At 8 p.m. on a Friday, most students are in their rooms, making plans and getting ready to go out.
But in each dorm, there is one person getting ready to settle in for a night of vigilance in the residence hall. These quiet observers and occasional enforcers are Penn State’s Resident Assistants.
The role of an RA is comprised of many different parts. An RA is a student, first and foremost, but also a representative of the university, a role model, an authoritative figure and oftentimes a friend.
There are distinct challenges that come with the role, former RA Phil Brown said. One of the difficulties is finding the balance between responsibilities, studies and a social life. On top of that, RAs have to find a way to be both a friend to students and an enforcer of the university’s policy.
“It was my job and a lot depended on me sticking to it,” Brown, Class of 2014, said. “I realize that there is logic behind the rules, and it was my job to enforce them if there were violations to protect the people on the floor.”
Brown said, luckily, he had a good floor his first year as an RA, and liked all his residents. Several years later, he is still friends with some of them.
Every student who stays in the dorms comes into contact with an RA at some point during their time living there, and the interactions between students and their RAs can vary widely.
Margo Keller (sophomore-immunology and infectious disease) lives in Atherton Hall and said she has a solid relationship with her RA.
“My RA is pretty cool. I kind of knew her before because she’s in Springfield [a Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon organization], and I’m in Springfield, so it’s kind of like a friendship,” Keller said. “They have a lot of activities that they plan for us, and those are pretty fun.”
The RAs in Atherton are continuously planning events to help build community. On Oct. 2, they worked with the RAs in Simmons Hall to plan the Simmons Atherton Social Hour, where dozens of attendees were treated to free ice cream and student performances.
But different halls and floors have different dynamics. Luke Lewandowski (freshman-engineering), who lives in Pollock, said he sees his RA a few times a week.
“She’s nice, I guess,” he said. “We just have pass-by moments in the hall. She hasn’t really organized anything in a while.”
Brown said RAs are required to set up community events and occasional educational activities. The RAs are given budgets, and it is up to them how big or small they want to make each activity.
The types of activities vary among the halls depending on the class makeup, he said.
Halls, such as those in East Halls where most freshmen live, are easier to plan events because freshmen typically want to meet people, Brown said. In places like West Halls, the mostly upperclassmen residents have already established their friend groups and are less likely to show up for RA-planned events, he said.
From what they’ve seen of the RA position, both Keller and Lewandowski said they would not want to be RAs. Lewandowski said he does not want the responsibility of looking after others. Keller said that although the position looked fun, she did not want to live in the dorms any longer.
Brown, however, recommends the position, calling it a great experience for personal development.
“You have a big impact on the people you come into contact with and meet,” he said. “The personal advantages are really great, too. It’s definitely worth it.”