I was awoken at 3am this morning by a fire alarm. Despite many attempts to disarm it, it persisted off and on beyond 6:30am when I dragged myself out of bed to ensure that approximately 200 students safely navigated their way out of the building that has been their home for the last nine and a half months. As they shuffled their belongings out of their minuscule rooms and into their even tinier minivans, I put my “serious” face on as my student workers and I fought to make sure they left as little destruction in their wake as possible. Now, a little over 12 hours later, I am left with a silence that is as deafening as it is beautiful and I am overwhelmed with a familiar feeling of relief that few outside of the realm of Residence Life will ever know or understand.
For the past four years, I have made my home in the midst of primarily first year college students in what most outside of student affairs (though the word makes those of us within it cringe) commonly refer to as a “dorm.” I fell in love with student development during my time as a resident assistant when I was an undergraduate student. After Easters and Thanksgivings, Bible studies and pancake breakfasts spent with residence directors who took the time to nurture and develop me as an individual, but more importantly as a member of a larger community, I knew I wanted to pay it forward and pass the love on to young adults such as myself. My journey as a residence director began when I wasn’t much older than the students I was overseeing. Still needing to do so much growing of my own, I’m not sure how much meaningful development of students I did in that initial year on the job. Learning firsthand that no one has a clue what an RD does unless he or she has been an RA or RD before hit harder than I ever could have anticipated. Being a person who likes to be viewed as competent and intelligent, I was embittered by the negating reality that people thought of me as little more than a glorified student. Even when I used all the words in my vocabulary to talk them out of their false assumptions, their only other point of reference landed them on the conclusion that I was some sort of 24 hour a day “house mother,” which was almost equally as frustrating. Sometimes even those within higher ed (or worse within student affairs) didn’t even get it! Unlike other friends who were spending their Friday and Saturday nights out on the town, I was attending on-campus talent shows and making middle of the night trips to the emergency room. In a role like this, sometimes a weekend can feel more stressful than a Monday morning. While others were working 9 to 5, I was working 9 to 9 or 8am to Midnight or 5pm to 2am. With an unpredictable, emotionally-draining schedule, that first year I discovered that it is only the love of students that will keep an RD going. If that love is forgotten, for even a moment, what is already tough becomes just about impossible. That love (along with a little bit of coffee, a lot of support from others in the field, and constant prayer) is what has kept me standing all these four years.
Indescribable ups and downs mark this path. One day you may be sitting with a student in the depths of their greatest brokenness and the next thing you know you are staying up late into the night with students and colleagues playing Settlers of Catan, laughing until your sides feel like they are going to split open and tears are running from your eyes. The same student who infuriates you to the point of wanting to throw a few punches (though your professionalism would never allow you to actually do it) can make you beam with joy and pride after just one semester of maturing through dedication, soul-searching, and hard work. Everyday is a fight for balance as you learn to open your heart and life up to those you must also hold accountable to policies and procedures.
Being an RD was my dream job for a time. I am grateful for the chance to have been able to live that dream even though the dream was brief. It has left me with stories I will never forget, lessons I may not have learned anywhere else, and a deeper sense of community than your average Joe ever thought possible. Though some manage to remain in such a position for far longer than I have, alas, no one is an RD forever. There is a time when peace and quiet and self-care, forward movement and more fully engaging in relationships with those your own age or older becomes far too tempting. Whether people leave the position for desires to own their own property, grow their families, or abandon the stress of always feeling pulled in a thousand different directions, for some reason or another, each RD’s time comes to an end. I’m glad to be gracefully bowing out before this potential thing of beauty became far too big of a burden to bear, before I stopped being any good at it or started despising the reason I stepped into the position in the first place. Even during times it made me so busy that I thought it was pulling me away from these things, being an RD has made me a better person, a better professional, a better friend… The best experiences have reminded me that this thing they call “vocation” is real and I should never stop pursuing it, while the worst have taught me how to cope, to overcome, to be a loving, capable supervisor, to give more grace, to set higher, more worthy expectations.
Sometimes when things get harder, it is time to put your nose to the grindstone and fight with more fervor than you ever have before and sometimes maybe it is getting so hard because it is time to say goodbye. So as I lay on the couch exhausted on a Saturday night that could have been spent dancing or catching a movie, my feet sore from climbing up and down six flights of stairs and my mind tired from repeating myself over and over to people who don’t want to take the time to read the informative e-mails I have so carefully crafted, I give honor to the memory of this gift I once cherished and smile with satisfaction as I think of all the fun ways I will be spending Saturday nights in the future.