This blog is a guest feature from resident assistant Thomas Levy, who details a little about his experience navigating the new landscape of being an RA during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being a Resident Assistant in the UCCS residence halls has been a new and more difficult position to be in this semester. The goal and jobs of Resident Assistants (RAs) is to bring the residents in housing together to build community, while also continuing to ensure those residents are following the policies of Residence Life and Housing. This year, there feels like a shift of the primary focus. I’ve felt like there is much more focus on residents following policies instead of building community. With the unpredictable and unprecedented consequences of this pandemic, the RA position had to adapt to be able to become more flexible to the constantly changing environment in the residence halls.
With so many things in everyone’s lives changing, one universal effect of this pandemic is the change of what people can control in their own lives. Being an RA from the previous year, seeing the position change is just one more thing in my life that I’ve seen that I have less control over than I previously did. This control was taken away by COVID, and the enforcement of health regulations is controlled by COVID. Students in the residence halls didn’t receive a proper graduation, senior prom, graduation parties, or even a proper summer before college experience.
When residents come into the residence halls, they are looking for ways to be able to create a new normal for themselves after not having a normal experience for some of their biggest moments in their lives. With residents having to follow the same regulations they are forced to follow in public spaces, many of them start to feel less like they can create an environment they feel comfortable with. At home, they don’t have to wear masks going between rooms, so then it doesn’t make much sense for them to have to wear masks in the hallways and in the residence halls. As an RA, seeing residents not wear masks in hallways and indoors is troubling since that creates a large area for contact spreading of COVID. At the same time, it is also difficult to confront these residents who are trying to create an environment that they can be comfortable in. Residents normally don’t purposefully disregard housing regulations as regularly as violating the wearing masks indoors policy.
The biggest conflict for me as an RA from this is that I want to still be able to create community in any way I can. I do see that residents need to create an environment where they feel comfortable, which in turn helps those residents build community with the rest of their peers. But also, as an RA, I must enforce housing policies since they are created to keep those same residents safe. With so much of community building coming from being together socially and having interactions with residents, this pandemic causes the need to have social distancing. That has made community building tougher than previous semesters.
Luckily, as the year goes on, more residents are looking for ways to stay healthy as well as have meaningful social interaction. As an RA, adapting to finding new ways to help residents interact is a challenge and these new challenges can cause changes in mindset. With the premise of having to be able to change mindsets, my overall takeaway for anyone reading this is that allowing the changes in mindset to take place are crucial to be able to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
It is so easy for all RAs to start to question their position, it’s easy for students to contemplate if school is worth it, and it is easy for everyone in general to start to question the aspects that are more major in their lives given the environments we’re all living in. As an RA who is dealing with large amounts of change and also having to be adaptable to be able to still find ways to create community through new restrictions and health requirements, having the ability to change mindsets is so important for staying safe and healthy. Being able to see other perspectives, being able experience what is going on and adapt to the environment, and being able to find ways of still having social interaction are all the important actions to take in order to be able to not fall behind in physical, mental, and emotional health this semester and next.
As an RA, I see the toughest situations to deal with in these uncertain and trying times, but I also get to see the innovative and new ways of coming together in a world where the closest we should be is 6 feet apart. I think the RA position is a great position to be able to compartmentalize the effects of this pandemic as well as make a difference in the well-being of the residents on campus. The world has become a more challenging place to thrive in for everyone, and it takes an open mind to be able to see through the fog of uncertainty and anxiety to figure out the best way to be impactful for others and ourselves.