The application window for Resident Assistants for the 2017-2018 school year closed just over a week and a half ago on Monday the 13th. Over the next month, members of the classes of 2018 and 2019 who applied will go through group interviews, solo interviews and lengthy review by the RA Selection Committee and the Office of Student Engagement. At the end of March they will find out whether they’ve been chosen as an RA or not. Several months later, during the summer, the new RAs will find out which hall they’ll be assigned to for the coming year. One new change, which may happen in upcoming years, the potential for sophomores to be considered for predominantly first year halls.
The RA selection process is a collaboration between the RA Selection Committee and OSE. The RA Selection Committee is a student committee composed of Student Government Organization appointees and senior RAs, as explained by Isaiah Thomas, Assistant Director of Residential Communities.
“Members of the RA Selection Committee are chosen via Student Government Appointments as well as Senior RAs who apply and are selected by the Office of Student Engagement Staff. Historically, we have also allowed Student Government Appointments from previous years to re-serve on the committee, as they have been through the process and bring a wealth of value to the process,” said Thomas.
The student committee, however, very explicitly does not make any final decisions regarding RA selection. Instead, they participate in the interview process and provide recommendations to OSE.
“The RA Selection Committee’s role is to assist the Office of Student Engagement with the various aspects of the selection process, which includes information sessions, group interviews, and individual interviews. The Selection Committee then provides their feedback to the Office of Student Engagement. The Office of Student Engagement uses their feedback in making the final decision,” said Thomas.
Once chosen, RA hall assignments will be decided over the summer, and then the new RAs will return in August to be trained.
“Hall assignments are based on several factors. The first factor is that candidates give thorough feedback in both their application and interview of the communities they most want to work in. Also, as the selection process requires candidates to provide recommendations, recommenders give feedback as to what types of communities a candidate would be most successful in (e.g. mostly first-year vs. mostly upperclass),” said Thomas. “Additionally, the RA Selection Committee provides feedback on where they believe candidates would be most successful as RAs. The Office of Student Engagement takes all of this in consideration-we want to ensure a balance of skill sets and personalities in all of our communities on campus.”
The process of applying to become an RA is fairly involved, candidates submit an application and must find three recommenders, including one from a current RA. In order to help publicize the RA position and explain requirements of the RA process, the OSE holds several information sessions in early February. For re-applying RA’s, the application process is somewhat simpler. They only require two recommendations and are not required to participate in the group interview, immediately qualifying for the individual interview.
The pool of candidates for the RA position is not determined solely by students’ self-motivation to apply. Faculty and staff who identify students who they believe would be well suited to the RA position motivate students to apply to become RAs both indirectly and directly.
“Often, faculty and staff members do recommend students they believe would be strong RA candidates to the Office of Student Engagement. Those students generally receive an email encouraging them to consider applying for the position. Faculty and staff, especially those who are very familiar with the RA position, also directly encourage students to apply for the position as well,” said Thomas.
Once students have applied, they are evaluated based on their recommendations, applications, and interview performances by the committee and OSE. A variety of students are sought for RA positions, although community building skills and involvement with campus resources are indicators of promise as an RA.
“There are many qualities we look for, and there is no “perfect” candidate. We aim to hire an RA cohort that represents the great diversity of our campus. We try to identify candidates who are great at time management and who have the time and ability to build a thriving community. We also look for those who have a general interest in connecting with a variety of students. Additionally, we look for candidates who have an interest in directly working with campus resources that play a significant role in the lives of students. Some of these resources include members of the Deans’ Office, the cultural centers, Public Safety, Athletics, and Facilities & Service,” said Thomas.
The RA selection process is generally similar year to year. One fairly recent change was the introduction of the group interview to the selection process. As RAs frequently lead and facilitate group meetings, this was seen as a useful way to gauge group performance.
“The process is very similar to previous years; the group interview process was introduced in the 2014-2015 academic year to observe candidates interacting in a group setting, which is very relevant to the RA position. Each year, the RA Selection Committee and the Office of Student Engagement may tweak and update processes for improvement. As an example, the types of activities and questions candidates are asked in group and individual interviews may differ from one year to the next,” said Thomas.
Thomas stressed how allowing sophomores to become RA’s would allow for sophomores to gain more leadership positions on campus.
“I believe that as the needs of Swarthmore students are ever-changing, and housing at Swat also changes (i.e. the PPR Apartments opening in Fall 2017), there is always the potential for change. One change that the Office of Student Engagement had begun to explore is the possibility of allowing sophomores to apply as RAs for predominantly first-year communities such as Mary Lyons and Willets,” said Thomas. “Much of this idea stemmed from the desire to have ample opportunities for students of all class years to build leadership and community development skills. Currently, a number of other peer leader positions (DPAs, SAMs, GAs) allow sophomores to apply. We will continue to have conversations with the current RAs, the Housing Committee, as well as the general student body and seek feedback about this potential new initiative.”
Although Willets is known as a particularly loud dorm, it usually hosts several predominantly first-year halls and has also developed a reputation as a rewarding place for RAs to work.
“Well, Willets is the best dorm and being a Willets RA is the best job, so I’m pretty excited that they’re opening up the opportunity to be a three-year Willets RA. I know that getting into Willets as an RA was pretty difficult in years past, so I expect the competition to be fierce,” said Lihu Ben-Ezri-Ravin ’16, who was an RA in Willets for the 2015-2016 academic year.
“Many RAs asked for Willets when I was there. It was pretty widely known as the most rewarding place to work.”
The practice of creating first-year halls, is also fairly recent. Although the consideration of sophomores for the position is not set, it is clear that as the Swarthmore community continues to grow and evolve, and the college housing offerings grow and evolve to meet the demands of that community, the peer leadership positions for residential communities will also continue to evolve.