EDITORIAL: Res. Life needs to re-evaluate its priorities

January 21, 2005

After numerous focus groups and feedback sessions sponsored by the Department of Residence Life two years ago, that office took the bold step (their words) of dramatically altering the services they provide to students: they changed the title Resident Advisor to Community Advisor. This change was meant to counteract negative images of RAs and to make clear the Brandeis vision of an RA, which is to be interested in student welfare, peer counseling, academic success, community involvement and transition to our dynamic living environment.

But aside from the name change, not much difference is apparent in the RA program. Some RAs certainly do make meaningful connections with their residents. They are there in times of triumph, in times of crisis, in times of pain. They provide encouragement, or good advice, or just a helping hand. Some RAs take a deep interest in the students on their hall and act as a big brother or sister, or at least as a friend. These are the people who we will look back on in twenty years and remember fondly. They are an integral part of the experience of moving out of the house and into the unexplored world of college. They make our lives better.

But many RAs are too bogged down in rounds, breaking up parties, and planning hall activities to take any interest in their residents. Often this pressure comes from above, from quad directors who demand constant programming, new door decorations, and pretty bulletin boards.

The job of an RA would be difficult if it involved only peer advising. Because it also involves entertainment and enforcement, being a good all-around RA might just be impossible. Being a good peer advisor demands more then filling out an index card proving you have spoken to each resident. In requires active, personal, ongoing connections. It requires really taking the time to care about your residents. Many RAs cannot or do not make the effort. Students suffer as a result.

This problem is not limited only to RAs. Countless students go through an entire year, or even their entire Brandeis career, without ever meeting their quad director — unless they get in trouble, of course. Not to mention the experience of walking into the new, cavernous Residence Life office, which can be even more daunting then the old, slightly smaller but still massively oversized office. They have new carpet, but they still have not figured out how to come out and ask you if you need help.

Residence Life has a difficult, unenviable task. But residential living in a college environment is about more than unnatural triples, quiet hours and ice breakers. It is about forming lasting bonds — both to Brandeis and to fellow residents. College students are young adults, but young adults still need help, support, and encouragement. It is precisely this type of help that only Residence Life can provide.
It does not help matters when RAs do not receive the support and training they need to be, first and foremost, good advisors.

Programming and enforcement are valid and useful to varying degrees, but something should be done to make the RAs task less daunting, more focused, and more supported. Students need people to whom they can turn that they know will not judge them, turn them in or ignore them.

Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Jean Eddy can build all the one-stop centers she wants, but until someone re-evaluates the mission of Residence Life, student support services will continue to remain subpar. Reforming the RA program is the first step towards offering students a meaningful connection to Brandeis. Perhaps instead of focusing on the community, Resident Advisors should go back to focusing on their residents.

And go back to the old name.

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