By Tristan E. M. Leach
COLLEGE is an expensive endeavor. From tuition to just basic necessities, students and their families foot an expensive bill. This is very true for me, especially when being an out-of-state student is factored in. In an effort to help with the expense of living on campus, I took on the role of community assistant.
Being a CA meant that I had a lot of responsibilities. I was in charge of roughly 30 residents; however, one CA could have up to 60 residents at a time. I was responsible for decorating two bulletin boards monthly and having at least one program a month. I also had to create door decs (CA terminology for decorations), place work orders and hold one on one meetings with each resident (some of whom decided they didn’t have to show up). There were five CAs in my building and one community director. We met with our CD every other week and had a staff meeting twice a week at night. The biggest responsibility was being “on call.”
One to three times a week myself and the four other CAs in my building rotated 12-hour shifts of being “on call.” Equipped with our early 2000s flip phone and a set of keys, we would sit at the duty desk for three hours and then retreat to our rooms. After completing three rounds (a check of the condition of the building) we would fall tiredly into our beds. Some nights the phone wouldn’t ring and we would wake promptly at seven to return the items to the office. Some nights, however, were the definition of chaos. Several times I received calls about mice running through the halls (do I look like an exterminator?), and there were situations that we had been trained for but in the moment the panic sets in. The reality of the job was that when you were on call, nearly 200 people in the building were relying on you.
A lot of times I walked away from a situation thinking, “I do NOT get paid enough for this.” I had experiences that scared the life out of me and I heard things that made me worried for my residents. A lot of times I felt unappreciated and overworked. Some people would say that my experience was what I made it and I can tell you that that is simply not true.
CAs are severely underpaid for the amount of hours they put in. From one-on-one meetings to decorating the dorms and duty, hours and hours of their lives go into taking care of others. You may be reading this and thinking, “Well yeah, that’s what you signed up for.” And you’re right, CAs do know how much they’re going to have to do, but that doesn’t make the job easier or more enjoyable. I want it to be known that I am in no way upset about what I got as a CA. I was lucky and I know for a fact that Residence Life Dean Roberta Butler and her staff have been working to secure better wages and free housing for their CAs.
At Rider, CAs have it pretty good, the housing is discounted at 75% and there is a stipend. Some universities don’t compensate their CAs and are instead given free housing only. While free housing is great, it does not at all make up for the amount of work put in.
Being a CA is a tremendous task. It takes a special person to do the job and there are several CAs that I worked with who I am so happy returned to the job. For me, as much as I love being a leader, my mental health took hit after hit and I knew that I couldn’t continue to serve the community in this position. I personally felt very bogged down and unwell after long nights, I also felt like I couldn’t be everything else I was supposed to be. At my job as an editor for The Rider News, I felt I lacked my creative spark. In class I felt exhausted constantly and in my clubs I felt like I had no time to plan. There is a lot to be said about those who can balance this job with their other huge responsibilities.
I am grateful for my experience and I have made friends with amazing people. I can confidently say that I know how to handle conflict and other hard situations because of this job. Residence Life is an integral part of any university and the staff they chose make the dream of a home away from home come true.