Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A recent e-mail from my aunt:

Life is full of disappointments, sorry to say, and hopefully this will be your worst. You know what "they" say, it's better to have loved and lost...then never to have loved at all! Life is a risk...we all have to be brave enough to take them and learn from them. Some day, we will talk about Jeff and you will learn how many times he has loved and lost, but never gives up the quest to find the person he can make a life with.

It's funny, because at this point I'm getting over the loss of romantic love, I'm starting to get over the ideal/idol complex of that person (J) being The One, moving on in some pretty significant strides.

But, from where I sit right now, I would have made a damn fine RA next year, and I continue to be stunned in the turn of events. If Residence Life defends itself from me by asking me to resign as a course of action, if they choose to do that as opposed to defending all the good I've done in this job, and that I still have a ton to offer residents, then ResLife isn't making the right decisions. ResLife needs to be about students first, and not about keeping it's pristine reputation. The one thing this job truly lacked for me was a feeling of understanding and humanity on a regular basis...sometimes I feel like it's more of a business (business of making parents of under-classmen at MICA happy with their students' living situations) than an art (the art of helping students develop as individuals by advising on conflict resolution, educating, programming effectively, and enforcing policies).

I screwed up, in more ways than one, but it's not my fault if a resident makes a poor decision for the last time. When does bureaucray and appearances take a back seat to doing the -real- work, the kind that cannot be measured or administered like disciplinary actions? When does a resident have to defend making the same mistake over and over, and everyone knowing about it? As a department, when does Residence Life genuinely choose care of students over care of the department? I know the two are intertwined hopelessly, but people make mistakes. Residents do, residents get second, third, fourth chances. When does Residence Life realize that RA's are just as much works-in-progress as our residents?

The thing that frustrates me the most is that I've worked so hard on building personal relationships with my residents in the past two months, in really understanding them, opening up for them a little and recieving the same sort of opening up from them. Whatever blog posts I made that may have tarnished reputations, my own and those of others, appear to be long gone. Not a single resident of mine has guessed accurately why I was asked to resign, not by a long shot. In the course of thirty hours, where the public at large had access to various and sundry entries for which I would later be dooced, 18 people TOTAL spent more than 0:09 (nine seconds) on my blog's site.

I just find it hard to believe that if a resident points out a poor decision made by an RA (that didn't threaten lives and was an honest mis-take) while being met with over something that they did wrong (incense, drinking, pot, throwing things off of balconies, whatever), that Residence Life can't take the position of "That's his/her poor decision, and they have to answer for it just like you have to; Now, let's talk about the better choice(s) you coul have made."

Maybe if Residence Life at MICA allowed my mistake, allowed me to own up to it to my residents, say what I did and what I should have done, maybe ResLife at MICA wouldn't be seen as the sort of "police force" it's construed as on a whole. RCA's here are trained not to ignore situations or not report incidents, but it shouldn't be because of being threatened into doing it, it should be for genuine care of well-being of the residents.

Eighteen people read my blog after I posted the link on my Facebook profile, and before I un-published some unsavory entries. I know the names of at least six or seven of those. That's 12-13 (consider they each found it so fascinating they told a room-mate: 24-26) residents who "read" my screw-up(s). Out of a few hundred freshmen, at least 45 of whom are my residents and know me well, and another couple dozen who I know well even though they aren't in my community, which really makes the bigger impact? Why can't we be human as RA's, so that our faults and successes are both paid attention to, as opposed to being beacons of light, on which one speck of dirt is an abomination of a distraction?

What would happen if ResLife had a blog? What would happen if the list of the incidents, minus names, was posted each week for all to see? I'm just questioning some of the lack of open-ness that's going on here, because 1) It's not like residents are completely imperceptive as to staff dynamics/conflict on staff when it's not brought up to them, and 2) Maybe if Residence Life operated in a thoroughly resident-centered manner, in ALL things, we wouldn't have a whole lot to hide. They'd always do what was best for the residents. A little overly simple, perhaps, as there are certainly cases where it's student versus student(s), but, again, what's so bad about transparency?

The reason blogging is so worthwhile to people of my generation is that by giving information openly, there are a lot of gains to be made. Attention, better understanding, releasing feelings. Pretty soon, there will be no un-tarnished MySpace or Facebook for potential employers to look at; this sort of over-sharing instantly is something so characteristic of this generation, and pretty much everyone will screw up eventually.

It seems to me that in Student Affairs (in general, not just MICA) rules and procedures are put into place to protect the physical and mental health of residents/the student body and encourage healthy growth and development. But should it be at the cost of the physical and mental health of student-staff? Considering my role as a student leader, doesn't MICA have just as much invested in my well-being as that of a acting-out/misbehaving resident?

I guess I just wish someone had told me that by becoming an RA, I would have to cope with everything really well, and that chances given to other members of the student body would no longer be available to me as a member of student staff. I still woulda done it, I still may have even fucked up, but at least I'd have been a little better prepared for being asked to resign.

Or maybe not. Maybe it's similar to love in that nobody can warn you how much it's going to hurt, or how you couldn't even have helped screwing up, so full of passion were you ('omg! I did a good job at policy enforcement! I'm not a failure!'). Everyone can try and warn you, but it'll blindside you just the same. And you won't be the same person in love as you were before it. And you won't be the same person after losing something so precious as you were when you "had it all."

Whew. And, I'm spent. I'm sure I'll feel very differently while at grad school for these things, and maybe I'll understand my superiors better, but I'm still sort of in shock, truth be told.

1 comment:

  1. Hey-

    I could have told you the things that you say you didn't know before becoming an RA. It's like becoming a camp counselor. You aren't allowed to share your personal life with the kids - there is a fine line - even if the kids are the same age or almost the same age as you. I'm an adviser for a youth group. The kids know I have a boyfriend and know he's the reason I moved to Houston, but they don't know when we have a fight or what we do at home or what shows we watch or anything about our lives. It's really tempting to talk to them because they're around a lot and I like them and I feel really close to them, but it's not appropriate. I have to pick other nuggets of my personal life to share with them to achieve that give-and-take - like innocent stories from when I was in high school or college, or whatever. Mostly I work on asking questions so that they don't really get a chance to ask questions about my life and that seems to be working and I'm able to maintain a professional distance.


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