RAs Reapply in Record Numbers

Sylvie Corwin, Staff Reporter

Earlier this month the Residential Life department finalized the new Resident Assistant (RA) assignments for next semester. 12 current RAs reapplied for the 36 RA positions available, a record number of returnees.

Unlike most schools, Whitman’s RAs are hired on a calendar year. Director of Residence Life and Housing Nancy Tavelli finds that this structure limits the number of times an RA can reapply.

“Most students can only be an RA for a year or two, that’s all they have the time for,” Tavelli said. “[It’s] common at some, especially big, schools for people to be RAs for three or four years and that doesn’t happen here.”

Luke Hampton, the Resident Director, RD, of Anderson Hall, will start next semester with two current RAs on his new staff of six.

“There’s always some fluctuation. I think I’ve seen everything from zero to this being the highest, in terms of reapplicants,” Hampton said.

Of the six Anderson RAs for next semester, one is currently an Anderson SA and others were residents in Anderson in the past.   

“We tend to get to know each other pretty fast during training, so I’d say by the time we’re working together it’s more a factor of our chemistry as a team, individual strength as an RA, and not necessarily whether I know them beforehand,” Hampton said.

To apply for an RA position students must interview with a current RA, submit an application and letters of recommendation, and then interview with three members of the selections committee. Tavelli, Assistant Director of Residence Life and Housing Andrew Johnson, the other residential life administrative staff, and the seven RDs all sit on this committee.

Because this year featured many reapplicants, next year there will likely be less.

“By definition all these people next year can’t re-apply because they’re going to be seniors,” Tavelli said.

“So if you have one big year, a lot of returners, then the next year you’re probably going to have fewer returners,” Johnson said.

Junior Michael Mehlman, a current RA in Lyman, reapplied this year and will be the RA in the Global Awareness house next semester.

“I applied again because I liked it so much and just wanted to do it again,” Mehlman said. “[Also,] I feel like knowing that a lot of people were returning definitely influenced me.”

Mehlman, who remembers feeling nervous when first starting as an RA, now feels confident in the job.

“I think it will be kinda good for the new people, if they have questions they can go to the returning RAs,” Mehlman said.

While the RAs switch at the semester, RDs are hired on the school year calendar.

“Whenever we have a new RD start in the fall…they’re coming into the staff of RAs who’s already been working for a semester,” Johnson said. “So you never have a new RD with new RAs and you never have new RAs with a new RD.”

RDs can help smooth the transition between sets of RAs.

“In August and September RAs get to know their sections really fast and as an RD it takes me a little bit of time to get to know the residents and that’s more of a semester long process for me,” Hampton said. “But by this point RAs are going to come in and they’re not going to know any of their residents and so then the RDs tend to be the people who have more of direct relationships with individual residents.”

Before starting spring semester, the new RAs come back early to Whitman for 11 days of training. They then return five days early in August for a refresher training before starting the fall semester with new residents.

“By the time we have new students coming to campus or returning students coming at the beginning of the year, all the RAs have worked for at least a semester,” Johnson said. “So they all understand their job [and] have practice in being an RA which really helps opening at the beginning of the year.”

Residential Life tries to advertise for RA positions broadly. They send information about the job over the summer in sophomore and junior housing letters and then recruit applicants through posters, nomination letters to students recommended by current RAs and word of mouth.

“I think it can be hard for someone applying to look at an RA who’s a finished product, they’ve done this job for two or four semesters, and think ‘I have to be just like that person’… but you don’t,” Tavelli said. “And we teach RAs a lot of skills so we don’t expect them to immediately know everything.”

The past three class sizes have been smaller than usual which, Tavelli said, can also affect the applicant pool.

“We had enough applicants, we just didn’t have a whole lot of extra applicants,” Tavelli said.