So, when my 20th birthday fell on a Wednesday this September, I was not particularly pleased.
At 10:30 p.m., I traipsed up the stairs to the Harbin 5 common room planning to say a brief goodnight to my residents and go to sleep. When I arrived, I was shocked to find 30 of my residents gathered together frantically trying to light 20 birthday candles atop a fruit tart. The moment they saw me, they begin to sing, “Happy Birthday.” After singing, they gave me a box of macaroons and a beautiful birthday card. I felt incredibly loved, supported and valued, easily qualifying it as the best end to a birthday I’ve ever had.
I share this memory to shed some light on the recent controversies surrounding the RA role — in my experience, being an RA is worthwhile. Now, it is important to clarify that I am not offering this perspective to invalidate or devalue the experiences of my colleagues. I am touched and inspired by my fellow RAs who have been brave enough to draw attention to some of the injustices faced by those in our line of work. I am proud to be a part of a community that is dedicated to advocating for change. However, I feel that the Georgetown community is only hearing one side of the story: being an RA is not all bad.
As an RA, I have the opportunity to influence the culture at Georgetown at the microcosmic level. I am able to introduce my residents to topics, ideas and activities that I value, whether those are walks to the monuments at sunset, dinners with an expert in Holocaust studies or discussions on healthy relationships in college. RAs are given immeasurable power on this campus to shape discourse and effect positive change — it just may not always be obvious to the rest of the student body.
Of course, the job is not always easy. When I get a phone call in the middle of the night, anything can be happening on the other end of the line. I have responded to potential sexual assaults, suicidal ideation, incapacitation due to alcohol consumption, drug use — the list goes on and on. In these complex and frightening situations, mistakes can be made and systems are not always in place to properly address them.
I believe that Georgetown needs to initiate a serious conversation about the state of student employment, particularly concerning the implications of becoming an RA as a recipient of financial aid, as well as the concerns raised in regard to Title IX. I am confident that the discourse started by my peers will serve as a catalyst for productive conversations in the coming months.
This said — in light of the fact that RA applications will soon be released — I hope my experience can serve to offer a different perspective. Yes, the RA role is extremely challenging; however, it has provided me with opportunities for support, professional growth, friendship and love that I never anticipated.
As I reflect in this season of giving thanks, I am grateful for this job, for the relationships it has given me and for the personal and professional development to which I have been exposed. I feel so blessed to have the chance to care for the residents of the “Harbin 5 Hive” this year. While I have only served in this capacity for three months, I already know that being an RA will be one of the most positive parts of my Georgetown experience.
Finally, if anything ever happens to make me resent my job, I know that my Community Director and fellow RAs will offer me their unwavering support. I know that even in my times of greatest need, this outstanding community will care for me and show me their commitment to being women and men for others. No, being an RA really has not been so bad after all.
Olivia Hinerfeld is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.