There are few certainties in residential life for university students, but something that is guaranteed is having Resident Advisors, or “RAs.” Every residence hall and apartment at Cal Poly has a team of student workers who manage dozens of their peers. One of them is biochemistry junior Jordan Ford, an RA for the yakʔitʸutʸu College of Science and Mathematics community.
Ford’s first year at Cal Poly was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented them from building a community that most freshmen are granted. Though Ford had their roommates, they were missing guidance and direction. When they got involved with school clubs and research for their major, Ford found that they enjoyed helping other students, which encouraged them to apply to be an RA and provide guidance to lower-classmen.
“This is something that I feel like I’m good at, something I’m confident in and I would love to do this in the RA position,” Ford said. “It seems like a really good way to be like that person for a bunch of people.”
RAs work at least one designated night a week “on call” for about 12 hours, monitoring their floors throughout the night. During their first hour on call at yakʔitʸutʸu, Ford will do an exterior walk, checking to see if anything is out of the ordinary, such as vandalism, unnecessarily loud noises and safety risks. Later on, they will do interior walks in the hallways and bathroom checks, watching and listening for any trouble or helping students in need.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that my residents are very contained in their rowdiness so you know they’re there but they’re being safe, which is obviously the biggest concern,” Ford said.
With RAs being so heavily involved in dorm life, Ford finds that many residents are intimidated by their presence. They said residents might be afraid of them as an authority figure, and Ford tries to separate themselves from this idea. They provide help to residents in settings in and outside of housing, like in their position as the vice president of the American Chemical Society.
“When you’re sitting there in a club situation, you’re not the RA, you’re helping them with their registration, you’re joking with them, and that experience builds into housing,” Ford said. “[Residents are] like ‘wait a minute, you’re not just my RA, you’re someone who’s kind of in the position I am or has been in the position I am; you’re someone I can be friends with.’”
Even though some residents might feel like RAs are there to get them in trouble, Ford emphasizes that they play a role in helping students in many ways. Since they have been at Cal Poly for some time, they have the necessary resources and knowledge to provide residents assistance. With that in mind, Ford believes that residents should be respectful to RAs in return.
“We’re students too. We understand the concerns of being a student, doing school, trying to get that work-life balance,” Ford said.
The RA position offers free housing for the year and supplies money toward food, but many RAs opt for another job to earn extra income. In addition to their RA position, Ford works in student research with the chemistry and biochemistry departments as well as for Einsteins Bros Bagels as a shift lead. RAs are only allowed to work 20 hours a week outside their housing position, but having to balance three jobs and academics posed a challenge for Ford.
“I felt like it was definitely taking a toll on my mental health, definitely like taking away my ability to fulfill all of those commitments equally,” Ford said.
This challenge pushed them to become more organized in their planning.
“I had to draw out a calendar for the first time in three years at Cal Poly so I could set hour by hour what am I going to do and actually have a plan for the week,” Ford said. “Having that time management skill has been really helpful for me in getting my balance back.”
Ford’s favorite aspect of their job is the unexpected, fun moments of dorm life and creating memories with their residents. They recalled a moment when they saw their residents moving around furniture in the hallways without explanation. Ford remembers joining their residents in a line dancing routine as more and more residents joined in.
“They wanted to show us their line dancing so badly, but coincidentally my co-RA and I knew it so we had eight of us doing a line dance in the hallway. That was like such a random thing that we did not plan for at all,” Ford said. “That’s an experience I know I’m gonna remember as an RA, and I’m sure it’s one that residents can look back and think was a lot of fun.”
Overall, Ford said being an RA is a rewarding position.
“You get your name out there, and you put yourself in that position where you build all these relationships with people,” Ford said. “I feel like that’s very valuable.”