Ortiz: A letter of advice and support to CSU resident assistants

Kenia Ortiz

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.

To my fellow resident assistants, new or current, this column is for you. It’s not my intent to scare you but to be honest with you the way I wish someone had been with me. This column isn’t against university housing and is rather to the people who are filling a role that I held for three years as a sign of support.

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When the RA role was advertised to me and I went through training, it was never made explicitly clear to me how emotionally and mentally draining the role would be.

It was touched on how being an RA could have a toll on my academic and personal life, but that was because I would be learning how to balance being a student and being responsible for 40 residents and an entire building. My role focused on building a community through hall expectations, checking in with residents who were of concern and being a resource. As an RA of three years, I can honestly say being an RA was the best and worst decision of my life.

It has taught me so much about myself and given me the opportunity to learn and unlearn problematic views that I didn’t know I had.”

Although my grades did suffer the first year in the role, I learned to balance school with my RA duties. However, the emotional toll this job had on me was something I never learned to balance.

There were so many days where I had to email a professors or employer and tell them that there was no way I could make it to class or work. Going to class or work after seeing residents being medically transported or being arrested and then having to stay up to write incident reports until 5 a.m. was not a healthy lifestyle — but it was a lifestyle that I carried for three years. I’m sure every single RA can say that this job was more than they expected.

In training, we were told that it was helpful to set up times that residents could and couldn’t contact us. But, at the end of the day, that didn’t matter because, even if my boundary was 9 p.m., if they banged on my door at 2 a.m. because they had an emergency, I wouldn’t ignore it.

I don’t believe any RA, no matter how much they do or don’t do for the role, would turn a resident away that needed them. Every single RA has had to jump into a situation that they were not prepared for at a time that was most inconvenient to them.

Please take care of yourself and be proud of the amount of work you do because I can guarantee you that it’s more valuable than you give yourself credit for.”

RAs have had their safety threatened, are disrespected and have had their identities targeted. It doesn’t happen to everyone or every day, but it does happen — and the worst part is that you can’t run from it because you live where you work.

You deal with racism, homophobia, sexism and any other form of hatred either towards you or others. It’s hard being professional in heated situations because, trust me, there are times you want to react as a person and not a University employee.

When I talked to friends or classmates, they would say, “Well you signed up for the job didn’t you?” or “If I were you, I would do anything for free housing and dining.” But if I’m being honest, no amount of coverage for housing and dining is enough to pay me or other RA’s back for the amount of work, sacrifices and emotional strain that this job has on someone.

The duty phone ringtone will forever haunt you — that is not an exaggeration. Every time I hear the default iPhone ring tone in public, I immediately tense. I never knew if the call that was waking me up was for a simple quiet hours issue because someone had their toilet clogged or if it was because someone’s life or safety was at risk.

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So, to my fellow RAs, either new or current, there is an honor in being someone’s go-to when they’re feeling lost, scared or in need of a friend. But also be aware that there are going to be nights when you feel like you are in this alone and you don’t have anyone who understands what you’re going through.

Hopefully by reading this, you know that there is at least one person who recognizes the exhaustion, frustration and sometimes trauma that this role is going to or has put you through.

I’m sure every single RA can say that this job was more than they expected.”

The good thing I can say about this role is that it has led me to meet individuals that I see myself being friends with for the rest of my life. It has taught me so much about myself and given me the opportunity to learn and to unlearn problematic views that I didn’t know I had. I have gained confidence in this role and don’t have a problem with sharing and standing by my opinion, and I am intimidated by very few things.

But even though the role has had such a positive impact, there are other days that I wish I could go back and not apply for it. This role is draining, it’s frustrating and there are days when you feel like you are drowning in schoolwork or life but can’t escape the role either. Supervisors are a source of support, but sometimes that isn’t enough or isn’t the case for all.

Please take care of yourself and be proud of the amount of work you do because I can guarantee you that it’s more valuable than you give yourself credit for.

I had no choice but to stick to the role until I graduated to be able to pay for college and had to focus on the positive to get through the real ugliness that I had to face at times.

Please, feel free to contact me via Twitter; I am happy to share my experiences and provide any further insight.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @Kenia_Ortiz_.