Rules, regulations, and punishments — those are often the first thoughts that come to students’ minds when they hear Resident Advisor. It is easy to forget that RAs are students too, with classes and social lives that intersect exactly like anyone else’s. They straddle the line between friend and authority figure all day, every day. This is not lost on the Residential Life team members, and they want to relay to students how much more an RA truly is — in design and capacity.
Fourth-year Mary Devine has been an RA for three years, and has seen the many changes that Residential Life has undergone. Having their position titles change each year, from RA to RCA to CA and finally back to RA, marks only the slightest change to the ever-expanding team — not the least of which being the introduction of Devine’s position: Head RA, a new POET internship this year. According to Devine, the changes have not affected the team’s ability to connect to students and each other. “I say we’re like puzzle pieces. We’re all different and bring our strengths,” said Devine, “but we all fit together to form a cohesive team.”
Though she agrees that a large part of an RA’s job is to govern buildings and enforce rules, there is a personal aspect to it as well. “You have to want to talk to people, be around people,” said Devine. As a self-proclaimed introvert, Devine in no way wants this to discourage anyone from the position. “You can be an introvert, but [you] need [to have] that heart to want to help people,” said Devine. She continues to outline the responsibilities of the RAs’ daily routine from noise complaints to door decorations, but it always boils down to that point; an RA’s heart needs to be in it for the students.
Devine is a Child Development major with minors in both French and Elementary Education and hopes to finish her teaching credential this year. She plans to work either in transitional kindergarten, first grade, or second grade. She loves watching kids as they grow and develop, and cannot wait to be able to dedicate her life to supporting them in her career.
This is not unlike her care for helping students develop their communities on campus. As a head RA overseeing Lower Campus, Devine’s main concern is student welfare and comfort. She assesses the different needs of a first-year versus a returning student, which boils down to community.
Where first-years struggle with entering into a vast newness, returning students have their groove and support systems. She notes that this changes the way in which an RA will provide support, one main difference being that first-years need a lot of patience and care in dealing with homesickness and fear. This does not mean that Upper Campus RAs are any more lax. “You always have to get to know your residents beyond their name and ID number,” said Devine, because the function of an RA is to be a confidant all throughout someone’s college experience.
Devine remarks on her own first year as she struggled to build a community herself, and with a less-than-inclusive floor she fell into the routine of going to class and then spending her free time alone in her room. “I wasn’t building a community,” said Devine. “It wasn’t until an RA noticed I would go down to the lounge to do homework and play alternative music and keep to myself that I realized this. He actually made a playlist and said, ‘Hey, come listen to this, and let’s jam out together.’” This was when Devine realized she wanted to be a part of something bigger where, using her own experiences, she could help her fellow students.
This year, Devine hopes to use her leadership position not only to help residential students, but to reach commuters as well. “As a leader on campus, you should be looking to unite everyone on campus,” said Devine. She notes that her care reaches beyond ensuring her residents adjust, but that she has a duty to all students.
In the midst of hearing about all these expectations as authority figure, an RA is also expected to achieve in helping others settle and thrive in school, and focus on themselves. For Devine, thriving means involvement in various other clubs and organizations on campus and in the Whittier community, much like many other RAs. “Most people probably think I sit in my room either doing studies or cracking down on people,” said Devine in regards to her many involvements. She laughs, knowing this could not be farther from the truth.
On campus, she is the Vice President for the Whittier College Sports Network and an active member of the Thalian Society, but this is not the extent to Devine’s involvement. Her time spent off campus ranges from volunteer work at the Whittier Friends School to paddle boarding whenever she can get out on the water. Devine wishes for all students to find their home on campus, and to come to an RA — resident or not — if they need a confidant or friend.