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When Duty Calls

What your RA does while you party the night away or sleep soundly in your bed

By VANNIA ZELAYA
On November 15, 2012

  • Carissa Marston, biology senior and Resident Assistant of Biever Hall, said her job allows her to be a leader. WADNER PIERRE
  • Beau Autin, music industry studies junior and Resident Assistant of Buddig Hall, said however he responds to situations becomes a reflection of how others respond to him.Beau Autin, music industry studies junior and Resident Assistant of Buddig Hall, said however he responds to situations becomes a reflection of how others respond to him. WADNER PIERRE

When Carissa Marston, biology senior and Resident Assistant of Biever Hall, was making her usual rounds while on duty, she did not expect to hear knocking coming from the inside of a room on her right and intense vomiting noises coming from the bathrooms down the hall.
"We felt like we had stepped into the twilight zone," Marston said. "We knocked on the first door because we thought there was a fire or that people were trapped in the room, but they said they hadn't been knocking and looked confused."
As for the student intoxicated in the bathrooms down the hall, Marston said they did not offer much explanation either.
"The student didn't want to tell us how much he'd had to drink," Marston said. "Eventually he said 'fifth' and we asked 'a fifth of what?' and he said 'I plead the fifth.'"
Although this is not the typical night for an RA on duty during the weekend, this is what RAs have to be prepared for. According to Mayleen Cabral, music therapy and psychology senior and senior RA of Carrollton Hall, RAs have to know how to respond to any situation that jeopardizes the safety of residents.
"I've dealt with everything," Cabral said. "For example, last night one of my residents was making popcorn and it exploded inside the microwave, smoke was everywhere. I had to turn on kitchen fans in every room because the entire floor smelled like burnt popcorn."
Cabral said RAs receive training from Residential Life to be able to handle such situations. To be in immediate contact with the residents, RAs are given what they call the "duty phone," a cell phone that any student in their respective residence hall can call if they are having any type of issue.
According to Cabral, life is calmer in a hall like Carrollton because most of the residents are older, but like Marston, Cabral has had her share of incidents to deal with.
"Drugs, alcohol, emotional breakdowns, domestic abuse, fires, breakups, all of those things. Anything can happen," Cabral said. "I mean, give or take, some weekends nothing happens, others, a ton of things happen."
Many residents find great value in having an RA on duty, particularly during the weekend when students are not focused on class or work and difficult social situations are more likely to arise. A past student, A'11, who asked to remain unnamed given the sensitive nature of her experience, found that having an RA on duty is important, particularly due to what she experienced.
"My ex-boyfriend and I got in a huge fight, and he is very passive aggressive, so he bottles everything up and then just explodes and gets physically violent," she said. "We started screaming at each other for 20 minutes and then my RA came knocking on the door. She demanded that we opened the door that instant and asked us what was going on."
She firmly believes that, had her RA not come in at that precise moment, things may not have ended as calmly.
"She demanded for my ex-boyfriend to go to his room since he was in the girls' hall. After he left, my RA asked me repeatedly if I was OK and showed a lot of concern for my well-being." she said. "I really appreciated her concern and the fact that she broke up our fight. It would have escalated even more otherwise, and who knows what could've happened."
With the possibility of such intense situations occurring, particularly during weekends, RAs like Beau Autin, music industry studies junior who works in Buddig Hall, believe that they have to find a balance as authority figures and leaders in order to handle situations in the best way.
"I guess the confrontational aspect is hard; it's hard learning how to enforce rules the right way. Most of the time you can be nice. It's not required to be stern," Autin said. "But you have to be as calm as possible when handling a situation. Whatever you do becomes a reflection of how people respond."
Autin has also had incidents happen, but he has not dealt with anything he considers very serious.
"I haven't dealt with anything major, but I was once called about someone who had parked in the President's parking spot. I was so confused," said Autin. "I had to go upstairs and get the resident in their hungover state, and it was awkward."
However, being an RA on duty during the weekend is not only about dealing with the situations that arise, but it can also be synonymous with sleepless nights. According to Autin, being constantly woken up is a downside of the job.
"Being called in the middle of deep sleep is hard. It's hard waking up and figuring out what you're being called about and what you need to do," Autin said.
Cabral agrees and adds that she has had some sleepless nights herself. She explains that RAs have to be attentive of the duty phone and cannot miss a call no matter how deeply asleep they may be, because they never know how serious the situation may be
"My worst experience was when I got called every single hour in a single night. It was mostly dealing with lockouts," Cabral said.
She said she found herself unlocking doors for residents who had lost or misplaced their keys.
According to Alexandria Kelch, area director of Biever Hall, Residential Life acknowledges RAs have a lot of responsibility, and when events like lockouts happen too often, Residential Staff will talk to residents and RAs to find solutions.
"Almost all of us in the staff have been RAs, so we understand," said Kelch. "We try to make the load as equally distributed as possible. If things start to become too overwhelming for an RA on duty, if the staff is suffering, we'd want to talk about it."
Kelch said there are given times during the semester, such as midterms, when they know the staff could feel overwhelmed.
"We realize people may be getting in a rut and that we need to help them out," Kelch said. "We don't want them to neglect their RA responsibilities, but they have to put themselves first."
As Kelch explains, when RAs are on duty during the weekend, they have several other responsibilities aside from answering the duty phone.
"The number one thing RAs are concerned with is safety in the buildings. So they are in charge of watching for violations of the visitation policy with the desk assistant. They want to make sure people leave when visitation hours are over at 2 a.m.," Kelch said. "They are also in charge of helping students who are intoxicated, making noise violations, having roommate disputes, dealing with domestic violence and who are locked out of their rooms."
Kelch also said RAs on duty have to do a minimum of three rounds from the top to the bottom of their building, looking for any hazardous situations including facility issues that they have to submit work orders for. At the end of their shift, which lasts 24 hours but is flexible and can be switched among RA staff in the same building, they also have to submit a summary report of all incidents and issues.
However, Kelch points out that RAs should not only be viewed as students who enforce Residential Life's policies.
"I don't want to portray RAs as though all they do is boss people around, I feel that is the biggest misconception," Kelch said. "RAs also help build a community, especially in first-year residence halls."
Autin feels as though he has helped create a sense of community in his hall, and although his duty hours tie him to campus, he enjoys his job.
"I do like the ability to be spontaneous and go out and grab a crêpe, and I do feel like I'm trapped in the building, but I cope by having fun, by chatting with people and the DA," Autin said. "Sometimes I'll set up video games in the hallway and play with people. The shift goes by fairly quickly."
In addition to creating a greater sense of community, Cabral also feels this job is helping her prepare for a future career.
"I've gained a lot of skills that I wouldn't find myself getting otherwise. It'll be helpful for a future career in nursing or psychology," Cabral said.
For Marston, the benefits are greater than the sacrifices the job entails.
"In addition to being very well compensated, we also get to be student leaders. If we have to put others before ourselves sometimes, then so be it," Marston said. "I applied for this role, this is the reason why I live on campus. To say one semi-sleepless night makes this too difficult is not a very good argument." 


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