Over the course of the semester, this series has looked closely at some important aspects of the Department of Residence Life, from the compensation of resident assistants (RAs) to how ResLife handles the mental health of its employees. Through interviews and surveys sent out to ResLife staff, it has become evident that staff members have mixed feelings about their roles in ResLife.
During spring break, the Maine Campus conducted a survey to determine how many RAs plan on returning to the position next semester. Of the 88 RAs that received the survey, 27 responded, and about 52% plan on returning to the position for the fall of 2020. These returning RAs cited the rewarding experience of being a resource for students as their reason for staying on and talked about the community and personal growth that the job entails.
Gabrielle Begos, a second year, explained that she liked the opportunity to provide first-year students with guidance that helped them get through their first year at the University of Maine. These sentiments reflect the reasons many students initially pursue the RA position.
A few of the RAs surveyed mentioned issues within ResLife, but saw them as manageable saying they didn’t have much of a bearing on their decision to stay on.
The explanations that these returning RAs gave are exactly what the Department of Life needs more of. The best RAs I met and had the privilege of working with during my two years as an RA were those who took a genuine interest and concern in the well-being and comfort of their residents. The RAs that care for residents like they are family, almost always had an answer for their residents, and if they didn’t, they reached out for help. Every RA in the department has the opportunity to be like this, but ResLife sometimes impedes RAs’ ability to be the resource they need to be for their residents.
Those that stated they would not be returning had a lot to say. Of the 27 total responses, 14 indicated they would not be returning to a RA position. Six of the 14 cited graduation as their reason for not returning, while the other eight cited the following individual reasons for leaving in their survey responses. Only four RAs chose to allow their name to be published, several citing concerns of repercussions with ResLife for publicly commenting.
“Since I have become an RA I have witnessed how the ResLife higher-ups don’t hold themselves to the same standards as they hold the RAs to,” one RA that wished to remain anonymous responded. “The pro staff [has] the mentality that giving RAs free room and board should be enough, but it is not with all that we have to do … they preach about how RAs are students first, but I have not witnessed their actions match their statements.”
The same RA explained that discipline seems largely dependent on being in the good graces of pro-staff, and even with the blessing of pro-staff, employment can be unreliable.
Some RAs plan on returning, but do so with reservations.
“I have it as a back-up,” one anonymous RA said.
“I don’t want to come back because I feel like I’m more of a ResLife assistant than a resident assistant at UMaine … I shouldn’t have to feel like a kid in time out … I’m an adult, so I’d like to be treated as such,” the RA said.
Another explained that though they loved the position and the connection they had with residents, they “wish the position was more about creating a happy and healthy home for our students and less about following protocol and completing tasks that are often ineffective.” Another returning RA stated that though they look forward to returning, the job can be stressful, and they lose a lot of sleep.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who cannot return but wish they could. Former RA Zachary Epstein from Somerset Hall, explained that he wasn’t offered a job next semester after two issue-free years with ResLife, one of which earned him an award.
David Washburn, a civil engineering student and three-year ResLife veteran, cannot return to the job due to only being available for one more semester, but said that the position was his favorite part of his UMaine experience and one that he will certainly miss.
The RA job can be hard. It involves a lot of late nights, early mornings and tough conversations. RAs don’t have much on their side, either; it’s hard to find sympathy in the residents they’re responsible for, and there aren’t many outside of the department that really understand what the position entails. The Department of Residence Life owes its employees the support that RAs can’t find anywhere else. This department shouldn’t make RAs feel childish, trapped or afraid to voice their opinion. There is a lot of progress that the department needs to make, ResLike owes its RAs the effort to try. The RAs of the University of Maine who keep their residents safe and comfortable deserve something better than what the Department of Residence Life is now.
Andi Bowen, the director of the Department of ResLife, declined the invitation to comment.