RAs return at record rate, but new applicants low

By Amy Ledig

This year’s Residential Assistant recruitment process drew a record number of returning RAs but much smaller numbers of new applicants than expected, a sharp contrast to last year.For the 33 Residential Assistant and Community Assistant positions open this year, 23 returning RAs applied and 21 were hired. Three positions will be split between returners. Fifteen of the 19 new candidates were hired.

During the recruitment for the current set of 35 RA positions, 17 of 25 returning RA applicants were hired, while some who received offers chose instead to pursue other options including other jobs or study abroad. Of the 48 new candidates, Res Life hired 21.

“The new applicant pool for this year was a little smaller than we’d hoped, but it’s a different year, a different crowd,” said Joe Kaufman, the residential hall director for Doty and Turck who oversaw the recruitment process this year.

A variety of explanations have been put forth for why there were not more new applicants. “Fluctuation in the years” is the reason RAs have been given.

Peg Olson, assistant director of Res Life, attributed the low numbers in part to the overwhelming number of applicants last year.

“Sometimes you come off a really big applicant year and the next year, because people have heard, oh yeah, there were so many applicants last year, you don’t get the big applicant pool. It’s kind of a trend where you go up and down the rollercoaster with applicants,” she said.

Another reason cited was a more targeted recruiting process. In contrast to previous years when RAs were encouraged to get a large number of people to apply, Director of Campus Life Keith Edwards said, “RAs were much more strategic. They told people if you’re going to be an RA, you really can’t drink, and people said, oh [and self-selected out].”

“Staff did a good job of honestly conveying what the job was,” said Doty and Turck Residential Hall Director Joe Kaufman, adding that this worked as a pre-weeding out process, taking out a step that usually knocks out some people during the application process. “The RA job is really a lifestyle, and a lot of times first year students aren’t ready to comprehend that.”

A number Res Life staffers attribute the low numbers to issues within the department, though.

Matt Petcoff ’08 has worked for Res Life all four of his years at Macalester, first as an office assistant and then as an RA. He said that this year has been rough.

“Being an RA is a difficult job-sometimes it feels like no one is helping to make it easier, and while I believe that this isn’t one single person’s fault, it is everyone’s problem,” he wrote in an e-mail.

He added that combining Residential Life with Campus Programs to form Campus Life has presented challenges.

“I think the RAs, new and returning, have been faced with different circumstances and new challenges than they were expecting,” he said. “With these factors, disappointment and frustration are being felt not only by the RAs themselves, but I think it’s being reflected in the residential hall climate.”

“People’s relationship with Res Life is strained this year,” said Michael Waul ’09, a Wallace RA. He said that in contrast to his first year, when there was a more positive perception of Res Life and of the RA job, “this year I feel like people are like, ‘I’m tired of Res Life, I don’t want to take that job.'”

Petcoff echoed that sentiment: “Overall, I do think the morale of the staff is low and it’s not just because it’s ‘that time of the year’ and I think that maybe residents were not as much encouraged apply by their RAs as they were in the past. Why would an RA encourage other people to apply for a job that they aren’t enjoying?”

Megan Ritchie ’08 was a Wallace RA in the fall before going abroad, and she worked with Matt Ecklund ’09, also a RA in the fall, to lobby for a better RA compensation package. The efforts went nowhere, and this seems to have added to her frustrations with Res Life.

“I didn’t re-apply to be an RA next year, even though I’ve worked on staff for the past two years, mostly for personal matters, like wanting to live off campus. Also, I was tired of some of the administrative tasks that go into the job,” she wrote in an email. “Still, I can’t say that the RA compensation issue didn’t factor into my decision to not re-apply. With what Res Life pays RA/CAs now, it actually will cost me significantly less to live off campus and work at another work study.”

Despite the discontent, there are a record number of returners.

“I am returning as an RA for next year because thus far, it has been the most fulfilling job I have had on campus,” Maliq Muro ’10 wrote in an e-mail.

Edwards is optimistic about next year’s situation.

“You don’t have a record number of RAs return if they hate their job,” he said. “RA morale, particularly in the fall, was really great. It’s always hard when you get to this time of the year.

“We work really hard to hear RA concerns. We’re not hearing a lot of concerns.