• Creating Community

    UChicago's Resident Assistants Offer Invaluable Support

By Kate Blankinship

There are approximately 5,800 undergraduates at the University of Chicago. Each of these undergraduates has one thing in common—they know someone who’s a Resident Assistant (RA), whether they’re friends with an RA or have only come into contact with their own.

RAs arguably have one of the most important and hardest student jobs on campus. They take on a role that converts them from just being students whose main job is to take classes to being students responsible for other students.

“RAs are essential to the success of the Housing program at UChicago,” said Sophia Chaknis, Executive Director of Housing & Residence Life and Assistant Dean in the College. “They’re invaluable resources for our residents and assume the role of an informal counselor—advising students on academic or personal matters, and helping them take advantage of the opportunities here at UChicago.”

“They are the people residents can count on to build a community, set an example, and foster, if not help create, an inclusive house culture,” added third-year Crown House RA Cynthia Aguilar.

The RA application process begins in November and ends in January. Students first submit an application and recommendations. Soon after, they attend meet and greets with RAs and Resident Heads (RHs). Then they complete the interview process. All the while, applicants are fulfilling their obligations as students, taking classes and participating in various Registered Student Organizations (RSOs).

For many, they find out that they will get the chance to impact lives the same way that their RAs impacted theirs. Aguilar remembers when she found out, “I think I actually jumped for joy and couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.”

RAs have the ability to influence others. Aguilar applied to be an RA because she wanted to be there for her residents in the same way her RA was there for her. She wants to be able to help them through difficult times and “foster a strong community within my house,” she said. “On the most basic level, I’ll be an ear to listen.”

Recent graduate and former RA Lyzz Joyce recalls the impact of her own RA. “She gave me confidence. She showed me how to be comfortably myself. She introduced me to making the perfect cup of tea.”

From sipping tea with residents to helping them tackle life-changing decisions, the role of an RA spans far and can be challenging. Joyce would often not sleep well because she was worried she’d miss a call. She always wanted to be there for her residents when needed.

“Sometimes, it can be hard to take time for yourself. No one wants to be the absent RA, but everyone needs time for themselves to unplug,” fourth-year RA John Scott said. “It's good to find that balance, and to let people see you when you aren't at your best and how you overcome those moments.”

RAs also have a strong support system within Housing & Residence Life. “I was lucky to have many people who helped me make the first year as easy as possible. My RHs and co-RAs have been great mentors and coworkers. They’re stellar. Not to mention my fantastic residents, who I now count as great friends,” said Chris Cook, fourth-year RA.

As a new RA, Aguilar knows that she will have fellow RAs, RHs, and Resident Masters to help her. “I’ll face challenges as they come with the help of my Crown team,” she said.

RAs also feel empowered by their own residents. One of Joyce’s favorite moments was seeing fourth-year Andrew Trandai work on the Karaoke Night each year. It was incredible for her “to watch one of my residents for the last two years to work hours and hours for weeks to put together this choreography and watch him pour his heart and soul into the piece… and then to win.”

For Scott, while he loved the big moments, he finds most fulfilling “the small things, the trips that people rave about afterward, the dinner conversations at the House table, or the smiles and laughs in the House lounge.”

Those who become an RA choose to take part in a culture that will not only affect their own lives, but others.

“I feel so lucky to be surrounded by the intelligent, talented, compassionate students that I go to school with, and I hope that I can help make at least a few of them feel empowered by the place they live, like I do,” Cook said.