Asa Daniels, senior staff writer

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, this semester has been the first most similar to before the pandemic at Berry. This is true as well for Residence Life, such as in the regulations they and Resident Assistants (RAs) have to follow. Lindsay Norman, associate dean of students, believes that coming back to more typical rules is revitalizing the residential community aspect of Berry.

“[COVID-19 visitation rules] really negatively affected the RAs last year because they were constantly having to police those things without the opportunity to do fun stuff like programs and it really hurt their identity – the fun part of being an RA wasn’t there anymore, the hard part of being an RA was there and it was even more intense,” Norman said.

Now, while the pandemic continues, RAs have been able to return to hosting Late Nights, hall programs, and getting to meet with their residents, Norman explained. She added that it has also been rewarding for Residence Life staff to return to their normal operations.

“We get to see things that we enjoy as professional staff, like seeing people come to programs, people applying to become RAs, having conversations when people make mistakes in the residence hall, so, we get to do the things that we enjoy now,” Norman said.

A number of the RAs this year have had to plan events that they haven’t been a part of until now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has added a new lens to how they do some programs and ways to improve them, Norman said.

“They’ve done really well and I think it’s made us think of things more critically, like, ‘why did we continue to do that program, that doesn’t really make any sense?’ or ‘oh, let’s try that,’” Norman said.

Senior Issac Gridley Jr. works at the RA desk in Dana. Following the difficulty of working during the COVID-19 pandemic, Residence Life staff has returned to normal operations. Mary Claire Stockebrand | Campus Carrier

These changes include Late Nights. Norman explained that many RAs are trying to include more relaxing activities at the events so that there is something for everyone to enjoy, besides the more social aspect normally seen at the events.

A unique challenge that Residence Life has had to address this year was the influx of freshman students. According to Norman, the most difficult part has been trying to address room change requests.

“We’re not at the level that that’s impossible, we just have to be good communicators with students to tell them, ‘yes, we can see you’re not comfortable and you want something else,’ and then figure out how we prioritize that,” Norman said.

However, Norman said that the large number of students has been beneficial because it allows for more social interaction among students.

“People have more chances to interact with other people, you’re more likely to find someone you have something in common with,” Norman said.

Junior Nolan Davidson, an RA on First East Dana, is one of the many RAs with either only or most freshmen on their hall. Davidson said that his goal as an RA is to help make Berry a welcoming place for new students.

“Particularly with freshmen, I would say the biggest thing is making sure everyone feels welcome and they feel like they have not only the ability to just live here but actually thrive here and be welcomed,” Davidson said.

Davidson has enjoyed hosting hall programs for his residents, but says that it can be hard to entice students to come, especially compared to his time with KCAB last year.

“Whereas hundreds of people can go to a KCAB event, residence hall programs, can really be a struggle to get more than four or five people to show up,” Davidson said.

Davidson said that he believes it is important for RAs to understand the personality of their hall and what kinds of events will be most engaging for the residents. He added that this has influenced the kinds of programs he has.

“I think a big part of that is making it accessible and making it engaging and a good way to do that is to be competitive because a lot of guys feel like, if there’s a conquest to made, it’s entirely more appealing,” Davidson said.

Davidson is already planning for some events next semester, including a resume building event with the career center, which he believes will be a useful event for the freshmen to attend.

For Davidson, the biggest challenges are often events that one cannot really predict, such as damage to bathrooms or other public areas in the residence hall. He said that it is important for an RA to consider how to best respond to these events.

“It’s the way you respond to it that is going to be the determining factor on how that contributes to the development of the hall as a whole,” Davidson said. “How do I tactfully and strategically respond to this so it’s not encouraging further destruction but still addressing the issue in an appropriate and acceptable way to where its mutually agreeable?”

That being said, Davidson said that his favorite part has been getting to know his residents and building relationships as part of Berry’s residential community.

“I want to get to know the people on my hall and build something that’s constructive for everyone, because I think at the end of the day, Berry’s decision to have a residential community, I think that’s something I took for granted my first year but over time, I’ve really grown to appreciate because it really does bring different people together,” Davidson said.

Norman added that it is this aspect of the Berry community she believes is very important for the development of everyone who lives on campus.

“[We want students] to reap the benefits of living and working together,” Norman said. “Living in a residence hall is like a lab, a learning lab, we think living with other people is a great way to learn about yourself, to learn about others.”

She added that RAs can be great resources for meeting new people at Berry and for establishing potential lifelong relationships.

“Go to a program, get to know the people on your floor, because they could end up becoming the people that become your colleagues for life,” Norman said. “If you’re having trouble finding those connections, talk with your RA. They can be really good at helping you to do that if that’s what you want.”

Another challenge that Residence Life has had to address is the low number of returning RAs from last year. Norman explained this has been a challenge particularly for new RAs, as they have less upperclassman guidance.

“New RAs had less people they could turn to, they have less experience to draw on from their peers,” Norman said. “Normally you have a returner who’s like ‘hey, you got this,’ or ‘no one came to your program this week? Here’s some ideas you could do next week to see if more people could come,’ so, I think, in turn, that has caused our RAs to turn to their Head Resident and that’s good too, but I think it was a little harder this year because they didn’t have as many returners on our staff to help.”

Norman said that she is not expecting this issue next year, as there are currently 16 applicants for Head Resident positions, the most in Berry’s history. She explained that this is another sign that the job is enjoyable for students.

As for the future, Norman explained that Residence Life is currently working through changes to the teaching model for RAs so that they can continue to provide effective services for residents. They are planning a meeting in December and will be finishing up the program in the spring, in time to train with it during the summer.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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