“We’re not the police”: Resident Assistants on campus talk about what they really do

Ally Ortegon

From planning “first day of school pictures” to being on-call in the latest hours of the night, resident assistants on campus have countless responsibilities they carry out in the pursuit of building a safe community for their residents.

Justin Jaskowiak, assistant director for residence life, said there are 161 RAs dispersed among the 14 dorms on campus, acting as the first point of contact for many new students at UT. Their job includes ensuring safety for students, as well as making sure students feel comfortable during their first year at UT to transition into being away from home for the first time.

“We look for that relationship-building skill or peer mentoring,” Jaskowiak said. “We love RAs that come with an attitude of flexibility. They have to respond to all sorts of incidents that could happen.”

RAs often attribute the positive impacts their resident assistants had on their lives as a reason to get involved with the position. RAs can help students get involved on campus, provide support and build relationships with their residents.

Jester West RA Sarah Austin, an accounting graduate student, said UT has a variety of students with different backgrounds and experiences, so it’s important for RAs to be open-minded and compassionate. 

“A characteristic all RAs should possess is compassion,” Austin said. “We’ve gone through a lot of the same struggles that they’ve gone through, and they can come to us and ask us for any type of help that they need.”

A majority of RAs return to serve more than one year in the position, Jaskowiak said. For the 2016-17 school year, Jaskowiak said 106 of the total 161 RAs returned from the previous year. Each has their own reason, but many RAs expressed the importance of the impact they make on residents as motivation.

“It’s that moment when they trust you,” said Jester East RA Jennifer Valdez, government junior. “The kids in my hall all started hanging out together after attending our program, and it was a moment when I took a step back and said, ‘Oh, I did that.’ They feel safe on our floor.”  

As an RA, Austin said she tries to encourage her own residents to take part in this position as well.

“It is incredibly rewarding, and that’s not something I expected,” Austin said. “It’s really a second home.”