RA applications decrease despite high demand

The number of resident assistant applicants dropped by approximately 10.5 percent for the 2019-2020 academic year, despite the demand for RAs increasing because of the opening of the Little Building.

Colonial Residence Director Michael Barcelo chaired the RA selection committee this year and said the number of applications dropped from 220 in the 2018-19 academic year to 183. He attributed the decreased applicant pool to the new college policy that requires students to live on campus for three years.

“With the three-year live-on requirement, part of my hypothesis is that many students maybe [didn’t feel] as much of a drive to pursue the role because they have to live on campus anyway,” Barcelo said.

Students hired as an RA receive both free room and board and single rooms but do not get paid.

In addition to the drop in applications, there were also 24 additional positions available due to the reopening of the Little Building.

Students who applied for the 2018-19 academic year and were not selected may also feel discouraged from applying again, Barcelo said.

Assistant Dean for Campus Life Elizabeth Ching-Bush said the residence life team, including all RDs and members from the Office of Campus Life, usually select around 80-100 students for the 57 spots. This includes new RAs who were hired for the first time, returning RAs who are eligible for a rehire, and applicants chosen for an alternate pool. The college will hire alternate applicants if a selected RA cannot fulfill their duty. With the reopening of Little Building, there will be 81 RA spots available.

“I think [the process] could only be more selective because we still have to have the right people in the right building,” Ching-Bush said.

Barcelo said they offered more interviews to candidates this year, and students who were in the alternate pool in previous years would likely be selected during the first round of interviews because of the demand for RAs in the Little Building.

“We are still looking for the top-performing candidates, but we need to cast a wider net to account for the fact that we have a smaller number of applicants,” Barcelo said.

Barcelo said residential life team members put in an extra effort to attract more applicants during the application period. The Office of Housing and Residence Life opened applications a week and a half earlier than they did in past years. The team also advertised in the Dining Center and Center Stage, which they have not done before, Barcelo said.

Before the application closed, the OHRL required eligible RA candidates to attend an info session which introduced RA duties, such as office hours, solutions for accidents, and evacuation routes. The OHRL added three additional info sessions to the previously offered six and a higher variety of times to accommodate students’ schedules.

Residence Life also used EmConnect to send messages to all student organizations to remind them of RA info sessions. Additionally, they offered separate info sessions to some intercultural organizations because they saw their applicant pool did not fully represent marginalized groups. However, none of the organizations responded to the message.

“We are adding some layers to our ability to get the messaging out,” Barcelo said.

Barcelo said he would like to see a change in RA-selection marketing. He said that, even though they had fliers and posters around campus, it might not be the most effective way to advertise RA positions.

RDs interviewed candidates for two and a half weeks to select RAs for the fall. RDs spend five hours each day in RA interviews while also running their buildings and performing other routine work. Barcelo said the RDs worked in pairs to interview each candidate.

“It’s a labor of love,” Barcelo said. “We enjoy meeting our folks, and we enjoy what it means to have to think critically about building our staff each year and complementing our skill sets.”

Xun Zhuo, an RA for the Colonial residence hall, said in an interview that being an RA not only enabled him to make friends in the RA community, but also helped him practice his time management and problem-solving skills.

Zhuo said that the first night he was on duty, he dealt with a situation involving alcohol and called his RD to ask what to do. However, when he later encountered a similar situation with cannabis, he handled it independently.

“Now I know how to handle it, and I can handle it well. I feel that is a big progress that I have made,” Zhuo said.

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