School began early for a number of Stanford students, namely those 183 individuals who will be serving as this year’s Resident Assistants (RA).
The two-week program of extensive RA training was a major point of conversation in the preceding months. Among those designing ways to improve the program was current ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11.
“As an RA last year, I realized how important of a role the position plays in creating respectful, open, safe, and dynamic communities,” commented Cardona.
Cardona added, “After discussions with many other RA’s and students it became apparent how critical of a role RA’s and the training they receive are to the way our communities function.”
Regarding this critical role as a Stanford RA, participants were told early on that their jobs would be roughly 95% community building and 5% dealing with crises.
Nonetheless, as Phi Sig RA Emily Turco ’11 stated, “The majority of the training still involved preparing for these crisis scenarios because incoming RAs are generally most concerned about successfully dealing with these issues.”
Throughout the two weeks, RAs participated in a variety of activities aimed at preparing them to handle any such crises. Activities ranged from lectures attended by all RAs to smaller breakout sections that involve dialogue and role-playing scenarios. Other noteworthy events included staff-specific retreats and presentations by Vaden Health Services, Residential Education, and other University organizations.
“I thought the training program did a good job telling us about the resources we had to use, and teaching us how to deal with the very specific and difficult issues, such as sexual assault,” said Ben Allanson ’11, an RA in Larkin this year.
It was the other aspect of training—the ways in which RAs were instructed to build community—which saw the greatest changes this year. In particular, the Cardona Administration expressed a desire to increase the emphasis on diversity education.
“Diversity training [this year] was more than twice as long as last year,” Cardona indicated.
The change in curriculum was certainly noticed by RAs in training. Turco said that “diversity was the single issue that got the most attention.”
On diversity day, RAs gained insight into what diversity education is, how it applies to the ResEd model, and how they can best be a catalyst for the identity formation among the residents of their community.
“I would say that the diversity training was less about learning how to deal with diversity-related issues and more about how RAs can draw out diversity and support discussions of diversity within the residences,” said Turco. “The training focused on the importance of identifying similarities within residences and also identifying and supporting differences.”
RA’s were also taught to understand diversity as something not easily defined in terms of categories of race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Rather, participants were told diversity could mean any number of things in relation to an individual’s background.
Yet even this new installment of RA training was not free from some criticism. One concern was the apparent lack of specific and substantive ideas in the teaching of certain topics.
“Personally, I was quite frustrated because there was a lot of very flowery stuff when we were talking about welfare for ourselves and for our students,” said Allanson. “I thought it was unnecessary that things that were kind of common sense was devoted a lot of time.”
When asked about such “flowery” rhetoric, several RAs cited the motto for the diversity day: “You are a unique snowflake of unique specialness.”
Other complaints surrounded the time management of the training. “It’s just too long,” commented Marcus Jamison ‘12, an RA in FroSoCo. “We went 9 to 5 every day and really only had one day off in those two weeks.”
Allanson echoed this sentiment, as well: “The fact is there were a lot of times when talks would go on for too long. [The RAs] just got inundated with information. But the most successful talks were those where the presenters were succinct and to the point.”
Allanson cited the talk given by Amanda Rodriguez of Residential Education as an example of an effective and necessary lecture. Rodriguez’s talk lasted only twenty-seven minutes, while talks of comparable content were scheduled for double or even triple that amount of time.
President Cardona also understood the inevitable wear that could come with two-weeks of intensive training. “After the two weeks many RA’s are tired from the long sessions and intensity of training,” stated Cardona. “[I]n an ideal world there would be time and resources available so that the RAs had some down time between training and when residents arrive to recharge their batteries.”
Even so, Cardona expressed confidence in the changes orchestrated by her administration: “I think the current system is definitely an improvement from last year and will continue to improve year after year.”