Monday, January 30, 2012

RA Group Process: McGyver or McGruber

This past Saturday and Sunday was one of those weekends that I spend the whole year dreading: RA Group Process. It is a long weekend spent evaluating eager student leaders while they build bridges made from marshmallows, dried linguine, and rice cakes—what are they, McGyver?  Honestly, judging from how a few of the applicants act, you would think they were McGruber instead. They goof off, jockey for first place in the douche-canoe contest, and completely ignore the fact that they are on a job interview.

By the time the afternoon interviews arrive, my patience is painfully thin, and I just cannot take another saccharine-sweet response to generic group process questions. However, with each new applicant, I am faced with an abundance of politically correct, rehearsed answers. Despite the large number of diverse students I have interviewed throughout the years, I have discovered and catalogued three types of bad interviewees (hey, I have to do something to keep myself awake).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Never in a million years could I have imagined that I would be responsible for the well-being of a few hundred teenagers. If someone had told me when I was a junior in college that later in life I would be the individual I so despised in my hall, I would have thrown my Jell-O shot at them. Not only was I not RHD or RA material, I was barely college student material. Going to class was optional and debauchery was my life. Surprisingly, I only had two judicial meetings which resulted in me writing an apologizing note dripping with snark.

Looking back at my two years on the 7th floor in Ittibittisawashi Hall, I shudder, because I know some serious karma has been dropped on my head from the ResLife Goddesses. Boy, do I deserve everything I deal with from my rowdy residents.

I was yelled at for carrying around a beer in the common lounges. My friends and I made loud documentaries about fictional folk bands at 3am in the hallways. I stumbled home drunk and purposely woke up my roommate just to tell them I was drunk. And I wrote inappropriate comments on bulletin boards on other floors just to feel superior over the poor RA who would have to fix it in the morning.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sh*t RAs Say: Residential Life Has Its Own Language

Several friends and one lovely Twitter follower were kind enough to forward the Sh*t RAs Say video on YouTube. It definitely helped cure the weekend hangover brought on by Monday. I love it! It also proves that there is a shared experience felt by Residential Life staffs everywhere. It is like we have our own language.

Between endless acronyms (RA, RHD, RCF, etc.) and common taglines (community builder, icebreaker, etc.), learning Residential Life is similar to learning how to speak French or Spanish. Sure, you can learn the basics by reading my blog, listening to friends who once were RAs, or watch Son-in-Law. But unless you work it, live it, breath it, you will never understand the tiny nuances that make Sh*t RAs Say so poignantly hilarious.

I have a few friends in Admissions and Student Activities. Despite our dissimilar areas of expertise, we can hold intelligent conversations about our professions and students. However, each one of us speaks about our jobs with a different emphasis and knowledge set. It is as if we have an accent based on where we work and who we serve. Although they understand what an RA does and why I live in a free apartment too close to my students, they cannot understand why I laugh so hard at “Who drew penises on my bulletin board”.

When I am with my peers or I am at a ResLife conference, the language barrier is lifted. We all speak with the same strange dialect. We all laugh at “I’m not just your RA, I’m your friend”, because we get the subtext and probably have personal stories that go along with said quote. As much as I despise Residential Life at this point in my career, there are very few jobs that allow you to talk about sex with students, get paid good money to cut out construction paper for door decs, and wear PJs to meetings. Until I find a new job, I guess yo hablo ResLife. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wheel of Fortune, Thy Name is Enabler

It’s Friday. I’m exhausted from a week of duty. It’s Wheel of Fortune time. No matter how old Pat and Vanna get, I always enjoy his goofy bantering with the guests and her ability to make letter-turning appear glamorous. While Jeopardy makes me feel stupid, Wheel of Fortune makes me feel like a savant genius, especially when I beat my partner at solving the puzzles.

However, despite my love for the glitter and glam of Wheel of Fortune, tonight I realized that this game has become a simpler version than when I was a youngster. I remember when, during the final round, guests could only choose four letters and a consonant to solve the last puzzle. Now, contestants get the most common letters (RSTLNE) PLUS three more letters and an extra vowel! If they make it any easier, Pat will be solving the puzzles for them.

What happened to the bonus round being a challenge? When did Wheel of Fortune become molded by the same enabled generation that lives in our residence halls?When the going gets rough, apparently the tough demand the rough get easier. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Residential Life: It’s Easy to Get In, But Hard to Get Out

It’s that time of the year again! Career Placement Fairs galore! If you live where I am, you have your pick of NASPA, ACPA, OPE, and several local placement exchanges that would give away my location if revealed. It’s obvious that job searching within Higher Education, Residential Life in particular, is a HUGE event that every school cannot ignore. However, for the individual searching, it can be the roughest few months of their lives.

When I graduated and was interviewing for Hall Director positions, it was easy to find jobs to which I could apply. All I had to do was visit a few local recruitment fairs and search to discover an abundance of open positions. Most had the same requirements and deadlines so writing resumes was a snap. I was amazed, although not completely surprised, when I was called for approximately 15 interviews, which led to 5 campus visits. Despite the grueling eight-hour interviews and miles of travel, it was one of the easiest job searches I have completed.

As I earned my experiences and built my resume, I was confident that my credentials would result in a simple step up the Residential Life ladder. However, the rung of said ladder kept creeping beyond my reach and I felt trapped in my current position. With each new RA staff and hall opening, I longed for a live-off position. I applied to job after job only to receive disappointment and rejection. Even the positions for which I landed an on-campus interview ended in, “thanks, but no thanks”. A cynical voice in the back of my head threatened that I will always be a hall director and my only hope out of the live-on position is to return to my table-waiting days.

This year MUST be different. I need to get a new job and feel the rush of paying rent to a landlord that has legal restrictions against entering my apartment unannounced. I need to experience the soul-crushing commute with other hardworking Americans each day. I need to feel like I have a job that really is separate from my personal life. At this point, I do not care if I have to drive 30 minutes to work, I need a change. So, just like the past few years, I polish up my resume, type cover letters until my fingers hurt, and desperately hope that this is the year I move out of a residence hall and into a moderately priced flat. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Hate You, You Hate Me...

Tomorrow is our departmental meeting where we all cram into the auditorium, listen passively about updates to our residence halls, and pretend that we are one big, happy Student Affairs family. Along with the announcements, there are inspirational speeches combined with a few "fun" games intended to boost morale during the winter doldrums. However, we all think the same thing: who gives a crap.

The reality of it is that barely anyone works well together in my department. Maintenance hates the custodians who hate the hall directors who, in turn, hate the Area Director team. We all are extremely territorial about our areas and feel no one, but ourselves, works to their potential. Given the contentious relationship among most people in the room, these gatherings are seen as a tremendous insult to those who try hard to cooperate with others despite the rude comments and passive-aggression faced on a regular basis.

Honestly, nothing will change the fact that, every year, the maintenance and custodial staffs walk in late wearing tattered jeans and carrying a pile of doughnuts, even though professional staff has been ordered to wear a three-piece suit on threat of death. The inconsistency in standards is what frustrates many of my peers who work hard to convey a professional image while others in the department skirt around policies whenever possible.

Then there are the promises made at each meeting that we will work more with external departments and not remain closed off inside our heavily guarded silo. Ha! That never happens. We are despised by most offices for our gluttonous budget, our snooty attitudes that scream "we have the hardest job on campus and you don't", and an unwillingness to compromise unless we benefit from it.

Last month, I needed to speak to New Student Programs regarding a student in crisis. The icy reception I received was so frigid I caught cold over the phone. I have always treated NSP with respect; however, as I later learned, earlier in the week, my boss' boss had insulted their director during a meeting with several VPs, accusing them of failing to recruit enough residential students for us to meet our residency quota. Nothing says "working outside our silo" better than publicly throwing another office under the bus for failing to do OUR job.

