FAQs about RAs

By Samantha Plotner

For most of us, who are barely managing to look ahead to next semester for course registration, next year is the last thing on our minds. But Residential Life is already thinking about fall 2012, and Resident Assistant recruitment is in full swing.

Whether you’re thinking about applying, or just curious about what it is that RAs do, the following Frequently Asked Questions will hopefully give you some insight into the RA job and the application process.

There are balloons, too

ResLife and my RA use all these terms I don’t understand! What do they mean?

Sometimes ResLife has a language all its own. Here’s a quick rundown of the most common terms and abbreviations, and what they mean:

GHD: Graduate Hall Director, the graduate student who lives in every building. As an RA, your GHD is your direct supervisor and your best resource.

AD: Associate Director, the supervisor above the GHDs. Each Associate Director is in charge of an area (see next term).

Area: The Barnard resident halls are divided into three areas: The Quad (Brooks, Reid, Sulzberger, Hewitt and Sulz Tower), Riverside (the 600s and Elliott), and The Burbs (Cathedral Gardens, 110 and Plimpton). Each is overseen by an AD who meets with the GHDs and RAs in their area once a month.

RA on Duty: RAs in a specific building take shifts for being “on duty.” The RA on Duty makes rounds around their building (just to make sure everything is OK!) and carries the duty phone (see next term). In most buildings you are not allowed to leave the building while on duty. Some buildings get “flex” time during the day if an RA is on duty during the weekend, where the RA is allowed to leave the building as long as they have the duty phone with them and remain within Morningside Heights. For the Quad, the RA on duty has to remain in the building at all times, except for a one hour “wellness break.”

The Duty Phone: The duty phone has a specific cell phone number for residents to call if they need the assistance of an RA, in case of emergencies or if their floor RA isn’t available. The number for the RA on Duty varies for each building.

Program: RAs plan events for their residents once a month called “programs.” Funds are allocated for each RA to plan programs, and what the event entails is largely up to the RA herself and her residents.

What do RAs do?

RAs fulfill two functions: building a community within their resident hall and enforcing college rules. Exact responsibilities for RAs change from building to building, depending on what community you serve. In buildings with more RAs like the Quad, an individual RA will be on duty less often. Some upperclass residence halls like Cathedral Gardens and 110 do not have duty during the week. RAs have to plan events, either individually or with the rest of the building staff, for their residents. RAs are also a resource for their residents to help them solve problems and enjoy their resident hall experience. RAs have meetings once a week with the staff in their building, once a week in a one-on-one session with their GHD, and once a month with the staff in their area.

There are three categories of RAs that serve specified groups of students: First Year Focus, Transfer Time and Senior Experience. First Year Focus and Transfer Time RAs are responsible for planning programs for either first-years or transfer students. Senior Experience RAs provide an additional contact for seniors as well as plan events for them. All RAs in the first-year buildings (Sulzberger, Brooks, Reid) are First Year Focus RAs and all RAs in Elliott are Transfer Time RAs. Senior Experience RAs are scattered throughout upperclass buildings live.

What are the perks of being an RA?

Barnard RAs are not paid. RAs do get free housing, however, and can choose their own pull-ins (non-RA friends that an RA can choose to live with them). In suite-style dorms, the RA picks all of their suitemates, and in a hall style dorm the RA pulls a certain number of friends to live on their floor with them. Pull-ins do not go through the housing lottery.

How much of a time commitment is being an RA?

Being an RA is a job. The exact amount of time required of RAs changes depending on how often they are on duty and how long staff meetings take. RAs also need to plan and hold events, help out residents and other tasks specific to their building, which also takes time.

RAs must also go through training. Training occurs the week before orientation in August (or longer for some of the more specific RAs). There is also spring training for newly hired and returning RAs and winter break training three days before the start of second semester.

What type of situations do RAs deal with?

In general, RAs help residents deal with roommate or suitemate conflicts, or other personal concerns. While on duty, RAs may have to break up a party, or call CAVA (Columbia Emergency Medical Services) for a student requiring medical attention. Most RAs, however, like to focus more on the community-building aspects of the job than the disciplinary ones.

How can I apply?

First, attend one of the information sessions (exact times and dates are on the Event Calendar). There you will hear from a panel of RAs, GHDs and ADs and have the opportunity to ask questions. Second, you fill out an application, which consists of basic information, essay questions, and a resume, due by December 5th. By January 23rd, you must have two recommendations filled out online, one of which must be from a current RA. In January, there is a group interview called Group Process. In Group Process you are put in a group of other applicants and together you rotate through a series of activities. Last year, these included prioritizing a schedule of things you needed to do during the day, putting together a building staff, and a team-building activity. In late January or early February each applicant will also have an individual interview with an AD, a GHD and an RA. After that process, hiring decisions will be made.

Samantha is a junior at Barnard and Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing. She is also a Resident Assistant in Plimpton.

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