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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

New CDAs and FYAs build community midyear

Harleston Hall is pictured on Jan. 29, 2019.

‘Hey, I’m locked out of my room. I’m also really missing home. Where’s 574? Sorry, I trashed the common room, again. What’s the Joey schedule?’

These are just a few of the many situations that student staff in the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) are faced with. Yet, when vacancies arise, there are students willing to step up and serve their peers as CDAs and FYAs. The role of a Resident Assistant (RA) will include both the current First Year Advisor (FYA) and Community Development Assistant (CDA) positions beginning next year.

Due to both planned and unplanned vacancies, more CDAs and FYAs were needed for spring 2020, according to Associate Director of Residential Education Nadia Vargas. Although a difficult task to step up to halfway through the year, there are a few students on campus who were chosen to become new residential staff. These new peer leaders were specifically chosen by their individual qualities to tackle the job, Vargas said.

“It is not easy to start any job, let alone this one, mid-year, so we were very intentional in not only selecting candidates but also [taking] into consideration their strengths when deciding which community type and which floor to place them on, just like we do during the larger selection process,” Vargas said. 

Vargas added that some of the new CDAs and FYAs applied for the position last year, knowing that they were going to study abroad for the fall semester, while others learned about the opportunity just this year.

Since they started mid-year, their training looked slightly different than others who started in the fall, according to Vargas.

“We were able to have new staff arrive before the returning staff did at the beginning of the spring semester. They received training on a variety of topics, similar to what we cover during the fall, just not as in-depth,” Vargas said. “We also assigned a returning staff mentor to each new FYA/CDA so that they could get peer support in a more intentional manner.”

Junior Cole Friedman, a new CDA in Stratton Hall, found the training to be a very pleasant experience.

“You kind of have to catch up with everyone in January. So that means everyone who is in [ORLL] comes back two days before classes, but new RAs come back [two days] before then ... So what’s great is I actually got to meet all the newbies, which was a nice small community for the two days. We all kind of clung on to each other while we all got to meet our neighborhoods," Friedman said. 

Sophomore Jun Seo, a new CDA in Harleston Hall, saw both positives and negatives in starting halfway through the year. 

“You already have a community that you hop right into and it’s already pretty established. At the same time, that can be difficult to establish yourself as [a] new RA,” Seo said.

The idea of building a community is what originally drew Friedman to be a CDA. 

“I wanted to become an RA because I love the spirit of community that can be really fostered in a hall. I didn’t really have that experience freshman or sophomore year. As a junior, I was like, 'I want to create that,'” Friedman said.

Although a new face to many of his residents, that hasn’t stopped Friedman from getting to know them, whether it’s through knocking on doors or sending emails.

“I communicate with my residents through email, because they don’t really love social media, and I think you can get clogged up with all the group chats you’re in,” Friedman said. “So what’s actually been so nice is that two residents have responded to my emails, being like, 'I love your emails, thank you for sending them out, now I really know what’s going on, [and] I really appreciate you trying.' That just meant a lot to me.” 

Friedman sees his job as a CDA as a unique opportunity. Not only does he get to help his residents grow, but he’s also gaining many new skills himself. While the CDA role doesn’t have anything to do with what Friedman is studying or his future ambitions, it has given him a new outlet to build his interpersonal skills. 

“I really appreciate that it is this great opportunity to become more confident in talking to people, become more confident in approaching residents [and] become more confident in reaching out to people. I think that’s what I’m taking out of it ... a lot more confidence and a lot more joy out of a living experience,” Friedman said.

Similarly, Seo has grown through carrying out his duties as a CDA.

“I didn’t know how to deal with a lot of different situations. But through the training, all the people I have met and the experiences I have, [I] definitely am more mature and confident in my ability to handle certain situations,” he said.

Seo added that being a CDA has also helped him, as a natural introvert, become more social and develop his extroverted side.

New CDAs like Friedman and Seo have gotten positive feedback from both their residents and their ORLL supervisors.

“Their supervisors have ... reported back stating that our new staff members are rockstars. I’m sure there have been some trying or learning moments that have popped up for some folks, but our department does not expect anyone taking on such a difficult role to be perfect,” Vargas said. “As much as this position is a job, it is also a leadership opportunity, and we know that leaders need to be given the chance to learn and grow.” 

Seo said that his experience so far has shed new light on the full responsibilities of the role, beyond dealing with lockouts and enforcing rules.

“I realized a real RA is something so much more ... impactful. A real RA has a responsibility to foster a strong community. In the role of an RA, you have a big role in developing a community from scratch," Seo said. “As an RA you have to identify all the community needs to see the community trends and build something entirely new.”