February 4, 2010

Are residential advisors necessary?

The Campus Life Office recently began selecting RAs for the 2010-2011 school year. RAs have traditionally been a source of information and assistance for other students, particularly freshmen.

However, Knox’s philosophy of encouraging independence and self-sufficiency has led many students to question the necessity of RAs.

“In my experience, the people in the suite take care of each other,” said freshman Moira Byrne. “It’s not like the RA ignores situations. We just don’t feel the need to involve her.”

RAs are most visible during freshman orientation when they help suitemates get acquainted and ease into college life. Once the school year gets going, however, they sometimes fade into the background.

“Beyond those first few weeks [of the year…] they don’t seem to do much,” Byrne said.

Associate Dean of Students for Campus Life Craig Southern disagrees.

“RAs are necessary in any environment,” he said. “You have so many people with different ideas [in a dorm situation]. It’s good to have a middle person.”

RAs often have more direct routes to getting things done and thus can act as liaisons between students and facilities services, Campus Safety and other offices.

“We need folks who can make sure students are comfortable and thriving in their academic areas,” Southern said.

The application process for becoming an RA is comprehensive and designed to find people who work well with others and can provide the kind of help for which the RA position was created. Potential RAs must fill out a paper application and receive recommendations from current RAs as well as faculty or staff members.

Potential RAs also go through two interviews: one with Southern and a current RA and another in a group setting. This second interview involves working with other applicants to solve problems.

“The group interview lets us look at how people work together,” said Southern. “It also lets us see what [they] feel is important.”

New RAs are selected by the end of winter term. There are 27 RA positions at Knox, and typically 11-13 RAs are rehired each year. Thus, only 14-16 applicants actually get the job. The small number of positions available allows Southern and the Campus Life office to be especially selective and choose the very best people from the 40-60 who apply.

“Just as there is no typical Knox student, there is no typical RA. We don’t want 27 of the same sort of people,” Southern said. “We’re looking for people who like people […] and who take initiative to find things out.”

By choosing RAs with people skills, problem-solving abilities and a working knowledge of Knox, the Campus Life office helps ensure that all students have access to information and support, should they need either.

“You shouldn’t go to your RA every time you have a hangnail,” Southern said. “But they are there as a resource.”

Anna Meier

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