Let’s talk about feelings! Have I caught your interest yet? If so it’s probably a better reaction than the one I received from my Resident Assistants (RAs). This past January I started a job as a Residence Director at a new institution. During Winter RA Training, I brought up the topics of emotions and feelings—most notably, I wanted us to discuss how to talk about them. This was actually at a time during training where the RAs were given four different session options for them to attend. I really was not expecting anyone to attend being as I was new to the institution. To my surprise, I had to present this session twice and I had to actually encourage students to attend one of the other sessions first.
Are you wondering why I decided to talk about feelings? This all started from something that an RA once said to me during a student development activity I facilitated. This one thing has stuck with me: RAs think about their residents a lot but don’t take a second to think about their own feelings. These words have changed me and I take them with me where ever I work. I do whatever I can to validate the feelings RAs and our student leaders have—the same any institution would do with their students and residents.
During the activity I showed students a video called “Year in Review”—a joint venture from Google and Facebook. The videos include some of the social injustices we faced this year and a few positive messages—these include: Black Lives Matter, optimistic messages from the year, marriage equality, a speech from Caitlyn Jenner, the terrorist attacks in Paris, and the sad displacement of refugees as they struggle to find a new home. Well….not everything had such deep meaning—there were also some pictures of adorable animals. After reviewing the video, I set the stage for discussion. I told the RAs that this is a safe space and nothing leaves the room. I also asked them to respect what everyone says and what they decided to share. I also told them they were allowed to share anything they wanted to share. I was very shocked…but in a rather pleasant way. The RAs opened up and started to become emotional. They felt the space we had created really was a safe space and so they shared a lot with me and the other RAs. As a new staff member, I was so humbled that they trusted me enough to share their feelings and experiences.
The circle first started silent, everyone looked at each other, and you could see the hesitance the RAs had to sharing –but then it started. To not really take away from the special environment, the events shared must stay between myself and the RAs. I can share that I was surprised to hear some of the feelings the video invoked. Much of what was shared revolved around the concepts of: “I’m scared,” “I’m terrified about graduating,” “I’m confused,” “I’m frustrated,” and “I’m lonely.” You could tell there was a sigh of relief from the group but there was also a sign of vulnerability from them. You could see the questions students posed for themselves on their faces and then there was a sense of “Did I really just share that?” There was laughter, there were smiles, and then there were tears.
The comments after the activity were what really made the whole thing successful for me. The RAs said things such as, “It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one with these feelings” and “I feel less guilty when residents share their feelings and I don’t.” A few of the RAs said this is an activity they needed—it helped them realize that they couldn’t believe they thought their feelings didn’t matter and they were going to be more self-aware of their emotional being. I saw this as a personal success because this was something that helped the RAs think about self-care—the RAs do so much and forget themselves all the time.
As higher education professionals, let’s remember our RAs are students too—we need to ask them how they are and how they feel. Let’s validate our student leaders. I know many of us celebrated “RA Appreciation Day.” Let’s let them know we appreciate their work, take a minute talk to them, get to know what is going on—they need to feel we are there for them when they need us.
While I challenge you to validate the feelings of your staff, don’t forget to think of your own, because as professionals it’s important we validate how we feel too. I mean the session itself was called “I feel.” Maybe we should all take the time to feel.
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Podcast With Wimer Alberto on Housing Operations