Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Resident assistants set example

Student leaders help underclassmen get involved in activities

August 16, 2003


Non-people persons need not apply.

People skills are a must for resident assistants at Kansas University, where several students often have to adapt to sharing a 12 1/2-foot-by-15 1/2 foot room at a residence hall their first year on campus.

"It is a very important role and challenging," Diana Robertson, associate director of housing, said of resident assistants. "We ask a lot from them as student leaders. Their primary function is to be a role model. They have to be knowledgeable, connect with students and be trained in emergency response and policy enforcement.

"We're looking for people who are committed to ensuring students can have a good experience, so they want to be helpful, organized and caring."

Lee Bickerstaff, a senior from Emporia, relishes his role as an RA at Lewis residence hall.

"It's more inspiring and trying to get people to take ownership of their floor and residence hall," said Bickerstaff, who has spent the past two years as an RA on a floor with 25 males and 25 females. "You try to be there for the students and help them any way you can. There's a pretty rigorous application process. It's pretty selective. A lot of people apply, but not a lot of people make it."

Bickerstaff, a psychology major, will spend the fall studying abroad in Chile. He plans to return in the spring as an RA.

"I've always been a people person," Bickerstaff said. "I get energy being around people. I'm interested in leadership."

Bickerstaff's psychology background comes in handy in "conflict management," when solving squabbles between roommates.

"A lot of people start pointing fingers at one another," Bickerstaff said. "It helps when you can break that down and say, 'Hey, let's talk rationally.'"

RAs receive free room and board and a $20 weekly stipend.

"We're not allowed to have another job outside of this because it takes a lot of time," Bickerstaff said. "It's fine if you can afford your tuition outside of free room and board. You can't really make any money being an RA. If you have car payments and that kind of stuff, it's kind of hard."

Bickerstaff has become friends with several of the residents.

"Students who want to get involved do get involved," Bickerstaff said. "You can't really force anyone to get involved. Students who are active and hanging out in the lobby and really doing stuff, you get to know them. You don't get to know everyone. I know everyone's names, but there are some people I've talked to a couple of times because they're hermits."

Reaching out

Melissa Garber, Hutchinson senior, has been an RA for two years. She was an RA in 2001-2002 at McCollum and last year at Jayhawker Towers. She will remain at Jayhawker Towers this year.

"I'm a lifer," Garber said. "I love the job."

The Jayhawker Towers, 1603 W. 15th St., is a four-building apartment complex for single upperclassmen, nontraditional students and transfer students who have completed at least 30 credit hours.

All the towers have approximately 200 residents, with two RAs per tower.

"Our tower staff won staff of the year award at the department of student housing award ceremony," said Garber, a pre-medicine major. "Our staff is all best friends. We all hang out. We go to meals together."

Time-management skills are essential, Garber said.

"You definitely have to be outgoing," she said. "You have to reach out and go knocking on their door. They won't be coming to your door unless they have a big problem."

Occasionally, those problems include clogged toilets and burned-out light bulbs.

"We do a lot of maintenance stuff after the maintenance staff goes home," Garber said. "We're the first line of defense."

Level of respect

Jackie Bates, Hoisington senior, calls her stint as an RA among her "best experiences" at KU.

She is responsible for 50 students -- 25 females and 25 males -- on a floor at Templin residence hall.

"You get to meet 50 different people every year from all different walks of life," said Bates, a communications major.

This year, Bates will be in charge of running the Academic Resource Center at Wescoe Hall.

Bates said students were inclined to meet with their RAs early in the school year.

"They're trying to get adjusted to things, and they'll ask you where they can go to get books," Bates said. "If they're homesick, they'll come talk to you about that."

Bates lived in Oliver Hall as a freshman and Jayhawker Towers her sophomore year. She said she had such positive relationships with her RAs at those two living quarters that she wanted to become an RA herself.

"I wanted to help residents, meet new people and have that experience," she said. "I think they have a level of respect for you. I think I have a relationship with the residents where they feel we're on equal footing. They respect me, yet they don't feel I'm holding anything over them."

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