Community. As RA’s we might as well get that word tattooed onto our foreheads or something, because it is always on our minds.
How can we build community?
What is your role in the community?
How do we improve community?
What does community mean to you?
How can we increase resident involvement in the community?
What are we doing to make sure all feel welcomed into the community?
This list goes on forever and ever. Don’t get me wrong, I love community building and what-not, like I’ve said before, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have applied for this job in the first place. But one thing that has been really hard for me is coming from a hall that had a tight knit community of residents to one that has a very different sense of community. Part of it has to do with the numbers, my previous hall Arnold/Smith wasn’t nearly as large as The Tower is. Also The Tower has LLC’s, which are Living Learning Communities, and that shades how the community between the residents and each other, and even the residents and us (the RA’s) interact. This is not to say that The Tower doesn’t have great tight knit communities, because we do! During training all of the staff members hit the ground running and I’ve never known such a diverse group become so close in such a short amount of time.
Last year, a handful of random guys knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to go eat at the dining hall with them and a large group of people. Not having anything to do, I said yes and we hall got lost trying to get to the dining hall together. These guys have gone on to become my best friends of whom I affectionately refer to as “the boys”. Simply being in the lobby accrued me a legion of friends, most of which I have gotten close to and remain friends with. In fact, all of the boys live right next door to me, except for one who happens to be an RA at a different hall.
So why did I bring that up? This semester, I’ve been having to learn that community is a fairly abstract thing. It’s not the same for any of the res halls and even within a single hall, there are many different communities. And if you go farther, there are different communities within one floor. For me, my main community was with the people of my hall, I was great friends with my RA and even RA’s who weren’t “mine” but were all part of the staff, my RD and other residents were who my friends were. I had church friends and friends from class, but I would always gravitate back towards Smith Mob.
Now, just because someone’s main community isn’t with their fellow residents on the floor or in the building doesn’t mean that they don’t have a community elsewhere, and that is where I have been struggling. For some reason, I feel that if I don’t see all my residents milling about the building at some point in time, then they must be trapped in their room drowning in tears, or something dramatic. This isn’t really the case, and it shouldn’t be the case. It is necessary to be a part of multiple communities because if not, one’s identity might rely fully on one set of people.
That isn’t an excuse for me to slack off on community building. In fact, I feel that the opposite is true, and that I should work even harder. This is because there might be people like me, who grew a lot just by having a great community to be a part of, and for that to happen, there has to be a strong community that anyone can be a member of.
One thing about community is that not only does it define the members of it, but it is also defined by the members. Some residents are more out-going than others and that can effect how to community dynamic is. Every year a new crop of residents emerges, and they are different from the previous years and will be different from the year after them. So as an RA I have to learn to tailor what I want to the needs of my residents, because if I only do things that I think would be helpful, I might end up missing the target.