As we start our new semester, I am once again forced to grit my teeth as I attend another meeting pledging collaboration and positive attitudes. Maybe this year they will finally succeed at bringing us together for more than fattening pastries. Maybe this year they will honor the promises to respect the hard work other departments are doing across campus. Or, maybe this year I'll come in late carrying a grande latte while wearing my Care Bear t-shirt.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Jerseys, Old Athletics

This morning, on Sunday Morning (CBS), an article ran about the ever changing football uniforms for the Oregon Ducks at Oregon State University. According to the segment, the Rose Bowl winning team “never wears the same uniform twice”. They even introduced shiny new helmets that got a lot of oohhs and aahhs during one of their games. The trend of designing flashy uniforms to increase the hype and marketability of a team is not just for the Ducks; University of Maryland recently released a new version of their traditional jerseys. (A Gridiron Fashion Statement)

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not ask the question that looms in the minds of Student Affairs/Academic Affairs professionals everywhere: who is paying for this? Another question I need to raise is: how much money is being cut from academic programs, scholarships, or department budgets to make up for the extravagant new uniforms? Even if the money is not being funneled away from the rest of the school, why should the extra funds they (apparently) have to frivolous spend on the cost of designing new uniforms not be spent on helping the rest of the collegiate community? Why not share the wealth?

Why is it that athletic departments appear to have a bottomless budget for player recruitment, uniform creation, and coaches’ salaries? Yet, when the rest of the school needs money to retain quality teaching staff or provide need-based aid for students, there is no money left? As I wrote in my last rant on athletics, I understand that sports programs bring in students and increase morale amongst the student body. But, I wonder how much money and resources they steal (or absorb, to be less accusatory) from other areas of the college or university?

Nothing will change—I get it. However, that does not mean we should stop rallying against the opulent style of athletic departments that drain the financial well dry, leaving the rest of us cutting budgets and praying there will be funding next year. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

RA Training: There Goes My Resolution (And Diet)

Happy New Year! It’s the time of the year when everyone resolves to eat better, visit the gym more often, and kick an unhealthy habit. However, a good percentage of us fall off the organic granola bandwagon and resort to our old ways. What frustrates me is that right around the time when people are struggling to stick to a healthy lifestyle, RA training begins, which means pizza, taco nights, and soda (lots of it!).

This will be my third year on the RA Training Committee, and like last year, my pleas for alternatives to the grease, chemicals, and high-fructose corn syrup have fallen onto deaf (and overweight) ears. I am not demanding that all RAs and professional staff adhere to a draconian diet; all I am asking is that we consider purchasing better food or at least increase the budget for our staffs to afford dinners other than pizza and Pepsi. Yet, like last year, I have been told due to financial strains on the department, we will be sticking with the usual vendors for training.

What baffles my mind is how a mostly overweight department can justify continuing to feed their staff food that is processed and fatty. Plus, they rarely support those who take their nutrition into their own hands. While not everyone is satisfied with the quality of meals, and some professional staff members choose to bring their own lunch, they are usually ostracized and ridiculed behind their backs. Why all the animosity? It is my thought that those who deride their peers are jealous that they are unable to embrace a healthy lifestyle themselves. Or, they unfairly feel they are being judged by the “thin people”. Whatever their reason, it sickens me when I hear the nasty taunts against those who packed a lunch of their liking, rather than succumb to crappy food.

In my state, the obesity rate is almost 25% of the adult population. Although, not the highest in the nation, it is still alarmingly high and should signal the need for Residential Life departments to place a greater emphasis on healthier eating, especially during training when most staff members have no choice but to eat the pizza, wings, and fried foods. If we require everyone to build community through meals then we have a responsibility to make sure there are more vegetables, less grease, and better options than what we are currently offering. If we want to save our budget and build a strong staff, something needs to change, because what we are doing now is failing—big time!

I’m not preaching that we all need to be a size 4. What I am suggesting is that there is no harm in spending a little more money on higher quality food during training. If that means professional staff members do not receive their usual college swag or that we cancel the Yankee Swap party in December then so be it. I would happily forgo another free travel mug with the department’s logo imprinted on it for training to be a healthier experience. However, knowing our department, nothing will change since my boss really likes his free sweatshirt and his boss really likes to save money.