While walking through the doors of their residence halls on move-in day, Framingham State residents are greeted by the smiling face of their resident assistant (RA).
After weeks of training, room inspections, and crafting door tags, resident assistants at Framingham State are eager to meet the students they get to help guide through the school year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, smiles were covered by masks, housing contracts were signed and left in mailboxes, and the bridge between RAs and their residents only got longer.
But, this year’s RAs refused to let a pandemic get in the way of creating an engaging, safe, and healthy community throughout Framingham State’s residence halls.
Last March, the spread of COVID-19 forced FSU to shut its doors – including residence halls – for the remainder of the school year. Administrative Resident Assistants (ARAs) Gina Crosby and Samantha Collette were among two of last year’s RAs who would no longer get to see their residents.
They both said it was upsetting to hear they would not be returning to campus after last year’s extended spring break.
Crosby, a senior psychology and elementary education major, said she became a resident assistant because she wanted to be involved as much as she could during her college career and was encouraged to apply by her RA her first year at FSU.
“My freshman year, I had one friend,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t involved as much as I wanted to be on campus.”
She added being a RA has not only helped her be more involved on campus, but her position has also increased her confidence and made her feel as if she is a part of the Framingham State community.
Crosby was placed in Larned Hall her sophomore year, and through the encouragement of then Area Director of Larned Hall, Marcie Dineen, she applied for an administrative resident assistant position.
“My sophomore year, I was doing well as an RA. I knew all of my residents and I felt comfortable enough taking that step forward to becoming an ARA and having a more active role on campus,” she said.
For the 2019-20 academic year, Crosby was promoted to the ARA position of Miles Bibb Hall, then known as North Hall, but her year was cut short when the University announced residents would not be returning to campus after spring break.
“When everyone left for break last year, I’ll admit it, I said, ‘Oh, this [COVID-19] is going to go away in a week,’” she said. “So, I prepared as if I was coming back.
“I only brought home a few items, I was still emailing residents, and I was still doing ARA work,” Crosby said. “I was prepared [to come back].”
She added once she learned she would not be returning to campus, she was upset.
“I loved my job. I was taking on this new role as an ARA and I felt like I was doing a good job at it,” she said.
Crosby added that despite residence halls closing, she – along with other RAs – still made attempts to be available for their residents if they needed help adjusting to a new online-learning environment.
“We were trying to do as much as we could. But once it hit the point where we were trying to transition to a remote University, everything was kind of cut off,” she said.
She added RAs attempts to reach out to residents were not often responded to because after spending the day looking at a screen, the last thing a student wanted to do was look at their email.
This year, Crosby is once again the ARA of Miles Bibb Hall. She, along with her staff, have used social media, including Facebook and Instagram, to their advantage in order to better connect and engage with their residents.
Collette, a junior fashion design and retailing major and ARA of Corinne Hall Towers, said she has maintained a sense of community in her building by never letting her residents think she has forgotten them.
“During holidays or milestones in the semester, I always hang little cards on each resident’s door so they know I’m thinking of them,” she said.
Collette also said she makes sure to constantly check in with her residents through email to send them various reminders through a monthly newsletter. These newsletters include everything from program reminders to important COVID-19 updates from the University.
She said she was inspired to become an RA her freshman year when she co-hosted a program with her RA.
“She knew I was interested in applying to be an RA and the program was a big hit!” she said. “From that point forward, I was sold.”
She added she wanted to give students the chance to make friends and help them escape the stress of homework.
“I have always loved leadership positions and pushing myself to do more for my community, and I thought this would be an excellent way to achieve those personal goals,” Collette said.
When she learned she would not be returning to campus following spring break, Collette said she was “devastated,” but she has not let that stop her from keeping a positive attitude toward her position.
“I knew as soon as I packed my bags [for break] that my job would not be the same,” she said.
Colette added, “Even though program attendance is low, and the residence hall occupancy is minimal, I think the general heart and soul of the job has remained.”
Unlike Crosby and Collette, who were RAs before COVID-19 began, Brian Gerard and Hannah Devlin began their positions this fall during the pandemic.
Gerard, a junior management major and RA in Miles Bibb Hall, said he wanted to be a resident assistant so he could help others the way his RAs helped him in the past.
“I wanted to do what my RAs did for me my freshman and sophomore years. They were just a person you could talk to. Very sociable and always somebody who you know is a nice person and has a very positive attitude,” he said. “So, I just really liked that and I thought it was something to emulate.”
