Ninety-five percent fun. Five percent crisis. The succinct job description of a typical residential assistant (RA).
While other students were savoring the delights that late summer holds, on Aug. 26, the 2010-2011 RAs moved back to campus, gearing up for three intense weeks of RA training. The training covers the basics in dealing with dorm crises–mental, physical and social ones.
“One of the big issues is recognizing conflict,” said Christopher Longyear ’12, a Trancos RA. “That is, if the residents are just letting it fester–and mediating conflict as well, instead of just letting it explode. We also learned a lot about taking care of residents, such as diet, getting enough sleep, etc.”
An essential part of RA training is not only learning to recognize crises, but also practicing how to deal with them. This is accomplished in an activity called “Small Groups,” where small discussion-based groups of eight to 10 RAs from different dorms get to role-play various situations.
“Role play is one of the most effective ways to practice,” said Pooja Bakhai ’11, an Arroyo RA. “It’s the closest you can get to reality without actually doing your job. The situations we practice vary in intensity, from homesickness to being quiet and shy to more intense issues, such as eating disorders and sexual assault.
“Everyone takes it very seriously,” Bakhai added.
Another advantage of Small Groups is that RAs learn to cooperate and coordinate planning activities with fellow RAs from different dorms.
“It’s definitely a great way to know the other RAs better,” said Stephanie Garrett ’12, a Trancos RA. “It’s nice to have resources all over campus.”
The main show of training, of course, is New Student Orientation (NSO). RAs, particularly those for freshman dorms, put a lot of extra time and effort outside of training into ensuring the incoming class’s first taste of Stanford packs plenty of energetic kick.
One such way is promoting dorm community through dorm themes.
“We had about 45 theme ideas,” Longyear said. “Trancos is hard because it rhymes with absolutely nothing and the ‘o’ sound we could have used sounds a lot like other dorm names, like Arroyo and Cedro.”
Although discussing dorm themes and décor may seem frivolous and time consuming, the final result is actually crucial to the freshman experience.
“It takes a lot longer than you might think, especially painting,” said Adrian Castillo ’12, a Rinconada RA. “We decorated pretty much non-stop. It’s a cool, kitschy thing we do, and it’s a big part of the freshman experience, to come to a dorm all decorated. It makes them feel more at home.”
Meticulous touches to dorm decorations aren’t the only activities to which RAs devote their time. In order to accelerate bonding with the incoming freshmen, freshman dorm staff undertakes the daunting task of memorizing every student’s face, name and hometown.
“We go on a lot of staff retreats,” Castillo said. “There, we focus on memorizing the faces of all of our dorm’s students. We use flashcards with their pictures and practice with them over and over.”
Even then, this time-old method is not as perfect as it seems.
“Sometimes when they arrive with haircuts or look completely different from their pictures, it throws you off a bit,” Castillo added.
It is also at these retreats that RAs discuss and establish the rules of the house, which they convey creatively in skits and presentations for the freshmen.
For instance, Junipero’s skit was a “Bad J-Romance” music video, based off of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” said Jessica Rowe ’12, one of J-Ro’s RAs. “You know, being dressed up like an idiot, performing in front of all these people you barely know. But it was an overall hit, and we got a positive response from our audience.”
Despite the challenges laid out before them, the dorm staff are enthusiastic, ready to watch their freshmen take their first steps as members of the Stanford community and later grow.
“I hope to make their year better,” said Sarah Hennessy ’12, a Trancos RA. “Or at the very least, not make it worse.”
For Castillo, things are off to a good start.
“I’m already loving it,” Castillo said. “It’s already surpassed my expectations and it’s only been day two [of NSO]. We’ve got a good group of freshmen this year and I’m looking forward to it.”