Art by Caitlin Roark
In the excitement of New Student Orientation every August, over a hundred returning students give up a part of their summer to help welcome new first-year and transfer students. Throughout the week, new students become connected with their halls, meet a countless number of people, and become Waves — all through the help of the returning students committed to the process.
Yet as the week fades away, so do the volunteers in orange and blue shirts. The campus quiets down, and the classrooms and library begin to teem with life. Resident advisors and spiritual life advisors for first-year halls, however, remain committed throughout the year. To prepare for the students, Housing and Residence Life student leaders such as myself are the first to arrive and the last to leave every year to ensure every residence hall or apartment complex becomes a home. Residents should remember to appreciate their student leaders due to their unwavering commitment to improving residence life at Pepperdine.
It is the RAs and SLAs duty to be the best of Pepperdine in every way possible. Student leaders in Residence Life are the bridge between the administration and students, as Shannon Najmanbadi points out in her 2016 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. To accomplish this goal, there is a thorough training process.
In early August, RAs and SLAs for the academic year arrive on campus to participate in HRL Formation, the training process for these leaders. These students end their internships early, quit their summers jobs, leave their homes overseas, and cut their summer break short for weeks of training. HRL Formation is crucial part of preparing the student leaders and living areas for another year of classes. Part of the importance of Formation is training student leaders to integrate the skills they will need for the year. Described as “part therapist, part event planner, part enforcer” by Lisa W. Foderaro in her 2009 New York Times article, student leaders wear many hats.
To prepare for this multifaceted role, student leaders participate in training sessions focused on event programming, emergency training, facility services, Title IX and reaching the international student population. Other sessions that fill up the remains of the two weeks are hosted by the Intercultural Affairs office, Relationship IQ, the Department of Public Safety, the Pepperdine Volunteer Center, the Office of the Chaplain, the Office of Community Standards and the Counseling Center.
Student leaders’ commitment to their residents can be evidenced by the time and energy that is generally invested in the living area year-round. From late-night chats during midterms to supporting residents at athletic events, RAs and SLAs simply want their residents to feel welcome and included.
The emotional investment is not always requited though. Student leaders recognize that residents often have more exciting or meaningful opportunities outside the living area. Low turnouts, though, can make serving as an RA or SLA an emotionally challenging ministry due to its lack of gratification and its difficulty in measuring one’s own competence. Contrary to popular belief, success is not measured by the number of documented policy violations. Rather, true success is making residents feel at home.
In the line of duty, the only way to judge how well one performs is by each interaction with a resident. So next time you see your RA or SLA, send some love their way. Know that they spent weeks planning the residence hall decorations. Know that countless prayers have been showered on each resident. Know that they genuinely want to improve your Pepperdine story. Say hi, because they would love to invest in a relationship with you.
Follow the Pepperdine Graphic on Twitter: @peppgraphic