Love, Hate, Tolerate – The Life of RAs

NYU Shanghai had experienced an exodus of Resident Assistants (RA) by the end of Fall 2021, with six out of 27 resigning and three more leaving for Study Away. The number is usually one or two in other years.

(Cover photo source: The Wilkes Beacon)

RA Netania Stewart (’24) sent seven messages in her floor WeChat group of 31 people, addressing problems from picking up packages before the rain to the second round of COVID testing from 9:38 a.m. to 6:39 p.m. on March 14. Forwarding information from her supervisor and responding to her residents’ concerns in this WeChat group is only a small part of her responsibility as a Resident Assistant at NYU Shanghai. 

NYU’s Office of Residential Life and Housing Services describes the RA as “a paraprofessional who lives in an undergraduate or graduate residence hall,” a “leader,” and “resource for the residents in the community.” An RA largely focuses on “community development, being a referral agent and intellectual leader within the hall with a primary purpose of creating a sense of belonging.”

Being in a job where your bedroom is your office and you are never off the clock, it is impossible for RAs to overlook the value of support from other RAs and their supervisors. Bale Chen (’24) is in his second semester as an RA. “I once thought about quitting in my first semester as an RA because it was really tiring for me,” he said, “But the second half of the semester changed my mind. What I enjoyed the most is the RA family.” 

As Chen credited 80% of his staying to the RA community, Netania Stewart shared a different view. “We are a community? Maybe. All the same T-shirts. But I just show up to the meetings and leave.” She was “bittersweet” when seeing RAs as “actual friends.” 

Nevertheless, the support and understanding Stewart didn’t receive from her fellow RAs did in fact come from her supervisor. At NYU Shanghai, every RA is paired with one staffer from Residential Life. RAs work closely with their supervisors to brainstorm events, receive work instructions, and get approval for bulletin board postings. Stewart was grateful that she had a great relationship with her supervisor. 

Some RAs were less lucky. Their monthly bulletin boards were constantly sent back for revision because the supervisor didn’t appreciate the design. What’s more, the supervisor asked, on the day after one RA requested to resign, whether they regretted it. This resulted in some RAs becoming a little suspicious about their entire time as an RA. They felt that they were not supposed to have their own opinion.

Ruby Rich (’24), who shared the same supervisor, agreed. “In order to prove she (Ruby’s supervisor) was the best, her RAs had to be the best, which meant we were getting crazy workloads.” 

Rich also believed there was a disconnect between what students at NYU Shanghai actually wanted and what the Residential Life thought students wanted. She objected to the idea of having bulletin boards with an educational purpose. 

“We are so drained from going to classes,” she said, “We want to have friends and a community. And NYU Shanghai doesn’t have a community.”

Usually, the lure of being an RA is the abundant compensation. Every RA at NYU Shanghai is offered a single room worth about 15,500 RMB per semester and a 6,200 RMB meal-and-travel stipend per semester, meaning they receive an hourly wage of about 77.5 RMB. The compensation is based on the New York State minimum hourly wage for full-time college students, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, of US$11.22 (approximately 71.3 RMB). However, several RAs suspect this seemingly large figure is nominal. 

Some RAs said they thought they were fairly compensated at NYU Shanghai before they found out how much RAs at NYU New York were paid. According to Glassdoor, an RA at NYU New York makes an average total pay of US$26,950 per year, meaning their hourly wage is about US$52.9 (approximately 304.2 RMB). Thus NYU New York RAs earn triple the amount of NYU Shanghai RAs. Furthermore, several RAs believe the role is more of a 24/7 job because they are expected to be the first line of defense to cope with any situation involving their residents. 

Housing as part of the compensation was questioned by some RAs. Some thought housing in NYU Shanghai was already extremely expensive so they are just exploiting students who don’t want to pay a ton of money for housing.

Haojia He (’22) was one of the few who believed they were receiving “just the right amount, or even more than I anticipated” since he was in charge of only one floor while most RAs were assigned two floors. 

When asked to rate their RA experience in Fall 2021, on a scale of 1 to 10, interviewed RAs gave answers from “If I can go negative, I would” to “An 8.5 or a 9.” It is clear that, although in the same job, RAs had distinctively different experiences and attitudes. Some of the reasons may be linked to individual perspectives and experiences in the role. 

For example, bulletin boards gave Bale Chen a hard time while Netania Stewart enjoyed the arty and crafty process. On the other hand, multiple RAs mentioned a structural flaw in the work distribution between them. In Fall 2021, one RA was in charge of 6 floors and another was in charge of one. Though the highest number dropped to 3 floors in Spring 2022, such numeric disparity still existed. 

However, all RAs interviewed agreed on one thing: being an RA changed them complexly as an individual, for better or worse, or neither better nor worse. Some improved on time management and conflict resolution. Others realized it’s important to prioritize yourself and that it’s okay to walk away from something. 

“It’s definitely an experience. It’s not as bad as the rumors say about being an RA,” Netania Stewart concluded, “But I still feel there is a tiny bit of truth in the rumors.”

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