As I enter my eighth year of RA training (three as a student, two as a grad student, and now four as a professional), I had a moment of peace thinking that I have gone through training enough times to feel confident in presentations, policies in general, and how to respond to the numerous “what if?” questions that arise during sessions.
However, the added challenge of starting at a new institution is something that can be a difficult transition for any #SApro in any functional area. Going into my third year of post graduate work as a hall director, I am starting at a new institution. As much as I’m confident in my basic skills one thought ran through my head:
“I know nothing about how this institution runs during the year…and that’s okay”.
Now, if you know me personally, you know having that type of ambiguity in my life is typically not something that sits well with me. However, I think there is a lesson to be learned about the uncomfortable feeling of change and transition. As much as a position may be similar to a previous one, we all have something to learn. Institutional culture, the response from students to different decisions, the program resources and creativity. You name it, a different institution will do it differently or call it something different from the next. That should be exciting. Not terrifying.
Most people reading this post are engaged Student Affairs professionals that enjoy connecting with other professionals. We enjoy the connection and view it as valued time to read and learn. But above all we value the differences of how different people do their jobs. Otherwise why would we have conferences? Why would we spend time to learn about how our neighboring institutions conduct daily processes?
Our field is full of people willing to share and grow. Growth cannot happen without change. Change is uncomfortable and it starts withtransition. Everyone has sat around a new table in a new position and wondered how the day to day actually works after all the training and on-boarding. That time is essential to the growth and success of Student Affairs.
Let’s dial it back to the institutional level. Why is it important to own your institutional ignorance? There are many reasons. One major one that I see is that the students you work with will know what you do and do not know. Let them guide you. The only way to learn is to be open about what you don’t already know. Ask questions. Ask your RAs. Ask your office assistants and grad students. Ask anyone that will listen. Value their experience at any level. If you work with them, you need them. It is humbling to be in a position and stand next to those who know more about an institution. By meeting them in the middle with what you bring, we are sending a message to the students we work with that we respect their opinions. That starts the community building we strive to build day after day.
I had a conversation with a grad student who has had no prior residence life experience before this experience. Going into RA training, they are worried about the dynamics and how their lack of experience will affect training.
“Own it,” I said. “Own what you know and show what you can help them with. Everything else will come with training. Be open and they will respect your hard work to try to catch up”.
Reflecting on my own recent transition, I challenge you all to this over the next academic year: Change something. Do something new. Whether it is a new process, a new way of connecting, or just meeting someone for lunch from a different department, do it. Open your minds to a new way of thought. By being open you only make yourself and your department that much better.
Enjoy your respective opening weeks and best of luck to all who are starting a new academic year!