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Prospective RAs face challenges

Bender, Julie | Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Each year as the time comes to start making plans for next year’s living arrangements, juniors are faced with the question of whether to stay on or move off campus. For many, the lure of off-campus living is enticing. But while a spacious apartment or house shared with close friends, free from the watchful eye of the University, certainly has its appeal, some students feel compelled to go a different route. Whether its the impression a certain freshman year resident assistant made, the desire to impact people’s lives or simply the love of a dorm community, being an RA is a unique and meaningful challenge that a small percentage of students pursue their senior year. From friend to confidante to rule enforcer, the RA plays many roles in the lives of Notre Dame students. Most students recall their RA from freshman year as the senior down the hall who seemed to have life at Notre Dame figured out, whose door was always open and who was rumored to have duLac memorized. However, there are many other important aspects that go into being an RA.”The RA is a strong point of the community,” said Caitlin Early, an RA in Lyons. “They are the visible signs of what Notre Dame represents in each of the halls.”Nick Green, an RA in Zahm, added that “the RA is more than a rule enforcer.””He should be a friend and example for his residents,” Green said. “He is the one whose job is to look out for the good of everyone.” Fulfilling the RA role is a major commitment, especially for seniors in their final year at Notre Dame. An RA must attend an intensive training period in early August involving lecture sessions, role-playing and in-hall training. Once other students arrive on campus, an RA must commit to weekly hall staff meetings and nights of being “on duty,” which require staying in the dorm on call in case incidents arise. In addition to these duties, an RA plays a significant role as a dorm section leader, acting as a liaison between students and the rector. Because the RA is a student, he or she is often seen as more approachable than other authority figures on campus and becomes the figure students turn to with troubles or questions.”From my perspective, the RA serves a great resource and an integral part of the support system that the residence halls at Notre Dame have to offer. The RA should be an individual that residents can turn to and comfortably trust for issues of all types, concerning all aspects of life,” Lyons RA Stephanie Sellinger said.”Additionally, the RA can serve as a great resource about the University and all it has to offer,” Sellinger said. “While they are responsible for maintaining a safe and orderly environment for residents, an RA’s most significant role is support.” In recognition of their commitment to Notre Dame’s dorm community, the University offers RAs a few job perks. Free room and board is the most significant benefit, but RAs also receive free St. Michael’s Laundry service and parking. It’s not these benefits, however, that attract most students to being an RA. Aspects of tradition and the impact of former RAs seem to be the primary factors motivating students to apply for the position.”I wanted to be an RA because of the example that was set before me by men like Ben Dillon, Dean Coleman and Pat McGarry – all former Zahmbies who were great RAs and great friends,” said Green, “I love being an RA – I have no regrets.”Petula Fernandes, a Lewis RA, also credits former RAs as her influence. “I had good experiences with my RAs from freshman and sophomore year. Both were different people, but through them I realized the importance of the ministry of being an RA,” she said. “Now, that I’m in the role myself, I see things from a different perspective, but I absolutely love the position.”In addition to the responsibilities and expectations required of RAs, the application process is tedious and highly competitive. Though any junior can apply, applicants must complete a written application for the Office of Residence Life, submit letters of recommendation and go through an interview process. Every dorm has a slightly different method for selection, but ultimately it is the current RAs who choose the candidates for the following year.Siegfried RA Robert Murphy explained the scope the application process can reach in certain dorms.”In Siegfried we do three rounds of interviews. Two are with current RAs and one is with the head staff – the ARs [assistant rectors] and the rector,” Murphy said.Fernandes described a similar procedure in Lewis, where applicants interview with RAs, assistant rectors and the rector, each of which can last up to two hours, she said.The number of applicants who apply each year also fuels competition for the RA position. Though each dorm has a different number of RAs depending on its size, most dorms have more applicants than spots to fill.”The competitiveness varies according to the dorm,” Sellinger said. “Some dorms, like Lyons Hall, have more than two applicants for every spot. It can depend on a lot of factors, including the class of juniors in the particular dorm and experiences these juniors had as underclassmen with their former RAs. In general, however, I would consider it competitive.”Fernandes agreed that the process is competitive, but said she thought this was ultimately beneficial.”I feel the competition makes it exciting,” she said. “With so many people applying, we can be selective and choose the best possible applicants for the position.”Even with the tough competition for the position and the stringent expectations and responsibilities required of an RA, juniors still apply in high numbers every year.”Even with the application process, I still wanted to apply because I really want to give underclassmen the same experiences I had at Notre Dame,” said Katie Skirich, a Lewis junior applying for an RA spot. “I had some great RAs in the past that really made a difference, and I’d like to pass that on.”Anna Schmall, who is applying for RA next year in Lyons, said she thought that the competition and written application aid in the selection process. “Having to do the application and go through the interviews really made me think and make a conscious decision to apply for RA,” Schmall said. “This is ultimately a good thing, because you only get the people who are truly dedicated go through with it.”Whether it is their commitment to community living, their desire to be a role model for freshmen or numerous other reasons for wanting to be an RA, both current RAs and applicants for next year cite their dedication to the University as a main reason for their service as an RA.”I personally wanted to apply because I loved the community aspect of the dorm and feel that it is an essential part of Notre Dame. I really want to give something back to the school and to the dorm in my last year here,” Schmall said.After his experience as an RA, Murphy echoed these sentiments.”I would apply to be an RA again if I had the chance,” Murphy said. “It’s been a great ending to my four years here at Notre Dame. I feel it’s a complement to senior year to be able to help out in the dorm, while at the same time being independent.”