Head-to-Head: Down and Out in ResLife

To freshmen students at any school, a Resident Advisor (RA) is the most important resource they have. An RA is a role model, a mentor and a great influence on all of the incoming freshmen who live in the dorms, likely away from home for the first times in their lives. Freshmen appreciate this, when talking to RAs they say that most of their residents have shown gratitude for what they do as RAs. However, the way the university and ResLife show their appreciation is less than stellar.

RAs at MSU are given free room and board as compensation for their work. That is not bad, until one considers that RAs are not allowed to have a job on the side, even if they do have time. A ResLife RA who chose to remain anonymous to protect their job told me, “ResLife expects us to pay for our own soaps, toothpaste, and any sort of basic necessity like that.” This RA felt that since they have about as much time to work on the side as a student athlete would, they should have these basic expenses covered.

I also talked to an RA at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where RAs are given a stipend on top of their free room and board. Both of these RAs believed that it is critical that RAs get compensated in a tangible way. They also agreed that, while the job is incredibly rewarding, and they have had more opportunities to help others then ever before, the physical and mental toll put on them was not being taken seriously enough by the organization that employs them – the university.

The life of an RA becomes dominated by school and the various responsibilities associated with taking care of a floor full of people. For many RAs this leads to physical neglect of the self. The MSU RA told me the “physical costs are often associated with less sleep,” and that, “for me, personally, I eat less because I spend my mornings on homework instead of eating due to RA duties.”

The Occidental RA had similar sentiments, “There is a huge push in the RA community for self-care, which is so important and every RA can preach can preach that self-care is important, but I simply do not have time for self-care if I am to complete all of my homework.” And on top of that, she said, “I personally believe that I have gotten physically sick from the stress of being an RA. I get significantly less sleep since, when I am on duty, I have to answer all calls all through the night, and each call can take hours on end.”

As physically and mentally taxing as the job is, being an RA is an incredibly rewarding experience, and is, of course, not about money. But, they are not volunteers working for a non-profit, they are employees of the school. They are fulfilling roles that the school could not function without, such as acting as the main resource for freshmen students to get adjusted to living in a college environment. They maintain the order and safety of thousands of students living on campus and provide the university with a great deal of protection when they do their jobs correctly. The dorms would be madhouses without RAs monitoring them. The school realizes this and does, to an extent, compensate them with room and board. But here at MSU, that is all they get. It is as if the school is saying, “Thanks for all your hard work, you can stay with us for a little less money, it is too bad you aren’t allowed to work a job on the side to be able to pay for shampoo.”

  • John

    Room and board is about $4,500 per semester. There is no way that a student can make that much money with a side job and school at the same time. Plus if you are blowing through your summer job savings so fast that you can’t buy shampoo, you should get some financial education. Poor time management skills are the only thing preventing an RA from getting everything done as well as getting enough sleep. I see no problem here.

  • KE

    I SO wish this article was written a bit better, with additional research and with comment from the housing office. Having been both an RA and an RD I wholeheartedly agree that additional compensation or the ability to hold an out side job, even working another job on campus, should be put in place. A University needs to trust their student staff, especially their RAs, enough to know that with an outside job they will have to juggle that responsibility. It also adds a degree of added responsibility for the RD/supervisor-which shouldn’t be an issue because they should be discussing time management anyways. This article could have touched on issues that would make a more compelling argument to the administration at MSU housing (a castle all it’s own) but the errors in presentation and lack of attention to conflicts other than “buying toothpaste” (everyone in the working world has to do this on their own) may have slighted this one…please try again!