Residence assistants are the welcoming committee and mentors for the hundreds of new Humber College students who might be feeling overwhelmed as they move in.
Each assistant, or RA, is responsible for the floor they’re assigned, and for newcomers, they could be important sources of support.
Every RA takes two weeks of training learning to deal with difficult situations, such as mental health, including thoughts of suicide, or unsafe use of drugs or alcohol.
“We go through all this training and you think it’s so unnecessary, until a situation comes up and you’re really glad you had the training,” said Matthew Gregoire, who is in first year of the Film and Television Production program at Humber and a first year RA.
“It also gives you the chance to get all these certificates you might not really be able to get without the training, it really makes you grow as a person, and it’s really nice to have all those things in your portfolio,” he said.
After residents move in, it’s time to put the assistants’ newly acquired skills to the test. First year students move in one week before classes begin allowing them a chance to settle in and make friends before starting their first year of college, and most likely, their first time ever away from home.
“The most challenging part of being an RA I think is getting people to come out of their rooms during those first few weeks and have them meet new people. Most new students get homesick really easily and it’s important to get them involved,” Gregoire said.
Matthew Waghorn, a Residence Life Coordinator at Humber’s North residence, said supporting and supervising assistants is one of the many roles he has.
He said a good residence assistant is someone who is personable, easy to talk to, pays attention to detail and has a good sense of leadership.
“When we’re looking for staff members, ultimately we like to have an array of different types of personalities,” Waghorn said. “Obviously we want to be able to relate to students and their personalities.”
Waghorn said it is important for residents to have a good relationship with their RA because they are a great person to go to for help in any situation. They are available at almost any time and although they might not be able to help the student themselves, they can often point them in the right direction of services that best suit the person’s needs.
“They are the people who are really living where they work, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is a unique challenge,” Waghorn said.
There are things that happen on a college campus and it’s not always during business hours, Monday to Friday. Something can happen at four in the morning on a Sunday, and that’s when RAs become very important. They are provided with the necessary training to respond to these situations, said Waghorn.
Despite being at their workplace all the time, it is important for assistants to balance their duties, schoolwork and personal lives.
“I think it’s just about taking a step back and realizing that you are still a student and you are a human being that needs to have a life and do things outside of work and make time for yourself. And if that means vocalizing with your floor and saying you need to have your door closed for a few hours to do school work, then that’s perfectly fine,” Mellisa Coe said. “Just because you live where you work doesn’t mean you have to be working constantly.”
Coe is a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Journalism program at the University of Guelph-Humber and was an RA for two years.
She saw the impact assistants had on the residence community and decided to become one, this year taking on the role of Residence Community Assistant. RCAs are senior students who act as mentors and offer support to the RAs as well as the Residence Life Coordinator.
“I absolutely love being part of the community,” Coe said. “I think it’s the aspect of developing a strong community and forming these relationships with students and watching each one of them grow as a person.”