News Item

Prepared for Anything - Lander RAs Equal to the Challenge

June 19, 2017

By Jeff Lagrone
Photos by Deb Nygro and Megan Price

Note: this story appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Lander Magazine

RA Group at ChipleyLander RAs from left: Haley Histon ’19, Ayana Gilliyard ’18, Jesse Wheeler ’19, Nathaniel Lagrone ’17, Jahleesa Coatie ’18 and Blair Harmon ’18.

One hundred and nine Lander University upperclassmen have applied to be resident assistants next year. It’s the most applications for RA jobs that the Department of Housing and Residence Life has ever received.

With perks like free lodging, a yearly stipend of $2,400 and the opportunity to make friends, influence people and gain valuable job skills, it’s no wonder that Lander RA positions are coveted jobs.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy work.

RAs are the first point of contact for between 30 and 50 students who live alongside them in the university’s nine residence halls. RAs are encouraged to have some kind of interaction with all of their residents each week.

RAs have other responsibilities, too. They issue and retrieve keys, file damage reports and perform other administrative tasks.

They assist with planning, implementing and communicating information about a broad range of educational, social and recreational activities in the interest of building a sense of community.

If there are student welfare or roommate problems, or maintenance or safety concerns, an RA is probably not far away.

RA photosLEFT PHOTO: Blair Harmon, right, shows two of her residents, Rebekah Pinkel, center, of Fountain Inn, and Aralyn Townsend, of Port Royal, a feature of her new iPad Pro during a study session in her apartment at University Place. RIGHT PHOTO: Haley Histon, left, and Jahleesa Coatie share information about upcoming activities and events on campus with residents of Chipley Hall.

RAs are also students who live with the knowledge that their study time could be cut short – or taken away completely – as the result of some unexpected development on their floor. Because of such a possibility, good time management is essential.

Enforcing rules in an impartial manner can be difficult. RAs sometimes find themselves in the position of having to write up their friends.

“Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can let them get away with breaking rules,” said Jesse Wheeler, an RA from North Augusta who lives in Bearcat Village.

Wheeler added, however, that “another aspect of being an RA is knowing when to be a friend. You will have residents come to your door at 2 a.m. crying, who just need someone to talk to.”

According to Zach Helms, a former RA and residence life coordinator (RLC) who now serves as assistant director of Housing and Residence Life, “roommate conflicts are top of the list” of problems an RA is likely to face.

“It’s usually something along the lines of, ‘they’re not taking out the trash,’ ‘they’re eating my food,’ ‘they took a drink out of my refrigerator,’ ‘they’re not splitting the grocery bill.’”

Roommates “coming in and cutting on lights or banging around” when their other roommates are trying to sleep is another often-heard complaint.

“You name it, we’ve probably seen it,” Helms said.

Sometimes, RAs are confronted with situations of a more serious nature. In several instances, RAs have recognized mental health issues on the part of their residents and intervened “to get them the help they needed.”

RA PhotosLEFT PHOTO: Nathaniel Lagrone, who is working as a student teacher at Greenwood High School this semester, makes out lesson plans for his classes in his room at Centennial Hall. RIGHT PHOTO: Ayana Gilliyard, right, enjoys a visit from Gabrielle Gandy, left, of Simpsonville, a resident of Bearcat Village, and Latonya Holman, of Blackville, a Brookside RA.

Seven of Lander’s 43 RAs are Head RAs, second- or third-year resident assistants who receive additional compensation for overseeing the RA staff in their assigned residence hall and reporting back to that area’s RLC.

Jahleesa Coatie, a Head RA from Columbia assigned to Chipley Hall, said that one of the keys to being a good RA is being able to “remain calm in stressful and emergency situations.” Another one, she said, is being “prepared for anything.”

RAs “need to be able to think quickly on their feet and use common sense in order to make decisions,” said Blair Harmon, a head RA from Saluda who lives at University Place.

Being personable, in Harmon’s view, is also important. “You have to be able to talk to different personalities in different situations,” she said.

One of the things that housing office staff most want to hear when interviewing candidates for RA jobs is that the student has a desire to help people. Ayana Gilliyard, a head RA from McClellanville and resident of Bearcat Village, fits the mold. She said she enjoys being able to “reach students on a different level and help them with everything that goes on in their lives, not just issues with their housing.”

Serving as an RA leads to the development of skills that carry over to other endeavors in life.

Coatie said that she “was a very shy and timid freshman who didn’t get involved in anything around campus. The RA position has allowed me to blossom, as I am currently involved with multiple organizations and have gained communication skills that I definitely would not have acquired had I not been an RA. I have learned to deal with confrontation, and I have also acquired skills that will benefit me in office settings.”

A common theme in conversations with RAs is how many friends they’ve made.

“I have made connections with people that I would have never met without this experience!” said Haley Histon, a Presidential Ambassador and Honors College student from Greenville, who lives at Chipley Hall.

“Being an RA has made me feel more connected to Lander and broadened my social circle,” said Nathaniel Lagrone, a Clemson transfer student assigned to Centennial Hall.

The fact that 40 of the 43 current RAs have either reapplied to be RAs next year or will graduate points to a high level of satisfaction with the job. Histon called it “one of the best experiences of my life.”

RAs serve as a liaison between the housing office and the 1,200-1,250 students who currently live on campus. Helms tells RAs that the office couldn’t function without them, and he means it.

“Being in the housing office, you’re not going to see every student, you’re not going to hear from every student,” he said, calling Lander’s RAs his “eyes and ears.”

Asked if he was generally pleased with the performance of his RAs, he said, “Absolutely. We’re very proud of our RAs and of the RA program.”

Find this story and more in the Spring 2017 issue of Lander Magazine.

Resident Assistants with students