patience, and more patience
residential adviser to freshmen requires more than just a willingness
By Patrick Sullivan '02
Some people accuse me
of doing too much.
Apparently, this trend
has existed for a while. Like so many Princeton-hopefuls, I spent
four years of high school in a state of hyper-activity. Not content
to pursue merely the academic side, I competed in three varsity
sports, edited the newspaper, and served three years as class president.
Three outcomes resulted from my extracurricular intensity: a chronic
lack of sleep, a corresponding addiction to coffee, and a cherished
"Yes!" from Dean Hargadon.
Dean "Fred" must have
made an error. However, I promptly decided to capitalize on the
admission office's oversight: I FedEx-ed a reply to my mistaken
offer of admissions.
As a freshman at Princeton,
I promised myself that I would relax a bit. Rather than attempt
six or seven activities, I reasoned, I would choose two or three.
Somewhere within the
hazy blur of freshman-ness, an activity piqued my interest: My residential
adviser (RA) had a terrific job, in my opinion. As the upperclass
leader of our 20-person freshman RA group, Joe created a cohesive
bond amongst us naïve, overwhelmed youngsters. He stopped to
chat, offered pizza study breaks, and advised on course selection.
When I discovered that the university gave him spending money, a
cavernous suite, a tuition break, and free meals in exchange for
his leadership, I resolved to apply for an RA position after my
sophomore year. Certainly, this had to be the most rewarding activity
Throughout the summer,
I entertained fancies of what my advisees would be like. I sent
them postcards, offering sage advice on what to bring to college.
I even made nametags for their doors . . . a feat considering my
artistic handicap. I would have 16 wide-eyed freshmen, eager to
glean advice from an all-knowing junior: me. I would show them why
I love Princeton. We would do everything as a happy group. My study
breaks would always be full; other freshmen would be envious of
my spoilt advisees.
This of course, was all
In hindsight, being an
RA requires consistent effort and unfaltering patience. My first
week on the job constituted a trial-by-fire, and I quickly realized
the fallacy of my summertime imaginings. Whether something as simple
as explaining voicemail, creating a schedule for cleaning the bathroom,
or encouraging the group to attend freshman orientation meetings,
my advisees challenged me every step of the way.
An RA must realize that
for most freshmen, college means a necessary -- and often, difficult
-- expansion of comfort zones. Place eight girls from five states
and two countries in a suite with one bathroom, and conflict will
erupt. Throughout the year, I found myself suppressing disbelief
when confronted with questions or problems as basic as "where is
the library" or "his alarm clock is too loud." Just look on a map,
I wanted to scream!
The social learning curve
here is remarkably steep. As a junior, I felt comfortable with aspects
of Princeton that appeared completely alien to my advisees. In order
to be a good adviser and friend to my freshmen, I learned to accept
this fact, and to encourage my charges to broaden their horizons.
After nine months of
pizza study breaks, disciplinary issues, homesickness, relationship
soap operas, and suite meetings about the dirty bathroom, my advisees
made it. Sixteen more Princetonians ascended that sharp learning
curve. From the wide-eyed, nervous group I met in September emerged
confident dancers, a cappella singers, athletes, and scholars.
I also benefited from
my experience as an RA. Perhaps some of my utopian visions failed,
but I succeeded in one vital capacity. I played my part in helping
16 freshmen become acclimated to Princetonia.
I cannot glamorize my
role as an RA, however. Though a bit further up that learning curve
than my advisees, I still have yet to learn from my propensity towards
hyper-activity: Thanks to the hardest activity I've attempted so
far, I still don't sleep enough. I drink too much coffee.
And though unrelated,
for the life of me I still cannot explain why Fred said "Yes!"
You can reach Patrick