Resident assistants reflect on lasting impact of one-week training program
Prior to every school year, Notre Dame runs a one-week training program for new Resident Assistants (RAs). This year, the program consisted of lectures, activities, and team building to help prepare for the upcoming school year.
The week began on Sunday, August 7, with Opening Mass, celebrated in the Keenan-Stanford Chapel by Fr. Gerry Olinger C.S.C., Vice President for Student Affairs. Breyan Tornifolio—the Director of Residential Life: Residential Education—headed the RA formation, and Rev. Chris Rehagen, C.S.C., Director of Residential Life: Recruitment, Hiring, and Retention, was the program’s chaplain.
Each day began with community prayer and a song. Lectures and activities ran from 9am to 5pm. Following the official university talks, each dorm’s hall staff met in their dorm to discuss the day’s talks and bond as a group. These times were intended for team-building within each respective dorm. Scott Lucitt, an RA in Sorin College, stated, “By far the most beneficial time of the training was after the campus wide programming when we got together with the Sorin Hall Staff and had serious discussion about dorm culture and what we all wanted that to look like.”
According to Victor Wicks, another RA in Sorin, the three main purposes of the training were the following: to get in the mindset of being hall staff, to prepare for everyday dorm life work, and to institute a sense of community within dorm life. Lucitt added, “The major goal to me was to help make people feel prepared for the job and get everyone on the same page as far as rules go so that they will be enforced evenly throughout campus.”
One female RA offered criticism of the training and stated, “RA training didn’t have any differentiation between men’s and women’s halls on campus, which was frustrating when speaking about issues such as pregnancy.”
She continued, “The ministry of the resident assistant role looks very different when discussing a pregnant female resident or a male resident whose significant other is pregnant. I would have loved to see separate conversations when discussing pregnancy, Title IX [sexual harassment and assault], and hall programming. These areas are distinct between sexes and we ought to be given a more targeted presentation about these issues.”
Other RA’s voiced critique of training and its alignment with the University’s Catholic identity. Luke Schafer, an RA in Alumni Hall, maintained, “There were some aspects of the training that weren’t aligned with the teachings of the Church, but considering other areas in which the university strays from Catholic teaching, I was honestly quite pleased with how training went.”
Another female RA concurred with Schafer’s analysis. She commented, “There were several strong elements of Catholic teaching incorporated into the training: we began with prayer services, we had opportunities to learn about ecumenical practices as a minister, and we were learning how to care for those in need through the lens of Catholic service. Yet, I would have loved to see more emphasis on the Catholic perspective on issues relating to the LGBT community on campus—we weren’t given a lot of information surrounding the university’s official teaching and it could have strengthened our conversation in those sessions.”
Commenting on the talks and activities, Lucitt stated, “I think that most of what I rely on for RA duties is my prior experience and intuition so there are only so many situations where I actually apply what I learned. There were some lectures on mental health tools that I thought were useful and I sometimes apply to my own life. Additionally, practicing knocking on doors and confronting people even though it was just a simulation has made me far more comfortable with that than I would have been otherwise.”
Wicks remarked that the main job of an RA in the first place is to be a “servant for our dormitory.” Throughout the week, there were several elements of Catholic formation. The activities also included a daily panel on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and several talks on being welcoming to underrepresented students on campus.
Lucitt observed, “The RA training began every day in prayer and consisted mostly of conversation surrounding how to make everyone, regardless of any aspect of their identity, feel welcome and included.”
The week’s training ended on Friday, August 12, with “Eucharist and Commissioning” in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
After almost two months of school, many of the RAs maintain a positive outlook on the duties. The faith life in many dorms is already vibrant. Specifically, Stanford and Alumni have instituted a few popular traditions.
According to Luke Schafer, “The faith life within my dorm is very strong. In addition to our Sunday ‘Dawg Mass’, Alumni hosts four daily masses each week in our chapel at 9:00[pm]. We also host adoration every Wednesday [night] from 9:30 to 10:30 which draws students from across the campus.” He continued, “Additionally, our rector hosts a nightly examination based on the example of various religious orders. He also frequently prays the rosary with members of the dorm at night, and our dorm owes much of its strong spirituality to his leadership, and that of our priest in residence.”
Blake Perry, another RA in Alumni, stated, ”We have the privilege of having two incredible priests in residence, Fr. Gerry Olinger and Fr. Dan Groody, whose preaching and presence impact all members of our community.”
Other dorms, including Stanford, have similar faith activities. Thomas Richter, an RA in Stanford Hall, stated, “The faith life in Stanford is very strong. Our Rector, Fr. Chris Brennan, and resident priest, Fr. Stephen Koeth, are both excellent and we get a good turnout at Mass. This year, Fr. Chris also began daily Grotto trips, led by an RA.”
However, Schafer also said there is room for improvement. “[Mass] attendance was great in the first weeks of the year,” he said, “but now, as students get busy with midterms and essays, attendance has unfortunately dropped. I think the RAs need to do a better job of encouraging people to attend. As RAs, we can also do a better job of attending Mass while we are on duty. At the beginning of the year, RAs on duty attended daily Mass, but this practice has also fallen off. If we want to be good role models to the dorm community, we need to lead by example.”
Perry also noted, “From my perspective, dorm culture—in Alumni Hall, and in most dorms at Notre Dame—is what each student makes of it. In most dorms, while there may be strands of a drinking and partying culture, there are also excellent mentors and role models available.”
Notre Dame Residential Life calls resident assistants to be “mature role models and servant leaders dedicated to giving back to a community that shaped them.” The training provided by the University seeks to strengthen the formation that RAs have received in the residence halls and prepares them to be “role models” and “servant leaders” in this unique role.
Michael Canady is a freshman in Sorin College majoring in undecided. He can be found playing soccer at Ricci Fields, playing the piano in dorm chapels, or on God Quad eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream every night. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Residential Life