Peer Leaders at Work at YCP
When Emma Frazier '17 (Lebanon, ME) described her York College Resident Assistant (RA) responsibilities, she emphasized, "It's a lot more than just creating door decorations and putting up bulletin boards."
As a fellow RA, I wholeheartedly agree with her. You might wonder why the College needs RAs; how we train for this position, and what qualities help us become good RAs.
Sarah Doherty, Area Coordinator of Manor Complex, said, "There is no cookie cutter for the perfect RA. However, some of the best RAs I have ever worked with are hardworking, caring, and friendly. An RA that isn't afraid of being silly and someone with a good sense of humor is always a plus in this field! More importantly though, a good RA is someone who is welcoming and will listen to residents in their times of need. Sometimes residents do not really need solutions to their problems; they may just need someone to understand them — that is where RAs come in."
York College's first student housing was Springettsbury Hall, completed in 1963. Now YCP has over 20 residential halls in four different campus complexes: Main, Penn/Beard, North, and West. RAs are dedicated to creating a safe environment for our community by implementing school policy, being positive role models for students, and offering programs such as Harry Potter Trivia Night, S'mores Night, and Breaking Dishes Night.
"A positive living-learning environment does not develop as a matter of chance," said Joseph F. Merkle, Dean of Student Affairs. "It requires a carefully planned and intentional approach that brings together and moves the appropriate elements in beneficial directions. The Resident Assistant is the individual who most influences this environment. The RAs have an important role here [at York]. So much of what they do can and does affect students' lives. The personal contact they have with students, how they interact, respond, and help others, greatly impacts the College environment and the residential community. RAs make a difference in people's lives, and as a peer leader, they can aid each student in their developmental process. RAs are at the heart of what matters."
I can say from my own experience that our preparation is meticulous. We have two training sessions, including team bonding, each year. We also have weekly meetings to discuss a range of topics that need to be addressed in the residential community. Each week, we conduct rounds. We have biweekly, one-on-one meetings with our supervisors and work with the new RA process for students who wish to be future RAs – all while creating door decorations, bulletin boards, and creative programs!
RAs must have rigorous training, because we have to be prepared for anything. For instance, in the past, my fellow RAs and I had to deal with domestic violence disputes, suicide attempts, alcohol/drug abuse, and the occasional loud noise. "During my time as an RA, we had two students pass away," said Fiona (Czel) Mohring '93. "One committed suicide during Christmas break, and the other passed away at another residence hall on campus. It really tested our training, our teamwork, and our ability to help the residents cope."
"A good RA is someone who enjoys serving others," said Robbie Bacon, Director of Residence Life. "If you are motivated to help others succeed, everything else can be learned and developed. RAs have always been leaders among their peers. The responsibility of helping others is the same now as it was decades ago. Technology is the biggest difference today. Social media and handheld devices are two things that have changed the ways RAs communicate with their peers. Regardless of the decade, serving others never goes out of style. The RA position develops skills like mediation, public speaking, time management, and event planning. These skills will help you succeed long after you graduate from college. Beyond skills, the RA position is one of the most rewarding experiences a young adult can have, and the memories you make are positively awesome!"
Some events are more mundane than others. When the fire alarm goes off in your building, you may rush over and find that it was just burnt popcorn. Sometimes RAs have to deal with awkward situations. Rodney Altemose '92 said, "I had a resident on my floor that had quite a body odor. His roommate and other members complained. No one could understand. He showered . . . he washed his clothes, but he really smelled. So one day I had to try to figure this out…After a lengthy conversation and a good deal of sleuthing, I found out he did NOT use laundry detergent when washing his clothes and sheets . . . Lesson: Always use laundry detergent."
Eric Hoffman '90 recalled a time when several girls from a sorority lived across the courtyard from him. He knew they were having a "get together" on his duty night. They were quiet and not bothering anyone. A few hours into the evening, the security sergeant came to his apartment and announced, "Eric, we got a party to bust." Hoffman said, "I walked across the courtyard, knocked on the door, and was greeted by Mickey Mouse. The girls were having a Disney party, and there were a lot of people in that apartment. I really hated being there. The security officer shut it down and expected me to help. So I had to take down everyone's name as they exited. Well, of course the first guy walks by and says, 'Peter Pan!' and runs out of the apartment. I just laughed. Then the seven dwarfs exited, followed by Minnie Mouse, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Fast forward 30 years, and I'm teaching at a local middle school. It's parent conference night, and in walks the mother of one of my students at that time . . . Here it was one of the girls who hosted the Disney party!"
"I’d say my favorite [story] is about one Friday night when I was on duty. I had to knock on an apartment door because they were being way too loud," said Josiah Boyer '15. "I was expecting to see a big group of people drinking and have to do tons of paperwork, which is never any fun. It turned out that it was just a small group of friends playing a Pokémon card game, which had gotten a little competitive. It was definitely a good laugh and reminded me to not judge a book by its cover."
No matter what the circumstances, RAs strive to help create an excellent home-away-from-home. RAs are an important part of the YCP campus community and help students get the best out of their college experience.