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'You have to submit your time away': Resident advisers juggle work-life balance

RA isolated
Resident Advisor Andrew Robinson, a junior biology major, works on homework in his room in Hinton James Residence Hall.

It takes 17 minutes to walk to the Pit from Hinton James Residence Hall, according to the Carolina Housing website. Going to Franklin Street adds ten more to the trek. When your friends are just a suite away, it’s not too bad. But things gets tricky when they’re in Lark, Chapel Ridge or a house in Carrboro.

Christopher Williams, a junior information science major, said his friends would never visit him when he was a resident adviser in Hinton James last school year.

“They would rather hang out in an apartment than a 15-by-13 dorm room,” said Williams.

For resident advisers, the decision to live with first-years can affect their personal time as an undergrad. While it can be a meaningful experience, several RAs agreed that it was possible to feel isolated when you live alone in a South Campus dorm.

“It’s definitely odd to be an upperclassmen and be on the path ready to graduate, and you’re surrounded by people who are just starting their college career,” said senior psychology major Sydney Ramsey.

“You see on Snapchat or Instagram that they’re all going out, going to these parties, going to concerts, or doing these weekend vacations, and you can’t go, because you have to submit your time away,” Ramsey said.

Rick Bradley, associate director of Carolina Housing, said they hear very few instances of RAs feeling isolated.

“When they apply for the job, they give serious thought to that issue of whether they want to stay on campus and work with what type of student population,” Bradley said. 

RAs pay $711 for housing each semester, whereas the lowest housing rates are $3,240 per semester. While RAs pay substantially lower than the average cost of a dorm, or the cost of living off-campus in an apartment or house, some say it isn't necessarily worth the price.

Victoria Fonseca, a junior biology and sociology major, is an RA in Joyner. She recently received an additional scholarship through the Chancellor’s Science Scholar program, and is now able to live with her friends in a house for her senior year.

“I just really want that experience of living with people again,” Fonseca said.

One way to combat loneliness is by becoming friends with other RAs, which Carolina Housing facilitates through the two week training period. Senior psychology and biology major Shelby Hardwick attributes this to one of the reasons she’s stayed in Ehringhaus for the last three years.

“In a house you have what, four people that you live with?” said Hardwick. “And the way that I’m living, I have the 16 other RAs in the building, and we kind of hang out a lot.”

Ramsey reached a similar conclusion, saying it helps combat the loneliness she feels seeing her friends’ social media posts.

“If I can’t hang out with my friends who went to the beach for the weekend, I can go with a bunch of RAs to Mapleview and hang out with them,” Ramsey said.

Williams said he wasn’t as close with the other RAs during his time in Hinton James. He thinks this can be a key factor in the overall experience. He said he also struggled with the feeling that he needed to be on duty any time he was in the dorm.

“I like to keep my work life and social life separate, and you can’t really do that as an RA,” Williams said.

Concerning distance, Hardwick said it wasn’t a huge problem, other than the fact that her car is parked at a friend’s house.

“I feel like it’s about the same as living in a house in Carrboro, like you still have to commute to campus,” said Hardwick, who takes the bus every day.

Each RA agreed they appreciated their jobs as a part of their time as an undergrad. Ramsey encourages students considering applying to be an RA to do it for more than just the money.

“I know a couple of people who did that, and they had a miserable time,” Ramsey said. “Definitely do it for the experience.”

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