Having heard stories from one of my brothers about the joys of being a Resident Assistant, once I was in college I knew that it was the job for me. Looking back on it, I don’t particularly remember any specific thing that he told me about his experience that sounded fun. I just knew that they got cheap/free housing and that it would probably look pretty good on a resume.
Being a freshman, I wasn’t eligible for the position that first year, but I knew that I needed to start getting prepared for the very competitive hiring process. At the floor meeting of the beginning of the school year, I asked my RA for advice. She was helpful in telling me some areas to get involved in that would look great on my application.
She was also an outstanding RA, striking that rare balance of putting forth the effort to make the floor look nice without being a fascist about the rules. The next year, when I became her co-worker, she confided in me that she knew about the mischief I was up to in my room but always held back from busting me.
A great organization to be involved with, she told me, was the housing community’s Area Council. It was almost like a junior RA club supervised by some of the Resident Assistants in the community. They vented resident complaints that people felt more comfortable taking to their peers than to authority figures and housing employees. They also put on programs (basically events with free food) for their residents.
The council was set up was like a parliament. Each building in the community elected two representatives. This freaked me out. I’ve never won a popularity contest in my entire life, and I’m pretty sure that I never will. But I really, really, really wanted this thing, so I made posters and put them up in our building. Of course, most of them got vandalized, many of which in hilarious and creative ways (others with standard ‘draw a penis on it real quick’ expediency).
A girl on my floor, Sandra, was also running. I jokingly talked smack about how I was clearly going to beat her. In return, she delivered some outstanding news: we were the only two people from our building running for these positions. We were guaranteed spots! My response: “Well I’ll still get more votes than you.” I meant it to be funny, and people who knew how little self-esteem I had at that point would have laughed themselves into a persistent vegetative state state. This girl, however, knew nothing about me and predictably did not get the joke.
Election day rolled around. Along with candidates from other buildings, we made brief speeches about why people should vote for us to represent them. It was an astonishingly low voter turnout. Nobody knew it was going on, nobody cared. It really didn’t matter. Most people gained their positions by virtue of being the only ones interested. Those who weren’t elected still got places on the council and many of them were more engaged than those sent by their constituents.
Within the council, we voted for each other for different responsibilities. Knowing that my non-democracy related victory was probably the only election that I would ever win ever, I opted to go for a position with two spots. I would be one of our community’s delegates to a larger council representing all of the housing communities. My counterpart was Sandra.
All in all, the council was a hot mess. The president lost interest halfway through the first semester, as did most of us. By January, the unlikable Vice President (who just so happened to be the President’s roommate) orchestrated a bloodless coup by asking if anyone cared if she took over. At this point, she could have asked if anyone cared if she declared war on another community’s council and the answer would have been the same resounding shrug.
The Resident Assistants supervising us were shuffled around as well. The Area Coordinator (an RA’s boss) who was helping out got enormously pregnant and bailed on us.
I took my responsibility moderately serious for a little while, attending all of my Area Council meetings as well as the larger meetings as a delegate. For an organization with such potential, it was a wildly forgettable experience.
Sandra and I went on to become close friends, though. Also, her roommate thought I was asking her on a date that one time.
Using my involvement on the Area Council in my interview to become an RA taught me a valuable life lesson. If you know a healthy percentage of the details, you can get away with enormous exaggerations on your resume.
Ironically, once I became an RA, I was put in charge of organizing the Area Council for my community with the help of one of my co-workers. Somehow or other, we totally kicked ass at it. The residents that were involved were enthusiastic over-achievers that really took it seriously and made us look outstanding. It was one of those beautiful dynamics where all you have to do is show up and be supportive and everything else falls into place. I don’t know if it had any lasting effect that carried over to the next year, but the council that I supervised really raised the visibility and reputation of the organization within our community.
Of course if this was a job interview, I know enough that I could take all of the credit for that.