Behind the Scenes: Even Before Orientation Week

Welcome back to Alma College for another fresh year of classes, events, games, library crying sessions, and late-night Netflix binges. Hopefully by now you’re all settled in and ready to rock and roll.

I’ve been here for two weeks and I’ll have you know that I do NOT feel settled in at all. Mostly because I can never remember where I put my pot for making Monster University shaped Kraft macaroni and cheese. It’s become a problem.

There were a lot of groups on campus that have been here for two weeks: the marching band, the football team, the cheerleading squad, and countless others.

I don’t take part in any of these prestigious groups. I come to Alma two weeks early because I’m an RA. (I know, I was one last year too, and the year before. Crazy, right?)

I’ve blogged about the RA hiring process, how it’s really fun but really scary, but what actually happens when you become an RA? I mean, when I became an RA my sophomore year, I had no idea what to expect. I went out and bought a bunch of stuff at Target to fill up my double and now I have so much stuff in storage I don’t want to think about it. But what comes after that?

RA training is what comes after that.

I think I could write about RA training for forever, because there’s just so much to write about. Alma has five RA staffs; Newberry, Gelston, Bruske, Mitchell, and South Complex, where I happily reside. Each staff except Gelston has ten members and a Hall Director (Gelston has eight RAs). We all move in on the same day, get to know each other as a whole group of 48 campus leaders, and then we meet with our individual staffs to learn all about each other so we don’t kill each other later in the year.

When I first became an RA, I didn’t realize exactly how close I would become to my RA staff. The nine people that I work with, though they have shuffled in and out over the past three years, are my best friends and my support. They know practically everything about me, and I know practically everything about them. Without the support of the entire RA staff, the residence halls wouldn’t function. And we spend a lot of time at RA training bonding as a staff, particularly at Camp Henry.

At Camp Henry, I spent the day doing team building activities like throwing one of my staff members over a ten foot rope web. We practiced archery, we kayaked together (with lots of kayak tipping and splashing) and we helped each other up a giant 50-foot Jacob’s ladder. I wasn’t afraid of heights until I climbed it. (I also sliced open my foot in the lake, but that’s a different story.)

When we’re not at Camp Henry or having staff time at our Hall Director’s house or having a field day at the zoo, all of the RAs come together in classrooms in Dow and SAC and learn about campus resources and all kinds of things that help us be the best we can be for you guys when you need us. Barbara Otey (’14) and I did a presentation on mental health awareness, we sit through sessions about the CSO and Counseling, Health, & Wellness, and we sit through countless other resource presentations. We learn how to deal with just about anything and everything you can imagine: underage drinking, bats in the hallway (trust me on this one), suicide, depression, roommates that refuse to shower, and illegal flame throwers.

If it can happen on campus, we’ve covered it.

RA training lasts two weeks. We start at eight in the morning and sometimes we go until midnight, shuffling from presentation to presentation, learning everything we can, brushing up on new and old skills, and we still manage to have fun. Like this year when one of the presenters was late, we watched videos of screaming goats. Sometimes RA training is exhausting. We have really heavy presentations and activities that force us to be uncomfortable and to take a good look at ourselves and our campus diversity.

But it’s always good when we can watch videos of screaming goats in Dow.

Unless you live in small housing or an off-campus apartment or you commute, chances are you have an RA down the hall from you somewhere. RAs are not just scary people that enforce rules, RAs are students that genuinely care about you and want you to have the best college experience that you can have. Even if you don’t have an RA because you live off-campus, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to an RA with a problem. We’re students too, and I promise you that if we didn’t genuinely care about you and your college experience, we could never get through two weeks of intense training.

Training is intense. It’s exhausting. But I know that I have my staff that I can turn to. And after all this training, I hope that you can turn to me and other RAs when you need us.

Welcome back for another year at Alma, and don’t be afraid to knock on a Resident Advisor’s door. You’ll be glad you did.

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