Resident Advisors coping with COVID-19

Two+I-Guides+assist+a+new+student+by+pushing+a+cart+loaded+with+their+items+during+move-in+on+Aug.+22%2C+2019.

Mark Capapas

Two I-Guides assist a new student by pushing a cart loaded with their items during move-in on Aug. 22, 2019.

By Matt Troher, Staff Writer

Thomas Ballard said he enjoys being a resident advisor. He just finished making the rounds for his floor, making sure students didn’t have any unauthorized guests or illicit materials in their rooms. A piece of paper fell off his bulletin board and he stopped to reattach it.

On the way back to his room, Ballard saw one of his residents wearing their masks below their chin. Enforcing COVID-19 guidelines, Ballard stopped his resident and reminded them to wear their mask properly when not in their room. 

Resident advisors play a vital role in keeping University Housing safe and clean during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the first line of defense, ensuring their residents follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. However, the added stress of being a resident advisor during a pandemic on top of their regular duties has made this semester especially strenuous for them.

“This semester has really fluctuated in terms of how the RAs are mentally doing, and how I’m mentally doing,” Ballard said. “Being an RA can be kind of tough in the way, a lot of times we might have to deal with stuff when we’re totally not ready to deal with it. It can kind of make you feel clogged up sometimes.”

Ballard, a junior in LAS, is a resident advisor on the second floor of Scott Hall. He became a resident advisor during the spring semester of last year before leaving campus in March due to the pandemic. This is Ballard’s first full semester as a resident advisor, forcing him to adapt to a completely new living situation.

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    In addition to enforcing COVID guidelines, resident advisors are also tasked with community building, which has been made more difficult due to the inability to meet in person. 

    Last week, Ballard hosted a zoom discussion about that week’s bulletin board theme: wellness. An avid fan of philosophy, he incorporated the philosophy behind Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger, two popular culture figures associated with wellness, in an attempt to boost turnout. 

    Six people came to Ballard’s zoom call, a larger turnout than he expected. 

    “Community events are a lot harder to do during COVID,” Ballard said. “It’s hard to think of fun things to do with people, and it’s a lot harder to get people to come to events. You have to do something they really want to come to or else they’re not going to come, even if they’re residents that really like you. So it’s harder to have events.”

    In addition to resident advisors, other University Housing staff works to keep University Housing safe. The number of safety precautions taken by University Housing has had a part in why there has not been a large outbreak of cases in University Housing.

    “We’ve been very quick to get students into isolation,” Director of Residential Life for University Housing Trish Anton said. “That is our priority. We have everything from card swipes to security cameras, we know where people are, for the most part, so we can enforce that isolation and quarantine, where apartments off-campus, there’s really no mechanism to do that. So that’s why you see a higher spike off-campus or in the surrounding campus community.”

    Every year in October, University Housing sends out a survey to all residents to gather feedback on four areas: academic success, community engagement, personal growth and social justice exploration. Anton expected a significant drop in positive feedback due to the unique situation faced by University Housing. To her surprise, the drop in positive feedback was much smaller than she expected.

    One question asked in this survey is “My RA is visible, available, engaged and attentive to residents.” From 2016 to 2019, 94% of students responded they either “agree” or “strongly agree,” each year. This year, the amount who answered positively only dropped to 92%. 

    Another question asked for residents’ opinions on the statement “my RA assists fostering and maintaining a clean, safe and welcoming environment.” 94% of residents responded positively, compared to 96% who responded the same the previous three years. The low drop in positive responses shows that resident advisors are still performing well despite the circumstances.

    Despite the added stress of working during a pandemic, Ballard still loves his position as a resident advisor.

    “It’s really nice to be a visible leader in the community, and be able to provide some guidance for students who might need it from an upperclassman,” Ballard said. “You’re going to have to deal with real stuff, you’re going to have to enforce some rules when you don’t want to, you’re going to encounter situations that might be awkward that might require you to speak out and a step up in leadership. It’s a very real and fulfilling job. It just feels good to help people.”

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