I am a residential advisor (RA) at Hamilton College in a dormitory called Wallace Johnson. While I must confess that I don’t know a whole lot about who Wallace Johnson is or was, I can say that living in Wally J, as we so affectionately refer to it, has presented me with a wide array of experiences and challenges.
Wally J is a small dormitory, a three-floor house actually, located downhill along College Hill Road. It consists of twenty residents, including myself, leaving me with as many as 19 advisees (I have 18 this semester). The house has a a 6:4 ratio of men to women. I am the only senior in Wally J; the majority of residents happen to be juniors, and there are also six sophomores.
While this living experience is unique, there is nothing unique about the dorm itself. It is the array of different needs and personalities of the students who live in the dorm which tests me. The RA’s role is crucial to the stability of a residential college such as Hamilton. Part of my responsibility as an RA is to confront harmful behaviors and policy violations. In addition, I serve, more importantly, to foster community and to observe and address the immediate concerns of advisees.
The fulfillment of the RA’s function correlates with her or his ability to identify with the residential advisees. For me personally, I have had to recognize the closeness of my age to my advisees’ ages, because they are also my peers and classmates, rather than little children who need constant supervision. I have to recognize and constantly reevaluate their different interests and values, and to respect them as mature, rational, and thinking adults. It is a rewarding and certainly difficult challenge, but it is also a blessing to know that I can positively shape the experiences of fellow students at such a crucial point in their lives.