New students hear this expression countless times as they settle into life on Hawk Hill – on a tour, at an Open House, from red shirts at orientation, and so many more. Still, my favorite welcome comes in late August as students and their parents flood campus to start the semester. Move-in weekend is special because it is the ultimate culmination of the college search process. The new students are finally ready to begin their college adventure as Hawks.
Serving as a Resident Assistant (RA) in first-year areas the past two years has allowed me to support these students as they grow into more independent, confident young people. Still, that development is rarely easy. They are pushed outside of their comfort zones, striving to answer bigger questions than they might have ever pondered before. Communal living comes with its own challenges, and life away from home can feel daunting. Especially here at SJU, though, there is an emphasis on the fact that students will not be challenged on their own. A wide support network cares deeply about each person’s unique needs.
RA’s like myself get to share in residents’ trials and joys. We are here as first-year students navigate a difficult break-up, disagree with their roommate, or struggle with a class. At the same time, we step back with wonder as they dive into new activities, take on leadership roles, and build meaningful friendships. We walk the journey alongside our residents.
Serving as an RA has unquestionably been one of my favorite and most fulfilling opportunities on campus. I appreciate the ability to chat with residents late at night in an end lounge about random topics, play board games in my room, share meals in Campion, or cheer on an SJU sports team. The relationships formed with first-year students in McShain and Villiger the past two years take on greater importance with time. It is an honor to now consider many of these residents my friends.
It can be tempting to just brush off your RA as merely a policy enforcer when you move in. While this is one of our roles, we are here for so much more. We want to get to know you and your individual interests. None of us took on the role because we wanted to make sure rules were being followed. Instead, we want to get to know a class of incoming students and provide support as they figure out what college will be for them. There are a few important things to know about how your RA can help.
Programming is put on for you. Come to get to know your floormates or suitemates!
When your RA puts up flyers or encourages you to stop by for an event they are running, try to make it. They have funds set aside to put on programs throughout the year that allow residents to connect with each other. If you are not interested in the types of programs being offered, let your RA know. We try our best to reach everyone but sometimes fall short.
Need a campus resource or want to join an activity on campus? Let us help connect you!
Your RA has gone through extensive training to best understand campus partners and resources. We personally know numerous administrators, faculty, and staff members. Let us help point you in the right direction. Also, even if we do not participate directly in a club or activity, we often know someone who does. We can help you reach out and develop your social network.
Take your interests and do something meaningful with them. We need to know you first!
There is a plentitude of opportunities on and around campus, so many that you can never explore all of them by the time you graduate. Still, we can make recommendations about what you might enjoy most or experiences that our friends have found fruitful. To make these recommendations, we need to know what exhilarates you. Engage in meaningful conversations with us on a regular basis so we can understand what is going on in your life.
We can often tell when something is off, but we cannot read minds. Do not be afraid to reach out!
The transition to college can be difficult in many ways. As we get to know you more over the course of the academic year, we can pick up on your emotions. However, we will only ask so many questions if you do not want to answer them. Know that you are never inconveniencing us if you need support or just want to talk. For me, it is highly fulfilling to have a resident text me to chat in my room later that night or to stop in the hallway and hear about what is troubling you. Sometimes you must initiate the conversation.
Your RA was once a first-year student, too. Ask about their experiences!
We were in your shoes not long ago and can tell you about what worked for us. Especially as I begin my fourth year living in a first-year residence hall, there are plenty of stories and connections for me to make with your stories or interests. We know all too well about navigating life with a roommate, managing time, and connecting socially. Hearing about our experiences may inspire you to try a different tactic or reinforce what you were already doing.
Your residence hall is your home for the next year, and peers on your floor or in your suite will be one of the most consistent things in your life for that time. It is our job as RA’s to ensure that you are comfortable, safe, and supported along the way. We sincerely want you to experience a sense of belongingness as you develop into your best possible self. We care about you as an individual person more that you will often realize. Take advantage of us as resources, mentors, and friends.
As you move into your residence hall this week, soak in the experience. Do not rush to the start of classes, an upcoming concert, or fall break. Take each day as it comes because they move quickly in the long haul. Ask questions, be your most authentic self, and push outside of your comfort zone. I personally cannot wait to meet all of you, as is the case with all my fellow RA’s. Let us welcome you home.
-Adam Mullin, ’20