The unsung heroes of Res Life

Where would you be without them?

Riley Potter, Staff Writer

The unsung heroes of campus, of which there are many, often go unnoticed, but their impact is indisputable. Among others, Residence Life workers never fail to go above and beyond the call of duty to love and care for their residents, often to the detriment of their own mental health. How can we better support our Resident Assistants (RAs) and Residence Directors (RDs)? 

Before we tackle how to best encourage and uplift folks in Res Life, it’s important to unpack a bit what Res Life stands for and embodies.

As many an RA can recite, the mission of Residence Life is “to contribute to the educational mission of the college by cultivating a diverse and transformative community of Christ-centered apprenticeship where students can grow in their capacity to live, love, and learn.” This part of the college exists primarily for the purpose of walking alongside students and providing safe spaces for them to grow into their callings.

Residence Life is a touchpoint for every resident on campus, as RAs and RDs hear directly from students and experience life with them.

Jackie Takarabe, a third-year student and second-year Armington RA, highlights how loving people is basically built into the job description, which works out well for her, as loving on others is her “life mission.”

Izzy Hugoniot, another third-year student and Armington RA, shared that “relationally, it’s super fun and it’s always such a joy to make other people happy.” Through section events, they help people engage with each other, with Westmont and with the broader Santa Barbara community. Especially on upper campus, RAs coordinate trips to the farmers market, pumpkin patches, hiking spots and the beach. 

Even Westmont’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) notices the profoundly positive psychological impact RAs have on campus. Eric Nelson gave a presentation in Foundations of Res Life — a required and highly recommended class for all first-year RAs. He shared that he never hears anything bad about RAs from the individuals with whom he works and that it is basically the most important student role on campus. These hardworking individuals hear people’s stories in a way few others can, which Dee Kim, RD of Emerson, described as “really special and sacred.”

Since Residence Life is such a crucial part of how our campus functions, one would think this department’s budget would reflect its importance, but that is sadly not the case. As RAs go about planning events for their individual sections or for their halls, funding quickly becomes the foremost consideration. Often, RAs have to sacrifice elements of their vision in order to make ends meet or go through the added steps of requesting funds from Westmont College Student Association (WCSA). The latter is a good tool, but should not be necessary. If money is available, shouldn’t more of it be provided to Res Life?

Most RAs only have $70 to $90 to use for section activities per semester. This budget often feels like a constraint, as they are expected to have at least one event per month and engage with most of their residents on a personal level. Many shared that they have gone over budget in order to better provide for their sections. RAs, who already provide so much support for our community, should not dip into their own measly reserves when the college most definitely has money to spare. 

RAs have a tiny budget, but so do the residence halls. Emerson’s annual budget of $3,000-or-so pales in comparison to the roughly $40,000 set aside each year for Spring Sing. Once again, the money is there — Res Life just isn’t getting its fair slice of the pie. I am most assuredly not an expert in Westmont’s finances, but I do think we could loosen up the coin purse as far as Residence Life is concerned. 

There are challenges for RAs beyond matters of money, though. In this season of COVID-19, they tend to be viewed in a more negative light as cops, or people who only hand out consequences.

RAs, whose main goal is to love their residents, have essentially become the sole enforcers of COVID-19 protocols on campus. Any RA you speak with will express exasperation on the double standards of such policies. This “policing” role truly takes a relational and mental toll on most RAs. 

Outside of COVID-19, being a RA is a tough gig. It’s hard to balance distinct fragments of life, as they seek to juggle friendships and residents. an anonymous RA expressed sometimes feeling guilty no matter who she is with, as it seems like she is never off the clock. There’s always the feeling she could be doing more for her residents or, conversely, that she has been neglecting her existing friendships. It often feels like a thankless and grueling task, as much of what they do goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

So, help your RA out — wear your mask without being reminded, embrace them, tell them you see them and all the work they do behind the scenes. If you are friends with an RA, be more intentional about checking in and visiting them, even if it means trekking all the way up to the third floor of Page, a place you’d rather not visit and that just seems so incredibly far away. 

Administration needs to listen to those on the ground in Res Life. As Jackie Takarabe eloquently voiced: “Res Life is the one part of Westmont that actively prioritizes loving and caring for students.”

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