Student-RA relationships a red, green light

By Zach Colick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 24, 2005

While some students said they might break behavioral rules set out by Residence Life and their resident assistant, developing an intimate relationship with their RA is not one of them.

Residence Life wants students and RAs to recognize and be accountable for their actions, but whether they agree with and understand the rules is a different story, said Patrick Call, associate director of Residence Life.

There are three kinds of relationships an RA and student can have, based on a decision making process of how in-depth the relationship should be: a traffic light of green, yellow and red warning signs, Call said.

A normal, friendly relationship between the student and RA could become soured or frowned upon when one party wants to get closer to the other, Call said, which turns the relationship into a "red light."

Examples of entering the red light zone could include an intimate relationship between a student and RA or dating anyone else employed in the same building, like a desk assistant, who is involved in Residence Life.

Call said this sort of activity would become a conflict of interest for the RA and student, where both parties could be subjugated to transferring to a different residence hall or forcing the RA to ultimately step down.

"If an RA doesn't tell Residence Life about some of the stronger relationships they develop while working for us, they could lose their job," Call said. "It's very clearly stated this activity is looked down upon."

Contrary to a red light relationship is green, in which an RA and student who do not live in the same residence hall have the ability to develop a stronger relationship. Because the two wouldn't be residing in the same residence hall, it would give them more opportunities to hang out without worrying that their relationship might become too involved.

"We definitely have a different environment than the rest of campus because our employees live and work in the same place," Call said.

Most students and RAs don't think the rule is a problem and go about their daily lives without this kind of distraction. In fact, some RAs and students said their relationship with each other lessens as the semester progresses.

Jonathan Leonard, an RA at Villa del Puente Residence Hall, 575 N. Highland Ave., said he enjoys being around to support students who need it.

"I try to have my door open as much as possible, but they'll usually go about their daily lives and will come to me regarding questions about something school related or what to do around Tucson," said Leonard, an electrical engineering junior.

Some students said having their RA around is nice, but after a while they no longer need someone constantly at their side. Others said they did not notice whether they had an RA or not.

Samantha Stern, a resident of Pueblo de la Cienega Residence Hall, 625 N. Highland Ave., said she has a good relationship with her RA, who tends to not make her presence visible to students in her wing most of the time.

"I'm not looking for a babysitter, so that's fine with me," said Stern, an undeclared freshman.

Scott Weiner, a resident of La Paz Residence Hall, 602 N. Highland Ave., said the relationship with his RA once consisted of hanging out occasionally outside of the residence hall, but now is hardly more than a "hey, what's up?" in passing.

However, Brittne Carlen, a resident of Coronado Residence Hall, 822 E. Fifth St., said she views her RA as a role model.

"She's a senior and has already been here three years," said Carlen, an undeclared freshman. "I feel like I could go to her for advice about anything."

Though Carlen holds her RA in high regard, chatting about her day and what's going on in her life is the extent of their relationship.

To make a relationship between an RA and student more comfortable, Leonard said throwing a football around, hanging out and getting to know residents when they first move in are ways to build comfort zones.

Stefanie Bauman, an RA in La Paz Residence Hall, said most students seem comfortable coming to her with personal problems, as well as questions and concerns about living in the residence hall; however, plenty of residents keep to themselves.

Bauman, a junior majoring in family studies and human development, said hanging out with residents outside of the residence hall is acceptable as long as the RA remembers their responsibilities first and foremost.

"We certainly can't party with them on the weekends," Bauman said. "We have to keep in mind what our job is because the students still see us as their RA."

Stern said that from her experience, an RA who is more about being a friend rather than doing their job is more likely to have students trying to taking advantage of them, in ways such as not following quiet hours or trying to sneak in alcohol.

Leonard said he enjoys both the experience of being an RA and a resident on campus, but there is definitely a different feeling between the two.

Bauman said she enjoys both experiences as well. As an RA, she said, she is a lot more aware of interaction among students, building a community and having a sense of togetherness.