Life “in the Fishbowl”

One might think that getting to live in a private room with no extra charge while working as an on-campus Resident Assistant is truly a dream compared to normal dorm life. At least until a set of sprinklers activate and flood the entire hall you’re responsible for…

Nothing quite prepares you for the unexpected duties that may come with a Resident Assistant position, most commonly called an “RA.” Most aren’t aware of all the responsibilities that go along with taking on such a role, specifically once a crisis strikes.

As an RA of Scott Hall for two years, Alumnus Kristan Cardinali remembers her experience in 2008 when an entire floor of her residents was flooded by an accidental sprinkler attack.

“The flood was the worse situation,” said Cardinali after being asked what her worse experience was. “I remember being up till 4 a.m. cleaning their rooms and talking to the residents who were so upset.”

But with disaster came help from all over campus including faculty and administrators.
“I really got to see how people came together-I remember so many people showing up to help clean,” said Cardinali. ‘”And of course my staff was great.”

Two years later, Cardinali is still involved in Residential Living services as she works as a Resident Director at Applalachian State University. She claims that her RA position at WCU directly contributed to her current occupation.

“Being an RA really lead me to becoming a Resident Director for these past two years,” Cardinali stated.

Other RA’s may not have shared the same successful story, since so many responsibilities are tied to the position.

In addition to living and working with students, RA’s are required to oversee a floor, which can include looking after as many as forty residents. They are expected to always be visible, whether it be in the hallways, or on duty in the resident office that was referred to as “the fish bowl.”

“I did not get along with the Resident Director of my building,” said former RA at WCU, Jordyn Jenkins. “I felt that we as RA’s were held to a double standard. I often avoided my boss and ended up resigning towards the end of the semester.”

Clearly, RA life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some found the publicity of the position to be a challenge.

“It was ‘life in a fishbowl’,” said former RA of Harrill Hall, JoBeth Hoke. “Everything we did was usually seen by somebody we knew. We always had to be careful in public.”

Because of the image an RA must uphold, the application process was no easy task. Participants were asked to write a paper about their good qualities, strengths and weaknesses, and what they would contribute to the position.

“I felt the interview was one of the hardest interviews I’ve ever been in,” said Jenkins.

“The Interviewing process consisted of different scenarios that could occur in a residence hall,” recalled Hoke. “We had to respond to them as if it were realistic. It was also an issue if you had been in any type of trouble with other residence halls, and they also look at your GPA.”

Despite the rough beginning, many RA’s seemed to benefit a great deal from their role.
“It allowed me access to networking,” said Hoke. “I was able to meet a lot of new people among the staff and residents.”

“The experience benefitted me in the long run because it helped me develop my leadership skills,” explained Jenkins, “and it also helped me get involved with campus.”

With all the responsibility on your shoulders, one might wonder “is it worth it?” For some RA’s, it’s a way to be creative and to be able to be a support system in a time of need. Others may just want to meet people, and experience leadership on campus, which in many cases can be an “eye opener to a career.”

Applications are currently being accepted for Resident Assistant positions. If you are interested, please contact the Department of Residential Living