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Burnt Toast And Banter: The Memoirs Of A Senior Resident

This article is not a marketing pamphlet trying to draw in new student leaders with promises of a super rewarding, résumé boosting leadership position – sorry, but no one gets paid enough to write that. Nor is it a bitter revenge letter to the college management teams. Simply put, it is a frank account of what life is really like as a Residential Advisor (RA) or Senior Resident (SR) at an ANU residential college. I hope it will give you a more realistic idea of what it is we do daily, and why we do it.

For many students at the ANU, college life is one of the most important and memorable experiences of their time at university. Why is that? The answers range from the lifelong friendships formed to the mind-blowing parties, yet one aspect of college life that often goes unmentioned is the influence of leadership teams.

Now, I’m no etymologist, but I am a visual person, and the word ‘leadership’ makes me think of the biggest, most badass ship at the front of a fleet. Personally, I find college residents to be more like a bunch of three-year-olds than a fleet. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen more first years than three-year-olds refuse to eat vegetables and shove weird things up their noses. But, when you think about it, college leadership teams aren’t really the big ships. We’re more like the little tugboats that guide students through the choppy waters of first and second year. We do our best to steer you clear of the siren call of drinking every night, the whirlpools of procrastination, and, if you go full Titanic and hit a partially submerged iceberg by the name of mental illness, we’ll bring along a support crew to help patch you up.

But, we can only help when we know what’s going on. Too often we hear stories of residents not sharing potentially dangerous situations or feelings with their SR or RA because they are worried about the leadership teams’ perceived relationship with college management and the ANU’s expectations of disclosure from SRs and RAs.

Firstly, this can have terrible consequences, and it is one of the things that undermines the important work done at on-campus residences. We are not the college equivalent of George Orwell’s telescreens. Our job is not to record everything that you say and do and report it to management. It is, first and foremost, to ensure your welfare and safety. Secondly, we are allowed a degree of discretion in what we decide to report. While there are certain situations where we are legally bound to report the details, there are many situations where we can report an incident while maintaining the anonymity of the individuals involved.

If you ever approach your SR or RA, they will make this clear to you before you start talking because, ultimately, we never want to put you in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. You are, and always will be, our number one priority. For anyone who thinks that SRs and RAs don’t care about their residents and that they just do it for the money, here’s a news flash: most college leaders get paid diddly-squat. I’m talking less than minimum wage, and some of us don’t even have set hours. What’s more, it has the potential to be one of the most challenging positions you will ever hold. Dealing with other people’s problems every day, on top of whatever is going on in your own life, is not easy. Hell, if it were then everyone would apply.

So, why do we do it? Why do we care about residents when there is very little tangible reward? Honestly, it’s because we know exactly how it feels to be at uni for the first time. We know what it’s like to be completely out of your depth in a sea of unfamiliar faces and experiences. We are aware how easy it can be to hide in your room, getting lonelier and more intimidated until you call home crying, desperate to go back to your family and everything familiar to your old life. We’ve seen people sink under the pressure of the unfamiliarity and return home, frustrated and disheartened.

But we also know how amazing uni life can be, and the amazing opportunities that living on campus can open up. Watching one of your residents embrace the college lifestyle and go beyond their comfort zone to experience new and exciting things is a wonderful thing to witness. Being a residential leader offers a pretty unique opportunity to influence and aid new students to overcome hurdles – whether they be mental, academic or otherwise – and knowing that you’ve helped in some way is an amazing feeling.

So, if any of this resonates with you, then please go and have a chat to your SR or RA. If not, then I ask just one thing of you. The next time there is a 7am Friday morning fire alarm because someone burnt their toast and you don’t want to leave your apartment, spare a thought for your SRs and RAs. For, even though they have stayed up till 5am caring for an intoxicated first year or an honours student having a panic attack, they will still help as fire wardens. Because they don’t want to contemplate the thought of what may happen if it’s a real fire.

Xoxo Your SR’s and RA’s

*Disclaimer: not all leadership teams will feel this way, this is simply one SR’s take on some pretty important misconceptions.