Letter From A Resident Advisor’s Desk

By: Liorah Rubinstein  |  January 22, 2018

That impossibly long elevator ride to avoid the climb up the Brookdale stairwell to heaven. Both of us avoid eye contact, busying ourselves with the unchanged home screen on our phones. The doors open to my floor and as I walk out, I notice with wide eyes that she walks out too and slips into a room down the hall. I could have sworn I’d never seen her before in my life–and it’s April.  

We’ve all been there.

With about 1,000 students, we may be a relatively small college, but somehow we manage to get caught up in our lives and zone out anything or anyone that is not directly relevant. That other student and I lived on the same floor, a whopping five steps away from each other, but since we didn’t share an Alma Mater or social group or class, we had no reason to notice each other. Right?

I thought, wrong. I came into Yeshiva University determined to make this my home and this was a wake-up call. To me, home means a sense of belonging, a place where people care about and support each other. Although I was already involved in the Dramatics Society and the soccer team, I felt driven to build up our community in a more foundational sense. I felt driven to help build up the basic sense of friendliness and caring between students that was clearly lacking from my trip in the elevator, the mortar and bricks of our community. 50 E 34th St was already set as the “home” location on my google maps; now it was time to make that a more tangible truth for myself and for my peers.

Being a resident advisor (RA) on campus for the past two years has given me those mortar and bricks.  No longer a passive recipient of what the YU community had to offer, I was now an active player. The more I gave, the more I took ownership over my college experience, and the more dedicated I became to enhancing that of other students as well. As a member of the housing team I was given the tools to facilitate interactions between the residents on my floors, whether through organizing floor parties or by creating a shared floor culture.

You might know us as the Shabbat “candy women” or as the go-to for questions about registration and the PA’s hours. I used to think these little things were insignificant. They may, in fact, be the easier kinds of issues we deal with, but I’ve learned that when added up, the little things go a long way. I started to notice the “little things” that other student leaders had put the effort in, like providing us with new Shabbat benchers or extending library hours over finals weekend. I appreciate these initiatives not only because it’s comforting to see how we have each other’s backs, but also because I feel empowered to do more.

Honestly, the Jolly Ranchers we give out on Friday night are just a simpler illustration of what we essentially do. In two words, it is active caring. This manifests itself both on an individual and global level, with personal conversations with students and wider discussions with university administrators. Administrators have referred to the housing staff as “first responders”–indeed, we try to make ourselves approachable and are trained to notice if students are struggling (and of course, we quite literally respond to medical emergencies as well). And in the broader sense, because we are ourselves students, collectively we have a sense of the pulse of the student body and our reports–of the good and the bad–are taken very seriously.  Being “taken seriously” is not a euphemism; it means taking action. This translates into fashioning snow day programing, offering breakfast in the dorm lounges during finals week or supplying feminine hygiene products in the school buildings’ restrooms. By showing us the impact we can have, our tirelessly dedicated housing directors are always encouraging us to find ways to improve the student experience on campus. I’ve learned that when it comes to growth–and dessert–there is always room for more.

Now, my story has changed. In those elevator rides, I make the effort to meet the other person’s eyes–even if just to smile. I am far from infallible, but I certainly feel that being an RA gave me the extra push (or excuse) I needed to reach out to people I would have otherwise never met. I’ve let that influence me as a person outside of the enclosures of our campus, as well. Honestly, as RAs we are like the “designated drivers,” but you can and should put your hand on the steering wheel as well. Let’s lift our heads and look around us. You don’t need a lanyard and special T-shirt to reach out to someone who looks upset or to address a genuine campus concern. As part of this extended family, we are all responsible for each other and for the betterment of our university.