The first half of the fall semester has ended, and it is increasingly evident how different things are on campus. Online classes, constant mask use and six-foot distances are just a few of the changes Hope College students have had to adjust to. Students, for the most part, were able to return to campus this semester, meaning that all of the on-campus cottages, apartments and residence halls are open. But how has life changed for the people who make residence life function? How has life changed for the Residential Assistants (RAs) we all know and love? The Anchor sat down with Anna Koenig (’23), an RA at Dykstra Hall, to find out.
At Hope, a lot of people prioritize their roles as students; that principle is no different for RAs. As students, they’ve gone through the quarantine period, just as the rest of us have. Koenig, who was a resident last year when COVID-19 first came full force into the U.S., said of dorm life before the pandemic: “I may be pretty introverted, but in a world without COVID I would have kept my door open and just had homework parties or movie nights in my room with whoever wanted to join. That’s what dorm life is supposed to be about, and with COVID it’s made that relational aspect a lot more challenging.” Being that Koenig is a RA in Dykstra Hall, the fact that all of her residents are freshman adds a new challenge, as they don’t know what dorm life would be like if COVID were not a factor. Koenig said of this new challenge, “Being an RA is usually about building relationships with residents, and at least for Dykstra Hall you can be kind of like a mentor/friend/resource for first-year students. This year has made that mission a lot more difficult than it should have been.” On top of being a support system for other students, RAs have to find time to take care of themselves and their academic careers, which can be a difficult balance to manage. Koenig explained of this struggle, “One of the biggest things I have struggled with this year is having this huge guilt complex because I feel like I’m not doing enough to connect with residents. I keep having to remind myself that I’m a human and a student before I’m an RA, so dealing with my human struggles sometimes has to take precedence over my RA struggles.”
Before the school year starts, RAs have several days to train and bond with other people on their hall’s staff. At Hope RAs have support through their fellow RAs, Residential Directors and Residential Life Coordinators. Koenig said that their support has been invaluable: “The RA staff have been my breath of fresh air this year. I couldn’t do this without them. We get to go through this weird and unprecedented time and through that we’ve had tears, laughter, smiles and anger, but we’ve done it together.” Part of the RAs’ job has changed this year. Instead of being primarily a support system, secondarily a rule enforcer, RAs this year can feel like res hall police officers with trying to enforce Hope’s COVID policies. Koenig commented, “Usually before entering a common space I cross my fingers and hope that people have their masks on so that I don’t have to be the bad guy and get their name. That’s such a terrible reality, but if it protects the community and keeps everyone safe and healthy, you do what you gotta do.”
Despite the strain COVID puts on RAs, they’ve still managed to stay positive about their role on campus. Even through COVID, their roles as hall event coordinators and relationship builders remain the same. Koenig has found a lot of hope through events she and the Dykstra staff have put on, saying, “Even with COVID, we successfully completed a week of women empowering women through squatting in the Pine Grove and all of our individual cluster events, all with COVID safety guidelines in place. So we’ve found really fun and interesting ways to get creative with our planning, and ultimately it has caused us to all practice intentionality, which is a really important skill.” Overall, RAs are still dedicated to their jobs. Even if COVID has put a damper on things, they still find joy in the situation. Koenig summarized, “I would say that it has its wear and tear moments, but it’s taught me to value the small moments and appreciate the time I get with people in a new way.” In general, Koenig expressed pride in her residents, saying that they have been incredible and she is grateful they are similarly committed to keeping Hope safe in these times.
This year has been hard on everyone, but not everyone has had their whole work life affected by the pandemic. RAs this year are having to work harder to bring Hope students the residential life we all know and love. Koenig wanted to conclude by saying that there is hope to be had in this situation, that there are silver linings to dark clouds. She said, “Living through COVID isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of something new, something we all get to experience and learn from together, teaching us to live for the small moments, value each other and connect with ourselves.”