sitting in the mess my small cleaning and packing tornado created in the lodging I am currently provided. Many have reiterated to me the perks of this job, and I am not one to deny them. However, those perks come with costs, some higher than I have become willing to pay.

This past spring, after oversleeping all semester, I was diagnosed with depression — words I am still getting comfortable with and often too scared to write. 

That said, it is impossible, most days, to separate that diagnosis from this position. Do I blame Residence Life? Not inherently. Do I think my role exacerbated issues? Absolutely.

Those I have told I am leaving have asked the obvious – why? I do not have a specific reason why. No one single thing happened that caused a jerk reaction. The RA position asks too much of young, twenty-somethings.

The RA is, simultaneously, one of the most coveted positions on campus. How can such a duality exist? Are college students everywhere being duped? Maybe.

Here is what I think:

There is no internal support, at least not anymore. If there was, it has crumbled, and quickly. “Self care” is touted like the buzz word it is, but not actively prioritized the way it should be. There is no time, given the demands of the job. If job items are dropped, higher up responses range from a gentle slap on the wrist to downright scoldings, either behind closed doors or in front of colleagues. We are too busy taking care of others to have any time or thought left to take care of ourselves. 

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The position has evolved: RAs are now responsible for approximately thirty students’ mental health, expected to complete paperwork and tasks as with other jobs, and are put in positions even trained police officers would find dicey, all on top of being the over-glorified babysitters they started out as.

The position does not pay hourly, yet RAs are asked to attend two-hour long staff meetings each week, required to take off nearly a month of work in the summer to complete training, and subjected to ridiculous on-call hours, structured around home football games, break closures and other well-known weekends that are taxing, if not dangerous. 

Forget the fact that RAs are students – brilliant, gifted students – full-time, as well.

Forget the fact that RAs are students – brilliant, gifted students – full-time, as well.

CSU’s Residence Life is falling apart. And, many of the wonderful humans I was privileged to meet in the position feel as if they are falling apart with it. Mental health is not valued in this position the way I wish it were, and this year has exponentially worsened that lack of value.

Our number of bias-motivated incidents, those publicized and those not, has skyrocketed. Residents this year, generally, are ruder, rowdier and more prone to do stupid eighteen-year-old things — and are not held accountable without significant conduct or charges. Some residents have not been penalized at all, and others go months before a conversation about consequences even starts. 

The implementation of a new curriculum launched at “40 percent,” — a phrase I have come to despise because it implies it is by no means finished — indicates there are kinks in the system. RAs, the boots on the ground, had no say in the matter, and the say they tried to give falls on deaf ears.

The new curriculum, known as Residential Curriculum, touts us as “educators.” This means we, as students with enough else on our plates, are preparing lesson plans and/or syllabi for the equivalent of crafts and craft night.

Much of this might mean little to those not currently employed by Residence Life at CSU, in particular. What you need to know is that students – I reiterate, students not paid hourly – are turned into cheap labor because they are convenient and borderline disposable.

Which, maybe I am. In some senses, I allowed myself to be chased out, and my position will be filled with no more than the bat of an eye. There are hundreds of names in the alternate pool, with hundreds more finishing up their RA class and on their way, naively waiting for an email for a job they have been fooled into thinking is the best job to have on campus. 

Residence Life needs to listen. Good, honest, wonderful humans are suffering campus wide and our lives should not be subject to responses I chalk up to wishy-washy public relation answers. Red flags should have been raised in August following an ineffective, yet mentally and physically exhausting, month of training.

As I am one of many leaving the position, I anticipate a high turnover – not only at semester, but at the end of the year – which should raise the largest red flag for the department. Care for your students – and remember RAs are students, too. 

We sure do.

If you would like to contact Rachel Telljohn or share your experience as a Resident Assistant, please email news@collegian.com.