The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 25th

Column: True confessions of an ex-resident adviser


Jenny Surane is the 2014-15 Editor-in-Chief. She is a senior business journalism major from Cornelius.

Resident advisers are little understood and largely mocked on this campus.

And I think this has to be because most people don’t understand the kind of training and work these people put into their jobs — or how much the resident advisers truly care about making this university a better, more welcoming place.

I did the trainings, the weekly staff meetings and the nighttime duty shifts for 10 months during my sophomore year. I was consistently amazed by my co-workers’ ability to handle many bizarre situations.

RAs come to campus two weeks early to prepare for their residents’ arrival. They spend days cutting out door decorations and cataloging equipment, all to make sure this campus is ready for its students.

They train you for all the times where you’ll walk into a situation where your underage residents are consuming alcohol.

And for those who don’t know, RAs have to write this sort of situation up and deliver a report to their higher-ups or risk losing their jobs.

You’ll learn how to handle this situation in the moment. What you won’t learn is what to say to that very same resident when you’re stuck in a Davis Library elevator together two years later.

You’ll learn how to cook for 60 people in under 30 minutes. You’ll learn how to make meals that appeal to a wide variety of diets, allergens and food preferences.

I relied mostly on s’mores and pancakes to feed my residents.

But there were some things no amount of training could help us handle. And it was impossible to know what we would learn from the job.

No one can train you and your co-workers for the night when, in the middle of 2 a.m. rounds, you get off the elevator and you’re suddenly face-to-face with a manic, flying bat on the sixth floor of Craige Residence Hall.

And no one will tell you what to say to the resident who suddenly comes around the corner and takes that bat out with his tennis racket.

You’ll all be a little startled, but you’ll make it.

And in that moment, you’ll learn that it’s sometimes OK to trust the residents in times of crisis. Especially the ones who feel comfortable wielding a tennis racket as a weapon.

No one will tell you just how hard it is to make a bulletin board that freshmen won’t mess with.

My most successful bulletin board was also my most torn up — a board on safe sex replete with a box of free condoms and Lil Wayne lyrics.

No number of meetings will prepare you for all the times your residents will catch you off guard.

For me, it was the time when, in a moment of desperation, I used the hall bathroom. As I was leaving, I tried to unlock the door only to hear the lock stick — leaving me trapped on the inside.

With feelings of immense claustrophobia setting in, I immediately devised an escape plan that had me leaving through a window.

I eventually wedged the window open enough to make my way through before falling three feet or so to the floor — to a crowd of residents who had watched the whole meltdown.

We all dispersed quickly.

That day, I learned that silence is one way to handle an awkward situation.

No one teaches you about what to do when a resident misses home so much that she ends up at your door with tears in her eyes. But you’ll figure that part out.

If you’re like me, you’ll adopt the name Mama Bear and try your best to take care of your people.

Finally, no one tells you how much you’ll care about whether one resident gets that spot on the dance team and the other gets a date with someone he’s been chasing all year.

You can’t picture it now, but you’re about to fall in love with 60 freshmen.


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