Getting to know your on-campus Residential Assistants

When the day staff go home, someone needs to be on hand to deal with emergencies. This is where our team of Residents’ Assistants (RAs) step in. On call from 5pm to 8.30am each night and all over the weekend, this wonderful group of students are the first port of call when help is needed.

Being a RA is quite something; dealing with anything from noise complaints, medical situations, people who have had a little bit too much to drink, and at times, mental health call outs. MyHerts spoke to six RA’s, three from College Lane and three from de Havilland. We found out what it is like to be an RA, what they get up to, why they do the job and some funny call outs that they’ve had.

Don’t forget to check out the other services provided by the University and SU to help combat any mental health challenges you may have. Type in mental health or student wellbeing into Ask Herts or StudyNet to find the services available to you and all of your friends.

Kate Rhodes (left), Stavros Antoniou (middle), Adam Walker (Right)

Ayomide Osoteku (left), Gabrielle Chudi (middle), Sheena Tenkorang (right)

Why did you apply?

Most of the RA’s either applied due to a friend’s recommendation or they applied after an experience involving an RA’s that inspired them to put themselves forward for the job. 

One of the RAs explained; “In my first year, one of my friends really struggled with mental health, seeing what the RA’s did for him and how much it changed his uni experience for the better, I really thought I’d like to do that and make a change for some other students who are struggling.” 

What’s a typical day like as an RA? 

There are only 16 RA’s on College Lane and 14 on de Havilland so there is a lot of work to do between them. The shift starts with welfare checks, where the RAs catch up with students about what’s going on in their lives and issues they may be having. After that it can be anything from noise complaints to drunk people to mental health issues. But a lot of the job involves waiting for something to happen, so they get a call on their radios and go and deal with the situation. Unless it’s a Cheeky Wednesday, where it is understandably a very busy night and the RAs generally know what is going to happen.

“It’s such an unpredictable job, but anything can happen, there are 3,111 students on this campus and it just takes one.” 

“A typical day? I cannot describe it because you just don’t know what you’re going to get so you need to be ready for anything.”

Have you had situations that impacted you personally?

Unsurprisingly it appears that this is quite an emotional job with loads of different situations that if they weren’t RA’s, they would never experience or even think about experiencing.

“I have had medical call outs when I’ve felt very emotional afterwards, you have to know how to separate your emotions and to be strong enough to carry on with the situation that’s happening.”

“I’ve had situations where I’ve left and just burst into tears, because it affects you so much.”

What do you think being an RA brings to student life?

With the main aim to support students in need, RA’s can really impact some people’s lives, just by being there, talking to them and helping get them through the night.

“I like to think we really help people. People have come up to me when they see me out and about and say thank you for helping because we help people in their crisis moments and help people get through the night and sometimes that is all people need.”

“Someone came up to me the following day after I’d helped them out and said they were very grateful and I helped her out a lot, she then explained that during her counselling session she mentioned I was such a help for her and it made me smile.”

Do you think you are prepared for situations?

With so many different situations the RA’s experience, we wanted to find out if they are prepared for the situations. We very quickly found out that even after a long and intensive training programme, there are a lot of aspects of the job that cannot be taught. No one situation is the same and no students are the same. 

“It is impossible to train for every situation, RA training is so intense, its 2 weeks of intense 9-5 training. We go through things like safe guarding, mental health training, first aid, role play, conflict resolution, so I think we are prepared theoretically but you can’t actually prepare yourself until you actually get into the situation.” 

“Plus, every RA has their own way of approaching situations, the way I approach things is different to the ways you guys approach things and you can’t teach that, that just comes from within.”

“It’s so unexpected, you just have to figure out how to do it sometimes, although we’ve had the training you just never know, you have to be adaptable.”

Do you manage to get any sleep on a shift?

A question the RAs often get asked, is do they actually get to sleep, since they work night shifts and are certainly busy. Turns out they do.

“Last night I was on duty and although we are on call, we can sleep in between. But we have to have our radio on loud and as soon as the radio goes off, we have to get up and go.”

“It always depends, some shifts I sleep like a baby, sometimes I’ve woken up and checked if the radio was working or if I missed something. Some shifts are silent, and some shifts you don’t sleep, you just have to be wise and make sure you don’t have anything early the next day.”

What experiences have made your time as an RA standout?

More on the positive side of being an RA. We wondered if they had a moment or memory that stood out to them and made their day, made them smile or even makes them love their job.

“One of the most rewarding things is when you’re just sitting in the LRC doing work and someone comes up to you and says thank you, that’s the most rewarding thing, knowing you helped someone.”

“I’ve certainly had students where I feel I’ve made an impact with and it makes me so happy, when you see someone at their lowest point then a few weeks later you see someone out and about with their friends having fun. Although you don’t interact after that, you can sort of watch from a distance and it puts a smile on your face.”

If there are students suffering from mental health issues and looking for support, what would you say to these people?

We wanted to know, if any of you are in this situation, what would they suggest. Obviously, if you’re in the situation, ask for help and speak up, no matter how big or how small, people, especially RA’s, are happy to help.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it sounds clichĂ© but it’s so true, we’re only students, we’re friendly faces, so there’s no judgement.”

“Don’t be afraid to speak up, it can be hard to speak about mental health but if there’s something affecting you, do something, there are so many services around the uni that people neglect, some people are too scared to go to it.”

“If you don’t think you can speak to anyone, just call an RA, because all of us we’re happy to speak to anyone, I’ve spoken to people who think they’re a burden, but we’re on job to be woken up.”

How do people contact you?

You can contact the desk and security will radio them or they can call security directly by calling 01707 284063for College Lane and 01707 808283 for de Havilland, then just ask for an RA. You can have the choice to ask for a female RA or a male RA, if there’s one on shift, they will try their best to help get you your preference.

Is there anything else you think people should know?

As mentioned, there are loads of wellbeing services that you are welcome to, provided by the university and the SU, we and the RA’s certainly recommend you don’t hesitate to try these services out if you want to or feel it’s the right thing. We asked the RA’s if they would recommend anything else to anyone else struggling with mental health.

“We recommend societies, so if you are struggling to make friends or want to take your mind off things, joining a society that you’re interested in can really help what you’re going through.”

“I recommend just knocking on people’s doors because we’re all in the same predicament.”

“Don’t be afraid to call us, no matter how silly it may seem, we’ve seen it all.”

Do you have any funny moments?

In every job there’s a funny side, whether that’s the memories or the friends you make on the job. 

“We get a lot of burnt toast, a lot of hair straighteners. If you see smoke, you’re probably burning your food so please do something and don’t use a hair straightener under the alarm.”

“Avoid getting too drunk in the forum because then you have to get in the buggy.”

“This one girl thought there was a dead rat in her room because it was very smelly, but it was just her fridge with bad food.”

“Whenever there’s a medical emergency we are told to run to the flat and so one time, we got a medical call out, ran to the flat and this person announced that she’d shut her finger in her window and she needed a plaster, at 2 in the morning, we were fuming but now we look back at it and it’s funny.”

Applications to become an RA are open now, but close next month, so if you’ve read this and want to help others, get applying now! 


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