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Being a Friend and an Enforcer

Nalini Gupta (CAS’07) finds that drawing the line between being a friend and an authority figure to her residents is hard.

Biology major Nalini Gupta (CAS’07) has been a resident assistant in Warren Towers for two years. She says that while the first year of working as an RA prepares a person for the next in terms of administrative work and time management, it doesn’t necessarily prepare one for a new crop of personalities.
BU Today: How has your time as an RA affected your experience at BU and your plans for the future?

Gupta: Being an RA has been a very positive experience. People ask me if I think it’s time-consuming or too much work, but once you learn to manage time, it is very doable. I would definitely apply again if I weren’t graduating this year because the work is outweighed by the friendships you make, the residents you help, and all the funny moments. 

The RAs, senior RAs, and even hall directors became a huge family. During first-year training, I remember administrators saying something about RAs hanging out and often being seen together. I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s true. We frequently take over a huge table in the Warren dining hall for meals together.

In general, what has it been like being an RA?

Overall, it’s been great. I’ve made close friendships that I know I will keep after college, not only with other RAs, but also with residents. When working together, supporting each other, bonding during time in the office and on late nights, you can’t help but form strong friendships with the other RAs.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what is most difficult?

The residents are the most enjoyable part. Mine always make me laugh and always surprise me with new ideas, quirky sayings, new initiatives in the community, and hilarious stories. I remember once I walked out into the hall and a quarter of them were dancing in the hallway and doing character impressions. Other times, they tell me what they’re involved in or what’s the most exciting thing in their life at the moment. 

The most difficult part is drawing the line between being a friend to them versus being a leadership figure in the community. They need to realize that RAs have responsibilities and policies to uphold, but as RAs we also need to be able to joke around with them and make ourselves approachable. Finding the balance between being uptight and too relaxed is key to maintaining harmony on the floor and helping the students. It is hard to help anyone unless they feel comfortable enough to tell you what’s wrong. 

How have you dealt with the challenges?

I send out weekly e-mails with funny openings and subject lines, which still get the point and information across in the e-mail. I’ll joke around with my residents, hang out in the common room, help them study, and watch Grey’s Anatomy with them. When I do approach a situation on the floor, such as noise, I don’t just tell them they’re being loud — I tell them why it’s a problem and a person on the floor can’t study. As soon as you tell them the significance of their actions, they understand the reason for the policy. 

RAs have had to talk to their residents about the recent off-campus fires involving BU students, making sure they understand safety practices and information. How have you dealt with that?

After a campus-wide RA meeting that addressed the need of fire safety on campus, I held a floor meeting that addressed the campus fires. I told students about identifying more than one exit wherever they were in case of fire and told them what to do and where to go if they were in the dining hall during an emergency. I made them realize that Warren Towers has no fire drills and they need to take each fire alarm seriously and leave the building. I asked them how they would feel if they lost everything in their dorm room because the person down the hall made a careless mistake that led to a fire. By personalizing the question and placing the residents in the shoes of someone who lost everything, I hope they were able to realize the importance of the situation. 

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.