Rising Above: RAs and the pandemic

There is a certain level of hardship that heroes undergo. John Brown University has many heroes on campus, including the residential assistants living in the residential areas. In balancing their work, studies, worship, and social life, these residential heroes at the university must face a different level of hardship this year: the all-too-familiar pandemic.

As difficult as COVID-19 has made university life for everyone, residential assistants (commonly known as RAs) must navigate the rules and regulations put in place to prevent the viral outbreak on top of their many responsibilities. While continuing to wear masks and socially distance is begrudging to everyone, RAs must also alert their fellow residents of those rules. As an intra-dormitory unifying force, RAs risk separation and other kinds of negativity due to their gentle reminders.

Valerie Harder, one of JBU’s twelve residential assistants living in Mayfield Hall, provides her own explanation of the Residential Assistant’s responsibilities. Harder states, “RA’s build community by talking with residents, hosting events, offering resources for mental health, communicating concerns to the RD on behalf of students, listening and maintaining a respectful living area by abiding by (and asking residents to abide by) the Covenant.”

Because of all these responsibilities, Harder must take time management to a whole new level. Harder notes, “…I set aside time to interact with residents and…for homework. I rest and catch up on homework during the weekend so I can be available during the week. I always try to keep church time on Sunday morning sacred and observe at least part of a day of rest.”

As if being a Residential Assistant wasn’t hard enough, COVID-19 has stretched RAs more thinly. Harder laments, “This year, the hardest thing is constant confrontation; however, that doesn’t always apply in non-COVID years.” Harder continues, “COVID has been hard as an RA because fostering fellowship and community is more [challenging] [GL1] when distancing and wearing masks, but I can still see God honoring our efforts”.

Harder concludes, “COVID has taught me that I can’t control everything, but I can control my attitude and reach out to others despite the challenges in doing so.”

The challenges of being an RA isn’t special to JBU, residential assistants all over the country are feeling burnt out. In an interview conducted by The Chronicle for Higher Education, Drew Amutz, a student and residential assistant at George Washington University states, “You had to be everything to everyone…[N]o one can meet all of those demands and be excellent in all of them.”

There is, of course, at least one benefit to being a residential assistant: having your own room. Harder says, “Having your own room is a perk of the job, and honestly, as an introvert, the space to recharge after so much social interaction is nice. It’s also great for one-on-one conversations and events.” Residential assistants’ having a room to themselves is only a drop in the bucket compared to all they do for their fellow residents.

 Even in a pandemic, residential assistants must take on the daunting task of consoling and hanging out with their fellow students at all hours. It is easier to spot these heroes at work during a crisis than when all is normal. Perhaps COVID-19 is God’s way of making the university’s students realize how heroic these individuals are to us.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash