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Northeastern’s resident assistants bring maturity, compassion to the job

02/17/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Resident Advisor Cristina Ruscito plays go fish with students who live on her hall in International Village on Feb. 17, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

It was September 2014 and Kristin Rouleau was working as a resident assistant at 337 Huntington Ave., a five-story apartment complex directly across from the Krentzman Quad. Rouleau, BHS’16/DPT’17, was responsible for more than three dozen second-year students, including an introverted pharmacy major who was experiencing some school-related stress.

She and the pharmacy major got to talking often, discussing study tips and relaxation techniques for coping with her academic workload. But as the semester wore on, she realized that she could do more to help her new friend.

In October, Rouleau hit on an idea, organizing a canvas-painting program aimed at alleviating pre-exam anxiety. It was dubbed “Paint away your stress” and drew scores of students, including the pharmacy major.

“I picked up on one of my resident’s needs,” Rouleau said on Wednesday, National Resident Assistant Appreciation Day, “and then provided an avenue through which she could overcome her stress.”

‘Galentine’s Day’

This is just one example of the care, compassion, and maturity that Northeastern’s 220-odd resident assistants bring to the job. As paraprofessional employees of the Department of Housing and Residential Life, they monitor the safety and well-being of approximately 9,000 students living in more than three dozen residence halls and apartment complexes across campus. They organize educational programs and foster community engagement. They mediate roommate conflicts, walking the fine line between friends and rule enforcer, and hone their leadership acumen in the process.

“I appreciate how dedicated our RA staff is when it comes to being there for their residents and helping them with whatever they need,” said Dave Grimes, assistant director of residential life. “The RA job is not an easy one, and our RAs go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of their residents.”

Sometimes RAs make a big impact on the students they serve, whether it’s by helping them cope with anxiety or finding venues in which they can express their true selves without fear of repercussion. Other times, the impact is more subtle but no less heartfelt.

Take Anika Krause, SSH17, a popular RA in Speare Hall. On Saturday, Krause led a “Galentine’s Day” event inspired by the TV show Parks and Recreation, in which character Leslie Knope and her girlfriends leave their significant others back home on the day before Valentine’s Day and “kick it breakfast-style.”

At Krause’s version of the pre-Valentine’s Day event, the female participants had to name three things they loved, including one thing about themselves, their roommates, and their friends. Afterward, Krause noticed that one of the participants had created a Galentine’s Day Snapchat story in which she called her “the best RA ever.” As Krause put it, “That was one of the great, little moments that come from being an RA. You can see how much the students appreciate what you’re doing and the impact you’re making.”

A friend and a mentor

Krause is good friends with her Speare Hall charges, to be sure, 25 in all. One of them is Mara Tazartus, DMSB’20.

For Tazartus, Krause is a confidant, a voice of reason amid the chaos of college life. When she’s feeling stressed and overwhelmed, working hard to balance class with extracurricular activities, she seeks the wisdom of her RA.

“Anika always reminds me that life goes on after a rough day or a low quiz grade and makes me remember all that I have accomplished since I got to campus in August,” Tazartus said. “She inspires me to be a more caring person and is part of the reason why I applied to be an RA.”

At Northeastern, Tazartus’ experience is the norm. Just ask Bryan Peng, DMSB’19, a first-year student living in Speare Hall.

Peng’s RA is David McDevitt, SSH’18. He’s a role model, Peng said, a slightly older and wiser student from whom he seeks advice on everything from co-op to time-management. “It’s really cool how I can just email him or knock on his door if I ever need help,” Peng explained. “Not only that, I don’t feel intimidated or scared to talk to him because it’s always so casual.”

Nicole Hays, S’17, is another Speare Hall RA from whom Peng seeks guidance.

A fourth-year biology major on the pre-med track, she draws parallels between her desire to become a doctor and her work as an RA. “I’ve definitely learned that I really enjoying working with people,” she said of the experience. “It’s something I could do every day for the rest of my life and be so happy.”