If someone were to ask me what residential life in Cinnamon College is like, these words would come to mind immediately: convenience, residential activities and late night supper parties. But what make these things possible? One important group of individuals whom we can count on, but often overlooked, is the residential assistants (RAs). With the recent RA applications for AY17/18, it seems opportune that we tell you a little more about our RAs, the ones amongst our peers who strive to keep our community bonded, safe and happy.
There are 18 RAs in Cinnamon College, with one on every residential floor. Every three residential floors make up a “neighbourhood”, which includes a mixture of both senior and freshmen floors. A Residential Fellow (RF) – typically a professor – manages each neighbourhood, working with his RAs to ensure the well-being of their residents. Each RA is tasked to contribute in three areas. The first involves working with the RFs to care for the social and personal well-being of the residents through pastoral care. The second involves community building through organising neighbourhood and floor events. Lastly, RAs assist in the security and utility of the college by attending to various administrative duties (for example, mass check-ins, fire drills and room verification exercises). More than just taking care of the residents, an RA also strives to value-add to the residential community through fostering ties between residents.
RAs in our college are also involved in different sub teams, that take care of events, publicity, shared spaces and resources, and dining hall management. Generally, the events team would plan a major event every semester with the aim to involve and engage all residents. This allows residents to interact with others beyond their immediate social circles or USP classes, which adds a very different and special dimension to residential living in the college. While social engagement plays a big part in residential living, RAs also try to continuously improve different aspects of residential life, like the quality of food in the Dining Hall. For example, the open feedback channel and the recent Dining Hall Conversation help to answer questions about the Dining Hall and meal plans, and channels feedbacks from residents to Chartwells (the college caterer) and the Office of Housing Services. There is also a team looking into recycling; it recently completed a junkyard sale project, with proceeds going to the USP Student Assistance Fund.
I believe that one of the roles of an RA is to facilitate and spread the joys of conviviality amongst his or her residents. I asked Tan Jia Hao (Architecture + USP, Class of 2019) why he chose to be an RA this semester, despite his busy study schedule. He shared with me that it was because he had a “really great suite” in his freshmen year, and that he and his suite mates are like a “close-knit family”. By taking on the responsibility of an RA, Jia Hao hopes to inculcate a similar suite culture in his juniors.
Being an RA can be challenging. Chellene Chng Mei Yin (Life Science + USP, Class of 2019) recounted an instance where she did not get any sleep for the whole night, as she had to wait to receive three exchange students who were all arriving at the college at different time in the night. Fan Jingyue (Chemistry + USP, Class of 2017) found it challenging to match what she wanted and could do for her residents with what her residents needed. Despite these challenges, being a RA has been fulfilling for Jingyue as she has built strong connections with her fellow RA colleagues and residents. Head RA Abigail Goh (Political Science + USP, Class of 2017) shared with me that one challenge she faces is in finding ways to improve the RC environment and promoting a sense of ownership over shared spaces. While situations may be discouraging at times, these challenges can be rewarding as well. For Abigail, she has learnt how to better communicate with different people and different stakeholders, a sentiment Zheng Xiao Wen (Chemical Engineering +USP, Class of 2018) shares.
Good communication is extremely important. Residents should feel comfortable in approaching an RA in times of need, from trivial administrative matters like being locked out of their rooms to more serious issues like disputes. An RA should be available when needed and a familiar face to residents, so that there is a sense of comfort and trust. As Xiao Wen shared, “being an RA helps me to step (into) difficult/sensitive situations in a more comfortable position as the residents know me and I am also familiar with everyone who stays on my floor.”
I also spoke to Associate Professor Martin Henz, RF at the college. He shared with me that our RAs and RFs help provide some level of assistance that, hopefully, complements the role of professional care givers like Yun Sian (USP’s pastoral care giver) and faculty caregivers and psychologists at the National University Hospital.
It is comforting to know that we have a team of able and caring RAs to look out for all of us staying at the Cinnamon College. As for the RAs, beyond their duties lies a gratifying and fulfilling experience that helps them develop interpersonal and crisis management skills. It takes effort and time to build a community, and we count on the contribution of everyone, and that most certainly includes our RAs.