The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Life as a Resident Assistant at UMass

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Group photo of UMass RAs. Text: Resident Assistants at UMass

Living on campus for the first time can be intimidating. For many students, this is likely their first time living away from home. Your mind may very well be swarmed with nervousness regarding how this transition will go.

Will you like your roommate? Did you pick the right residence hall? Will you click with your floormates? These are all valid questions to have before move in, but it is best not to dwell on them.

While it is completely natural to wonder what your residential experience will be like on campus, it is important to remember the support system you will have during your freshman year, right in your residence halls. Closest to your campus home, on your own floor and in your own residence hall, you can look to undergraduate Resident Assistants (RAs) for peer guidance.

RAs assist students in creating safe, caring and inclusive communities in the residence halls. Additionally, RAs serve as a campus resource referral and educate residents about appropriate behaviors. No matter what your needs may be, your RAs will be there to help support you in your journey through the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I spoke with Kolby, a RA in Coolidge Hall in Southwest Residential Area, to learn more about what her job is like and how the team supports students' advancement throughout college. 

What do you do as a RA? 

As an RA, I plan social events for the floor to get to know each other; provide resources on all topics that are academic, emotional, and personal; inform students how to get involved both on and off-campus; and much more. I am in a multiyear building, so I also provide resources about career development, such as who to see on campus for help building your resume and finding jobs or internships. Additionally, I create monthly themed bulletin boards that include said resources to further aid students. Overall, I make sure that my residents get involved in the community, are staying academically on track, and enjoying their college experience.

Why did you become a RA? 

Discounted housing was a huge incentive for me to apply for the position. On top of this perk, RA’s also receive bi-weekly paychecks, which were also a huge plus for me when considering the job. While this is a great on-campus job with a lot of perks, I also wanted to be an RA for the leadership opportunity. Being an RA, you learn a lot of great interdisciplinary skills that help you beef up your resume and prepare you for life after college. I really love my job and there is not a day that goes by that I am not thankful to have this position on campus. 

How do you think RAs affect a freshman’s first-year experience? 

For many current RAs, the whole reason that they decided to apply to this position was that they were inspired by their freshman year RA to do so. Coming in to a whole new environment with no initial resources, and uncertainty about how to adapt to this new setting, having an RA there to guide students through this transition has a lasting impact on first-year students. For many students, this will be one of their first connections with an older peer at UMass who has been through this process before and understands what you are going through. RAs also help their people on their floor connect with one another and make friends they will likely have throughout the entirety of their time here. Overall, RAs play an essential role in a first-year student's transition into college. 

How do you create a community on your floor for your residents? 

Through floor events and frequent individual interactions. I try to check in with my residents once every two weeks. I will knock on their doors with candy or goody bags and just try to talk to them about how life at college is going for them. During these interactions, I like to inform students of different activities within the dorm and on campus to help get them more involved in the community. Sometimes I will also do homework in our floor lounge to have a study hour with my residents and create a community between us all. Overall, I would say that floor events are one of the best ways to get involved on your floor since they happen rather frequently and there is always great food and opportunities to bond with your floormates through movies and games.

How do you address the various problems students might face such as homesickness and roommate conflicts?

For homesickness, we talk it out with them and remind them that their emotions are valid. This is a big transition so it is completely normal to feel homesick, and that is something that we like to remind our residents. We try to comfort our residents the best that we can while providing them with resources that they have on campus, such as the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health to further help address this issue. I also find it important to try to find the root of their homesickness to see if there is a deeper problem, and give them the best solutions to help address this. 

As for roommate conflicts, I typically speak with all those involved and see what the problem may be at all angles. I like to sit down with these residents one on one so they can voice their concerns in a safe environment, and go over tailored solutions as to how we can work out the problem with their living situation together. I always suggest that students create a roommate agreement when living with someone — something that is required here at UMass — so that when conflicts arise I can facilitate if either party might be breaking an aspect of their roommate agreement. Overall, RA’s are here to ensure our residents are safe and happy in their living situations. 

What do you want parents to know about RAs and life in the dorms?

That RAs basically are taking over for you while your child is at UMass. We are here to help them with their transition every step of the way. We make sure that our residents are doing okay, check in on them frequently, provide them with a multitude of resources. We see that they are getting involved in the community, that they are taking care of themselves, that they are academically on track, and much more. We also ensure that our residents are following all of the safety rules and regulations within the dorm and are not endangering themselves or others. Overall, we are here to ensure the safety and well-being of your child as they navigate through college. They are in well-trained hands! 

What do you want prospective students to know about RAs and life in the dorms?

Your RA is one of the first connections that you will make on campus. They will help you figure out what college life is, and how to navigate through this new experience. RA’s will be there to support you through any issue you may be facing to ensure that your transition into college is as positive and memorable as possible. RA’s have been in your shoes, so they understand what this process is like and are here to guide you and be a resource for whatever you may need. 

As for dorm life, it is a great taste of independence and what the real world entails. You get to make a community in your hall, meet new people that you never would have met before, and you get to really become yourself through your growth. Living in a dorm for the first time is such a memorable experience. Make the most out of your time, and remember to build a friendship with your RA! 

Other Posts by this Author

Meet the Major: English

A photo of South College with the text, Meet the Major: English

I applied to the University of Massachusetts Amherst as an English major back in 2017. Throughout the entirety of my schooling, I have always been fascinated by literature. I was a textbook book worm. I always had my nose in a book and I was constantly on the hunt for the next piece of literature I could get my hands on. When I was in high school, my love for English flourished. I took Advanced Placement Literature and the course challenged me to explore the depth of the discipline, and left me hungry for more. Back in high school I also had the most compassionate and vibrant English teacher, and her passion for the subject led in part to my decision to pursue a career in English. Despite adding a secondary major in communication, my love for English is still as strong as ever. 

Things I learned at UMass outside of class

A photo of the UMass campus with the text, Things I learned at UMass outside of class.

College is a pivotal time of learning in a student’s life. While you will without a doubt be learning in the classroom, I think a lot of people underestimate how much students grow outside of it as well. Looking back at who I was in high school, I cannot believe how different I am and how much I have grown. My time in college has taught me crucial skills and has given me experiences that I will hold with me for the rest of my life. So, what have I learned outside of the classroom? Let’s take a look at three of the things that I have learned at the University of Massachusetts Amherst outside of the classroom.