Gerard has also found creative ways to engage with his residents such as working extra shifts at the security desk and starting a Facebook group for his floor.
“I honestly feel like I have gotten to know [all my residents] in different capacities,” he said. “If people spend most of their time in their dorm and they go out just to get food, whatever the case may be, why not just be there with them?”
Devlin, a sophomore child and family studies major and RA in Corinne Hall Towers for the 2020-21 academic year, said over the summer, she was prepared to take on being an RA during COVID-19.
“By then [summer], COVID-19 had already taken over. So, I was aware of the risk of being an RA and we [the RA staff] knew there would likely be chances of COVID-19 cases on campus and in the dorms,” she said. “And I was just ready to take on that challenge with the other RAs in the building and across campus.”
As was the case with Crosby, Collette, and Gerard, Devlin said one of the biggest challenges she has faced this year is building relationships with her residents.
On top of the challenge of building relationships, Devlin said she hopes her residents don’t view RAs as someone who is there to just “tell them what to do.”
Devlin added that while trying to hold events virtually she and her staff realized they needed to come up with other approaches to encourage residents to attend their events.
“We quickly realized that after being on Zoom calls all day, residents were not willing to get on another one at night for our programs,” she said. “So, here in Towers, we’ve leaned toward socially distant programs in person.”
Devlin said since she started holding more programs safely in person, more residents have been attending.
Despite the obstacles COVID-19 has put in place for this year’s RAs, they have still found ways to create fun, exciting, and safe programs for their residents.
Crosby hosted an event where residents could decorate a pot for the succulent plants she provided them. She hosted the event in an open space in Miles Bibb Hall so everyone could stay appropriately spaced out and made sure everything was sanitized after each use before the next person used the supplies.
Collette said thanks to the large common areas in Corinne Hall Towers, RAs have been able to hold larger, more interactive, programs such as DIY projects and karaoke nights.
She added her favorite program she put on was a BuzzFeed quiz night because it gave her an opportunity to get to know her residents better.
“It was really relaxed, but residents on my floor were able to get to know one another more and laugh at all of the results,” Collette said. “It was a great way to get to know my residents better without small talk.”
Gerard said his first program was a Bingo game he hosted over Zoom and that 15 Miles Bibb residents attended – which surprised him because it was held virtually.
Devlin hosted a Valentine’s Day goodie bag event which she set up in the lobby of Corinne Hall Towers in order to attract more residents to the program.
She added, “I got a bunch of stuff from the Target dollar section like little baggies and goodies, and they [residents] loved it.
“I was there for about two hours,” she said. “And as residents were coming in and out, I said, ‘OK, make a goodie bag for you or your friends.’
“Being there in the lobby and catching them [residents] as they came by, I got a lot of people saying ‘Oh I didn’t know this was happening.’ So, it was definitely very successful being in a central location,” she added.
Dineen, the area director of Miles Bibb and Linsley Halls, said the 30 RAs on staff this year have all found creative ways to engage and stay connected to the FSU community so they can “live the true student experience.”
She added, “To the RAs: keep it up. It might feel like you aren’t making a difference, especially this year, because it’s hard to feel it, it’s hard to see it, and it’s hard to identify it.
“It’s the little things that continue to really make a difference and make an impact,” she added. “Know that your little acts of kindness aren’t for nothing.”
Dineen said the Miles Bibb Hall RAs are also responsible for checking on students who are quarantining in Linsley Hall and they have served as a way for isolated students not to feel so alone.
“I think they’re [RAs] making a huge difference when they’re dropping off a meal and just saying, ‘Hey, have a good lunch,’ or things like that to the person who hasn’t had any human contact for five days,” Dineen added.
Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and director of residence life, commended the work this year’s RAs have put in despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented them.
“I’m very proud of them for taking on this challenge and working hard to help other people in the community in less than ideal circumstances,” he said.
While the past year has been anything but ordinary, FSU’s resident assistants have refused to let the COVID-19 blues get them down. Instead, they have adapted to their roles in order to better serve their community and be pivotal leaders on campus.
Crosby’s message to the FSU community is that it is OK to take time for themselves even if it doesn’t feel like they should.
“Think about realistic goals for right now. That might be getting through the day, it might be getting through the week, and that’s OK,” she said. “Give yourself a break, take time for yourself, and do a lot of self-care.”
Collette said, “Please get involved as much as you can right now. Things are a real bummer but we still should make the best out of the experience we’re having,” she said.
“We have always said that RAs are the most resilient and flexible people on this campus and this proves true especially right now.”