Chuck Brooks: RA experience shaped at least one career
Once upon a time, there was a young man who went to college at the age of 22. He lived in a dormitory called Towers.
The building comprised nine floors of guys. Each floor was divided into two wings, South and North. Each wing had anywhere from 36-42 guys. Each wing had one guy who, after going through an application and interview process, would be the wing's resident assistant.
In all, if you're doing the math, there were 18 RAs. The RAs had a boss, and he was the head resident. He was also responsible for the entire building of guys. And if you haven't figured it out by now, I was that 22-year-old. And that is where this week's story begins.
An applicant to become a resident assistant had to have one year of dorm life. As my first year was winding down, I applied. I was thrilled when I received the letter in December, before returning home for Christmas, indicating I had been selected as a member of the 18-guy staff.
The RA on my floor in my first year was a good role model for me, and I had, in time, met other RAs for one reason or another. I was convinced it would be a great experience for me and lots of fun. I knew a little of the head resident and had, at times, witnessed how the other RAs interacted with him; I wanted to be a part of that as well. When I began my job as an RA in January, I took over a floor that had lost the previous RA to early graduation. I was about to realize I had performed easier tasks in my life.
My new floor was used to one style of leadership, and I definitely wasn't going to exhibit the same leadership. With the support of 17 other guys and my boss, I did my very best to supervise my floor according to the guidelines set forth by the powers that be for Towers. An RA was to be a friend, listener, advice giver, authority figure, protector of my floor and my guys, and so much more. On some levels, it was good training for me as I was on the road to becoming a teacher. In my first five months (the second semester of the 1979-80 school year), I experienced some grief from one of my residents who didn't like being held accountable for his actions. That was unpleasant. Beyond that, my time in that semester as an RA was filled with many fond memories.
Most of the memories that winter involved the staff of 18 plus the assistant and head residents. As an RA, we were told to make sure our door was always open to our floor of residents, so they had a place to go for whatever needs that may arise. The head resident practiced what he preached. Our boss was over and above welcoming to his staff.
For example, Sundays always meant a group of the guys would be in his apartment, adjacent to his office, watching the various football games. This man shared his soda and treats consistently. He had a sectional sofa that housed a number of bodies, and often a person would walk in to one or several of the RAs rough-housing the boss on his own couch. Essentially, wrestling.
The boss would be laughing helplessly and yelling "Get off me!" but to no avail. Then, a standard stunt would be one of them would go to his fridge, open his margarine, dab some on a finger, and come back and smear it over his glasses. This happened A LOT and was always in good fun.
The expression "a boy and his dog"? Our version was "a head resident and his staff."
One fact was certain. We 18 young men admired, idolized and loved our boss. Unconditionally. We'd do weekly sporting pools, depending on the time of year. A group of these peers would often get into a game of buckets. The boss's apartment was our home away from home. It came with furniture, a television and most importantly, a fridge. It was much bigger than our closet-sized dorm rooms. The Head resident couldn't have opened his home any more than he had. Every weekend, two RAs were on duty. Often, you'd find us in the apartment. RAs would eat together. We played together. It was the best support group the university offered.
After my first semester of being a resident assistant, I returned in September for semester 2, and it began at a resort with cabins; all of the campus RAs had to attend. It was leadership training prior to the arrival of all the other students. Those few days made us stronger as a staff and it was also fun. The moral of this story? Too early to tell you that. For, you see, 38 years later, this same group of guys who can make it, will meet for the first time this weekend of June 23 and 24 in Milwaukee to celebrate the then and the now. That story is yet to come. Stay tuned.