When I applied to be a resident assistant, the world was what we now call “normal.” I had magnificent plans for my floor community. I imagined hosting weekly hot seats in my room, with girls laughing and spilling innocuous secrets while they cuddled together in a 180-square foot space. I was excited to have breakfast at Wolfgang’s, driving with six girls in a five-seater car and then squeezing into a single booth, knocking elbows together while eating pancakes. I had tea and coffee stockpiled for floor gatherings or impromptu care sessions.
Being a ‘COVID-RA’ is not the same job as the one I applied for back in the fall of 2019. This year, I am constantly alert for policy violations. I scan faces for masks and count bodies in rooms, almost by instinct, before I launch into the conversations that make life in a residence hall so meaningful.
Since I wanted to encourage community-building as an RA, it’s unsettling to disband a group of residents watching a movie in the basement, simply because there are too many people together. For the RA staff, enforcing COVID policies is absolutely exhausting because violations are ubiquitous and, if I’m honest, understandable.
The COVID-RA is a first responder to the mental health pandemic of 2020, holding up residents through anxiety, depression and high levels of stress. My RA staff has been tackling mental health issues, both minor and major, which are only exacerbated by academic pressures.
I do whatever I can to care for my residents. But I’m still learning to cope with this new reality too. I panicked when I bought the non-refundable two-hundred-dollar parking pass, worried that the investment would be rendered worthless by a campus shut-down.
Given these pressures, have grace for the COVID-RAs. We are tired and overstretched and asking the same questions that you are.
Despite all the weight of the job, I don’t regret being a COVID-RA, not for one moment. There’s a certain pride in being a COVID-RA, because I know that my efforts, along with every other RA on campus, to enforce policy is probably part of the reason Calvin is still going strong, even when other colleges have closed their doors. Besides, it turns out that caring for residents through the coronavirus pandemic is not so much a burden as it is a beautiful privilege.
But even more, I am amazed by the friendships that blossom around the social distancing rules like dandelions growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. One of my high school teachers once said that “creativity flourishes within boundaries.” This year my residents and my RA team have shown me that community doesn’t only exist in a COVID-semester- it can actually flourish, so long as you are willing to be creative and resilient, by turning floor dinners into floor picnics, using straws to drink coffee together, and finding a quiet space on the soccer fields to hold meetings and Bible studies.
I love my residents, every floral-mask-wearing one of them, and although I am technically here to support them, the residents of 3rd Kalsbeek are constantly blessing me. When I hear laughter bubbling from the room across the hall, where two roommates are living happily, or from the coffee kitchen, where students are sympathizing over chemistry homework, I know that being a COVID-RA is worth the challenge.