When I was a freshman living in Ware College House, my resident advisor (RA) was never quite there. She was a kind person, but I never felt that she was a resource to utilize nor someone to calmly talk about the struggles I faced as a freshman — whether that may be academic, identity-related, or simply anything on my mind. The RA was just a free food resource, and the College Houses were just dormitories to live in. I never called it my “home.”
Now that I’m a RA myself for a freshman dormitory as a senior, I’m recognizing that this role is more expansive than what I envisioned for my RA back when I was a freshman. A RA is a counselor, mentor, and community-builder within the College House. I also create programming for residents to participate in, which can hopefully foster group bonding and the feeling of being at home. Yet, I realize that community-building cannot be forced by just my actions; as only one individual, I cannot always be there for the 20+ residents I manage nor create events that fully match everyone’s schedules and preferences.
Yet, these limitations do not mean that I can’t be a resource for the residents. I realize that sometimes, not all residents need to consider me as a mentor/information resource. I just need to make sure that they have one or at least are aware that I can be one. One night, a resident got vulnerable with me and spoke for three hours in a study lounge talking about their LGBTQ identity and what it means to come to terms with oneself. It was a moment in which I recognized how fulfilling it is to validate students’ experiences and that the RA can be a guide to residents’ own self-discoveries.
Every RA fulfills their responsibilities differently, and not all residents have close relationships with their RAs. Yet, I hope to inform every prospective freshmen and Penn students coming in that your RA can become what you need them to be. In a way, I realize that the reason why I didn’t think my freshman RA was a good resource was also because I never reached out to her in the first place. We care about your well-being in this new place and setting. We want to be there for you. Building a home away from home is not easy, but a RA is one resource in which you can start building this new home for you at Penn.