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What You Don't Know About RAs

Glenn Matsumura

Curly-haired J.T. Batson had such an awesome time during his freshman year in Branner Hall, the Augusta, Ga., native decided to relive the experience—and give something back to the University—by becoming a resident assistant in Cedro, an all freshman-house at Wilbur Hall. According to the Office of Residential Education, RAs are officially responsible “for creating residential environments that enhance student academic progress and promote the intellectual life of the residence.” In fact, Batson has worn many hats during his two-year stint: impromptu academic adviser, crisis counselor, roommate peace negotiator, party planner, emergency chauffeur and middle-of-the-night locksmith. The senior poli sci major gets about $7,000 annually for the job, plus a coveted single room. But, he drawls, “I would do it again next year, even if I didn’t get paid.”

Yes, they memorize every name and photo.
Before Orientation last year, Batson committed the names and faces of all 86 Cedro freshmen to memory. “Some RAs are better at it than others,” he acknowledges. “I’d hate to be in a huge house, like Branner or Roble.”

It’s a 24/7 job.
Batson sleeps, attends his classes and does his homework. Otherwise, though, the frosh in his house expect him to be there for them. “We give freshmen laminated emergency cards, and they do call,” he notes. Sometimes students need a ride to the health center late at night, or they ask to borrow his car. (The answer is no.) Students also tend to lock themselves out of their rooms, particularly at the beginning of the year. “I even had a mom call me at 8 o’clock one morning to tell me that her son didn’t like his roommate.”

Freshmen get the blues.
RAs in all-freshmen houses tend to deal with predictable problems: teenagers reveling a bit too much in their new freedom, student anxiety over academic assignments or finances, homesickness or shyness. Batson notes that the first midterm period is especially tough on frosh—for many, it’s the first time they have ever received any grade less than an A. Another rough spot comes just after winter break, when family conflicts and breakups with high school sweethearts are common.

Dorm cop—or friend?
“I prefer to think of myself as the cool uncle,” Batson says, “or the responsible older brother.” In fact, RAs must walk a fine line between policing students and developing good relations with them. He explains, “You have to set expectations about what life will be like in the dorm, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.” With alcohol, for example, “RAs cannot do anything that would encourage an underage person to drink. You cannot buy alcohol for someone underage, and you cannot serve it. You can’t even say, ‘It’s okay to drink, just don’t get caught.’ We say, ‘You know what the law is—and Stanford isn’t a haven. Here are the possible consequences if you break the law.”

Dorm romances = RA headaches.
Batson recalls one group of five or six male students last year “who bonded purely because they were going after the same girl. They were inseparable until beginning of spring quarter, when one of the guys actually started dating her.” Immediately, “the group shattered and their real feelings came out.” RAs themselves are “strongly discouraged” by Stanford’s sexual harassment policy from having consensual sexual and/or romantic relationships with any of their residents. Relationships with freshmen are flatly prohibited.

It’s not enough to keep the door open.
Batson makes a point each night of going by every room with an open door and saying goodnight, “just to see how everyone is doing.” He also looks for activities to share with the students. Last year, girls in his hall would pack into his room every Tuesday night to watch Real World on television. Another group of frosh males would accompany him to Stanford basketball games. “You can’t just leave your door open and expect them to come to you—you have to put yourself out there.” And, he says, “It always helps to have candy.”

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