My 25th birthday was the first week in May. I’m not ultimately that worried about turning 25, but I’ve always found it interesting that it’s around this birthday that people talk about having a quarter life crisis (QLC). I don’t really plan on living to be 100—who knows, really, but that feels very old—so I would think my QLC has already happened. Anyway, I’ve always been the person to sarcastically cite a QLC, but I didn’t ever think I’d have one. Until the last month.
To provide some context, I’m at a small, private institution as a Resident Director (RD) in a department of 8 professional staff total. We’re currently down 3 professionals—an RD, administrative assistant, and Director of Housing Operations (DHO)—which has the rest of us picking up the slack where and when we can. When the RD left, I took on his ancillary of recruitment and training and split that with another RD, and housing operations has been my ancillary all year, so I knew I’d be taking more of that when the DHO left. What I didn’t know is how much it would change my experience this year.
We do our entire room selection process for 1,800 beds by hand, so there’s lot of communication with students and – as one can imagine- room for human error. We only have apartment and suite-style living, and the apartments are a sought after area to say the least. Students are given lottery numbers based on credit hours in their groups, and if they do not have a complete group, they’re retroactively placed in a community after the week in which they would select. None of this is abnormal in a selection process.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the lashing out (specifically at me because I’m the main point of communication) over not getting an apartment. It’s ranged from attacking the process itself, misinforming parents so they call me and are irate, and even so far as telling me we should just build more apartments. I don’t think this is foreign in a placement process, but I guess I wasn’t ready for it to be so volatile.
So where’s the QLC? I’ve asked myself more times than not since early April if I can do this. And I don’t mean can I do this job, it’s if I can continue to work with students if this is who they really are. I’ve tried to remind myself of student development theories. I’ve reflected on what I could have done differently, and I know there are ways our process could be improved. I have been reminding myself that the squeaky wheels often get the oil, and that there are plenty of students who didn’t send a nasty email or have their parents call on their behalf. I’ve actually deleted Yik Yak because I don’t dare look at what they’ve been saying there; what I’ve been told is bad enough.
I consider myself someone with a pretty thick skin, and I’ve never really understood anxiety because I haven’t experienced it. After one of our selection nights, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt like I had a life vest on, and I was crying. I don’t know if this was a legitimate panic attack, but it’s certainly the closest I’ve ever come. It was a combination of the stress from the process, the questioning of my future, and the realization that my degree is in higher ed, so if not this, what am I supposed to do?
I wrote this post in the middle of our process and let it sit for over a month. My intention isn’t to sound whiney or “woe is me” in any way. In hindsight, the process is likely more of a problem than the students. We’re inefficient at best, and a cluster…you know, at worst. Working down so many people, we did the best we could with what we had, but that’s not an excuse. I still worry that I don’t have the right something to work with students if they’re going to be so volatile at times, however, I think I’ve realized that it’s as much about us—professionals, people, and the university as a whole—as it is about them. Our behavior will often dictate theirs, making it partially our responsibility to set them and ourselves up for success.