“Kat Chen” Up With an RA

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Max Richter | Photography Intern

Max Richter | Photography Intern

Having access to the resident’s mailbox, Chen slipped in a note, just to let her know that someone cared enough to do so. At that point, the two had never met, but today they enjoy a friendship that has lasted for over a year. It’s this attention to detail and sense of compassion that makes Chen, a third-year psychology and social behavior student, a prototypical Resident Advisor.

“You’d be surprised at how [much] the little things matter to so many people,” Chen explained. “Just to kind of make them know, hey I’m still thinking of you, you’re not just some person that’s just there.”

Chen is currently four weeks into her tenure as the RA for the Gondolin dorm in Middle Earth, a building which houses roughly 80 freshmen students, and her concern for the well-being of each and every one of them is impossible to ignore. Evidence of this can be seen in every inspirational quote that hangs on her dorm room wall, in all the consecutive hours she leaves her door open and is always willing to talk, and in the way she seems to put a smile on the face of her residents just by simply saying “Hello.”

Chen is very good at what she does, but building the kind of community environment that exists in Gondolin takes an incredible amount of work.

“You have to really care, because this is basically a full time job,” Chen, who seemed exhausted at just the thought of her countless responsibilities, sighed. “It is almost a full-on, 24 hour job. Almost. On certain days it is if you have duty.”

Chen’s typical day begins like that of most other students, with class, but the similarities end there. Upon returning home she assumes the role of an unofficial counselor for many of her residents, while also balancing studying, her social life, and any relaxation time she is lucky enough to carve out.

Once or twice a week, she has rounds and picks up a duty bag at around 5 p.m. that contains caution tape, a walkie talkie and various other items that help RAs handle any situation, ranging from a resident being locked out of a dorm room to a resident being blacked out in a dorm room. Officially, the rounds last from 10 p.m. until 11 p.m., but RAs are required to be on-call until 8 a.m.

Throughout the year, RAs host seven educational programs every quarter that instruct residents on alcohol safety, proper recycling and everything in between. They also publish a weekly newsletter that informs residents about events going on around campus. To many, this is a daunting workload, one that certainly attracts a specific personality type.

“Personally, I chose this because I like helping people, I love talking about problems, sometimes more than I like talking about happy things,” Chen laughs. “I feel like this job requires a certain kind of person. It’s not just that I’m doing this for a job.”

Last year, when Chen was informed that she’d be the RA of Gondolin, she immediately started coming up with ideas for her future dorm building. Even prior to day one, she wanted the dorm to feel like a community — and possibly even a family. Her open-door policy has allowed her to have conversations with her residents, some for the purposes of just killing time, some for sharing concerns about academics, and some to confess personal issues. Residents stop by to laugh, to cry, to just be understood, and Chen gives them that outlet despite the fact that she is not required to do so.

This is because though she has not forgotten the overwhelming confusion and the bouts of loneliness that can occur freshmen year, she also remembers the potential for growth. She remembers the relationships that she established when she was a freshman in Gondolin, the very same dorm she watches over now, and more than anything wants to give her residents that same experience. Her efforts have paid off.

“Late night talks with Kat are the best,”  Jose Herrera, one of Chen’s residents, said.

“She listens to us,” Jeremy Rhoan, a hall mate, added. “If there are any problems, she’s always there.”

When Chen’s residents, or her “kids,” as she calls them, compliment her approachability and sense of understanding, her face lights up. Witnessing their interactions, it is difficult to decide who is getting more out of the relationship: the residents or Chen. She has dedicated an unprecedented amount of time and effort into making Gondolin a comfortable environment for her residents, and every time her successes are affirmed, she becomes genuinely happy.

“My experiences freshmen year changed me and made me grow; I want to give that to them,”  Chen said. “It’s definitely a great experience. Being there for 80 people, knowing that you made a difference.”