As a human being, I function horribly in large groups. I know I can be quite the rambunctious one, but throw me into a huge group of random strangers and I’ll completely shut down. I’ll be awkward, shy and give off the impression that being alive makes me physically uncomfortable. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that this probably stems from an inherent, deeply-rooted fear that nobody likes me. And I understand that, unlike my fear of sharks, mold and being locked in a freezer, this particular fear is actually kind of ridiculous. I know I have friends and people who think I’m pretty great, but that doesn’t prevent the nagging voice in my mind from telling me that I’m a loser and destined for a life of desolate loneliness. At this stage in my life, I can usually get over it and become my normal, social self, but sometimes I still find it difficult to be thrust into a new environment where I don’t know anyone.
So, as freshmen year came to a close, I was happy to leave behind that awkward transitioning period when large groups of strangers were the norm and everyone was uncomfortable because no one knew anyone, but, at the same time, we all desperately wanted to be friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love new people and find them quite exciting. But I was also relieved to have an established support system I figured I’d be able to rely on as a sophomore.
And then I decided to become a Resident Assistant, and, all at once, I was right back where I started: in a new environment, alone and stuck amidst a huge group of people that I didn’t even know.
The RA position is often misunderstood. Some friends will tell me its not a real job and I’m getting free housing for doing nothing. Others will ask if I’ve gone on some crazy power trip and just write everyone up all the time. And still some will wonder in bewilderment how I could possibly want to spend a second year on East Campus. And, while I’ve learned to respond to various inquiries, I’ll admit that, at first, I had the wrong idea as well.
The position itself is pretty straightforward: Take a bunch of freshmen girls from different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, throw them all together in one living community and do your best to keep them alive. But, while that sounds simple enough, it’s also incredibly terrifying. I can hardly take care of myself—how am I supposed to create and nurture an entire community? But I told myself I’d be fine and at the very least meet some cool people, garner a cult-like following of freshmen and have some ridiculous stories to tell years later.
But I kept returning to the same question over and over again: Would I feel alone? The second year East experience is, understandably, incredibly different from the first. I think what a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that, as an RA, you are part of a team. My East Campus team consists of 13 other RAs and two GRs. Despite the fact that most of us started out as strangers, we spend so much time together that, inevitably, bonds form and relationships grow. And, after a while, East stops feeling like a separate entity and starts feeling more like home. I always knew my residents would find their place on East, and it was never really something that concerned me. But what I didn’t expect was that, through random hangouts, smoothie study breaks and weekend brunches, I’d find my place too.
It’s easy to retreat into communities of stability and established networks. But there’s value too in embracing the newness that freshmen year brought for all of us, even if I’m embracing it for the second time around. And, through this experience, I have met so many incredible RAs who I probably wouldn’t know otherwise—people to whom I can express my thoughts, vent my frustrations and gossip about the latest absurdities of my life. And, in turn, their personal accounts have inspired me, intrigued me and made me grateful to be part of something so great.
So to the question of whether being an RA can feel lonely, isolating or alienating: The honest answer is yes. Sometimes, I feel all of that and more. But I think that this would be true regardless of my living situation. And, at the end of the day, it is a job and environment I absolutely love.
The RA role isn’t an easy job, and, by the nature of the role, we go through a lot more than people give us credit for. But, despite the challenges characteristic of any job—the hours of being on call, the endless program planning, the constant fear of possibly ruining someone’s first year experience—it is a role I take pride in and that, in turn, has given me more than I had ever expected.
Michelle Menchaca is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday.