Here’s a New Soapbox

Alright. I understand that I don’t work in a traditional field, but at least 3 times in the last 24 hours I’ve had someone completely shit on what is going to be my career for at least the foreseeable future. Because of that, I’m going to step on a soapbox for all my in-hall peers: I’m gonna drop some knowledge on the rest of you who don’t understand what we do, so that maybe if you talk to one of us, you don’t inadvertently tell us we’re useless.

Let me preface this by saying that I am currently a full time grad student who also works in an in-hall position. The department I work is does a really good job of treating grads as professional staff members, so I will be writing this post (for the most part) from the perspective of a professional staff member because…well…that’s how I’ve been treated.

First and foremost, it’s a residence hall, not a dorm. A dorm is somewhere you go to sleep and shower between classes. A residence hall is meant to be a home away from home, and I can tell you that having been a student staff member and now a professional staff member, there’s a hell of a lot of effort that goes into making residence halls feel like home. As I type this, there’s a commercial from target talking about “dorm” shopping…**sigh**….we do what we can.

Next, YES, I live in the residence hall. NO, I don’t have a roommate. NO, I don’t share the bathroom with the students. I have a full apartment to myself (re: see my post about why I’m single because this doesn’t apply to everyone) that I thoroughly enjoy.

NO, I am not a glorified RA. The majority of us who work in-hall were RAs (or, as we call them here, CAs) in undergrad. For lack of a better way to put it, we’ve earned our stripes, and for those of my peers who weren’t RAs…welcome to the jungle. I supervise the CAs here in order to make sure they’re successfully helping our students, and I truly tip my hats to them. Our student staff are literally on the front lines in our residence halls, and while I was there for 3 years in undergrad, I sure as shit wouldn’t want to go back.

Do not equate my job with being a glorified babysitter. Are there days where I feel like I’m running a daycare of 1,000 toddlers? Hell yes. Especially days when there’s vomit outside my apartment and someone crying in the hallway. But on most days I get to watch the development of young people from the inside out. It’s easy to look at the younger generation as lazy and degenerate, but I PROMISE that if you were in my position, you certainly wouldn’t see them that way.

Don’t ask me how much I make. We aren’t rich people. Our pay is markedly lower than other professions because our housing and (often) some kind of meal plan are worked into our pay. With that being said, when I tell someone and they say, “OMG AND YOU DON’T PAY RENT?!” it really chaps my ass. Comparing how we’re paid to how a professional starting in PR (just as an example) is paid is like comparing apples and oranges, so just don’t do it.

As a grad student, I get my tuition covered because of the position I’m in–a benefit that’s also worked into how I’m paid. When people say we get to go to grad school for free, I want to scream. We earn it. We work about 35 hours a week, go to grad school full time, and then do our “Other Duties As Assigned” When someone says, “Well at least it’s free grad school,” I have to suppress the urge to punch them in the throat.

Lastly, please, please, please, don’t ever do the “…ooohhhh,” with the side-eye face when we tell you what we do. None of us came into college say, “I’m going to work in student housing/residence life!” This is something we found as a passion sometime in the recent past. When you side eye what we do and act like it’s not important, you are telling me that what I do doesn’t matter. No, I don’t run a bank that keeps your money safe. No, I’m not a firefighter who comes and stops a fire from burning your house down. No, I’m not a farmer who helps put food on your table…

But do you want to know what I am? I am the person who greets your son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/cousin/best friend when they’re scared outta their wits moving into college for the first time. I’m the person who meets with your son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/cousin/best friend when they’re thinking about leaving college because I want to keep them on track and help them be successful. I’m the person who wakes up at 4:00am to come sit with your son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/cousin/best friend while we wait for an ambulance because they’ve got a violent stomach bug or because they didn’t know their limits and drank themselves into a stupor–yeah, we respond for both. I’m the person who takes your son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/cousin/best friend to the counseling center when they might be depressed or suffering from an eating disorder or thinking of killing themselves because they don’t know how to cope with life at college (or with whatever else life throws at them). And I’m the person who tries my best to know you son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/cousin/best friend’s name so that when I see them in the hallway, I can ask how their classes or club sports or student groups are doing.

When I say “I” am this person, I mean that my peers and I are this person. We didn’t get into this field for the apartments or the meal plans or the education…we got into this field because we care about every single student that live in our halls and on our campus. Now, I’m going to hesitantly put my soapbox away, but the first time one of you calls it a dorm or calls me a babysitter, I’m going to pull out said soapbox and slap you with it. SMOOCHES!

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