Autumn 2009: Campus Beat

Alex Wasserman in residence hall common area

leader: “Being an RA keeps you well connected to campus life,” says three-time RA Alex Wasserman 10C.

Bryan Meltz

Home on the Hall

The multiple roles of the modern resident adviser include counselor, mentor, friend

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By Franchesca Winters 10C

For the third summer in a row, Alex Wasserman 08OX 10C chose not to spend the last ten days of his vacation soaking up the sun. Instead, the Miami native dedicated his time to planning hall programs, perfecting his peer counseling techniques, and crafting Clue-themed decorations as one of Emory’s more than one hundred resident advisers (RAs).

Wasserman, who first served as an RA his sophomore year in Haygood Hall at Oxford, is now a counselor, friend, role model, and go-to guy for nearly half of Trimble Hall’s eighty freshmen and transfer students. “It’s easy as an upperclassman to just go to class, do whatever extracurricular activities you’re involved with, and then go back to your apartment,” he says. “Being an RA keeps you well connected to campus life.”

Although trained student leaders have been hired to act as hall monitors throughout much of Emory’s history, the unique role and diverse responsibilities of the modern RA did not begin to take shape until the early 1980s. During that time, Joe Moon, the University’s first director of residence life, made the controversial decision to convert Emory’s residence halls from sexually segregated to coed. “The best thing we did was get rid of the old men’s and women’s housing and create a really tight group of RAs who knew each other outside of their buildings and who collaborated together on programming,” says Moon, now dean of campus life at Oxford.

In 1982, Moon also helped to found the sophomore adviser (SA) program, which places two sophomores on each floor of the University’s freshman residence halls. These unpaid SAs support RAs by helping to bridge the gap between freshmen and upperclassmen and by cultivating hall spirit throughout the year.

Just as the composition of Emory’s residence halls changed dramatically during the 1980s, so did the role of RAs, who came to be valued as community builders, educators, and peer counselors. Rather than simply enforcing University policy, these student leaders were encouraged to support their residents socially, academically, and emotionally.

“There’s the housing side, where RAs have to . . . deal with maintenance and take care of conduct, but, in addition to that, they also need to make their residence hall a place where students feel at home,” Moon says.

“What I loved about being an RA was creating a culture and environment that people enjoyed living in,” says Trustee Teresa Rivero 85OX 87C 93MPH.

RAs undergo nearly two weeks of training, covering everything from conversation starters to the use of a fire extinguisher. They spend free time scribbling down Songfest lyrics, planning informational programs about topics like healthy eating habits and safe sex, and decorating the hallway for move-in day. “It’s more of a lifestyle than a traditional leadership position,” says Andy Wilson, director of residence life and housing.

With that 24/7 responsibility comes a slew of unique challenges. “One of the things RAs dread most is the possibility of having to write up one of their friends,” says James Francois, the director of residential education and services at Oxford, who, as an RA at Northeastern University, once filed a report about his own girlfriend when he discovered her at a raucous hall party.

“The hardest part,” adds Wasserman, “is striking that balance between being well liked and well respected.”

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