On Mattering

An abandoned bus.

Buses: bane of my existence. Image courtesy of Flickr user Trey Ratcliff. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Today I had my first big-deal, use-your-people-voice, on-the-job Situation. One of my freshmen residents, on a trip to the Atlanta campus, got lost finding her way to the shuttle station and was scared that she had missed the last shuttle of the night back to Oxford, some 36 miles away. She doesn’t know anyone at the Atlanta campus, and was lost, and was scared. She called her roommate for help.

I was on my way back from an RA scheduling meeting, and happened to bump into the gaggle of my normally cheerful-looking freshmen residents in a group, with a phone on speaker, looking worried–they were talking to my lost resident. They saw me, their eyes lit up, and they handed me the phone. They wanted me to fix things.

That is the strange power of this job: any of the sophomores on the hall (and there were several there before me) would have been equally qualified to tell her how to get to the shuttle stop. But the freshmen trusted me to calm their friend down, to guide her to where she needed to be, and to tell her she would be okay.

I put on my best people voice, and in ten minutes of direction, I managed to get her to the bus enclosure where she needed to be. Unfortunately, because she’d gotten so lost before calling, the shuttle–the last shuttle until morning–had left. The freshmen expected me to know what to do. There is, of course, no policy on it beyond hoping it doesn’t happen. I reassured her she would be okay, and made plans: if she couldn’t find someone to stay with until morning, I’d call one of the current Atlanta students and get them to take her in for the night. Failing that, I’d go up on the 11pm shuttle and find her and we’d sleep at my parents’ house.

This plan was, of course, made up on the spot in the hallway because there were a bunch of freshmen peering at me looking like they expected me to know what I was talking about. They had faith in me.

We eventually calmed her down, and I directed her–in yet another phone call–to the basement of the student center, where she could wait. The other freshmen rallied and found a GPS and a car they can use to go pick her up. Because I was dealing with their panicked friend, they had the time to calm down themselves and figure out what they were going to do. My talking gave them the break they needed to act like the smart, resourceful women I know they are.

There’s a lot of talk at training about how RA’s Matter, how we are Very Important Resources. Because it’s training, and it’s summer, and people don’t want to be there, a lot of that gets ignored or acknowledged for what it is: a positive spin on what can be a very difficult job. But, on nights like these, you see that (even if they over blow it at training), there is some grain of truth in what they tell you in the pamphlets and manuals and inspirational speeches. Being an RA means that there are people for which you a responsible, and to them, at least, you matter quite a bit.

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