Being a resident assistant at Franciscan University of Steubenville requires a person to be a parent-figure, mentor, friend, student, community-facilitator and counselor, among other requirements.
While each residence hall on campus has its challenges, the resident assistants in Assisi Heights have a different atmosphere to tackle: that of a neighborhood rather than a dormitory.
“I like to compare the community in the Heights to the community in any other neighborhood you would see,” said Samantha Hennerty, Assisi Heights resident assistant and senior nursing major. “This isn’t a dorm, and we shouldn’t compare it to the community in the dorms.”
Hennerty added that those living in the Heights often come because they are established elsewhere on campus. She also said that it can be healthy for some students to move away from dorm life.
“In the Heights it is more (about) creating an atmosphere in which people who are already mature men and women of God can have good community,” said Bethany Gabriele, Assisi Heights resident assistant and senior nursing major. “We trust that everyone has been formed enough in virtue that they can be responsible enough to live on their own and not have as tight of monitoring.”
Marc Cordova, Assisi Heights resident assistant and junior accounting and theology double major, said, “The Heights (are) a training ground for … juniors and seniors to transition into knowing what it is like in the real world.”
He also said that many people who move to the Heights are not looking for community because they already have a community elsewhere.
“For them, coming up to the Heights is like the opportunity to finally get out of the socially-overwhelming dorms,” said Cordova.
Gabriele said that she believes the formation that comes with spending the first years in the dorms is important.
“It is definitely a different atmosphere up here,” she continued, describing the life in Assisi Heights. “The same principles apply … but (residents of the Heights) don’t technically need you for all of the things that the residents in the dorms would need you for. People who live up here have a pretty good handle on being a student.”
Gabriele said it is harder to be a resident assistant in the Heights because “those who are going to fall through the cracks are going to fall through them more quietly” and that “it takes more attention to detail.”
Cordova said that since many people come to the Heights to remove themselves from the bustle of the dorms it can be hard to facilitate community and that many residents do not know who their neighbors are and many are not concerned with knowing.
“Programs help to facilitate community, and it is hard to do that in a place where people aren’t even trying to get to know each other,” Cordova said.
Ian Gill, Assisi Heights resident assistant and senior theology and catechetics double major, said, “The community is more isolated in the fact that we are up away from the rest of the dorms and isolated in the fact that everyone is in their own individual building. … It’s a lot harder as an RA to build a community from person-to-person.”
Hennerty said that receiving a small turnout at their resident assistant programs is not necessarily a bad thing, but rather, a good sign showing that people are well-established in their lives as Franciscan students.
Gabriele said that people will usually come into the resident assistant office to fulfill a physical need, such as picking up a package or unclogging a toilet, but she will also try to reach them in that short amount of time.
“People want to be seen,” she said.
Trying to take the time to talk to people and ask them how they are doing “is a very simple and tangible way to build up community,” continued Gabriele.
Gill said, “Knowing that people are struggling and seeing brokenness first-hand is … getting me used to the fact that we live in a broken world where people need help and need to be ministered to.”
He said his favorite part of being a resident assistant is the people.
“The main thing that I focus on as an RA in the Assisi Heights is availability,” said Gill, who also served as a resident assistant in St. Francis Hall and on the Austrian campus. “I love people interaction … seeing people’s smiles, knowing that I can help them.”
Cordova said, “Your entire job is just about making people feel welcome, hanging out with them, and helping them out day to day.”
Cordova added that his goal as a resident assistant was to be a friend and a servant to those who reside in Assisi Heights.
Speaking of the transfer students whom she has been able to befriend, Hennerty said, “I didn’t realize how much of a ministry I was being called to.”
She said that it can be hard for transfer students who are placed in the Heights because they tend to transfer looking for community and then find themselves somewhat detached from campus.
“I’ve always had a heart for the lonely,” said Hennerty. “I love connecting people and I love bringing people together. I saw the position as a (resident assistant) as giving me the resources to do that.”
Gabriele said, “The (resident assistants) are at the forefront of keeping up the culture here at Franciscan. … You actually have to believe in the mission of the school.”
Hennerty said, “I am not striving for the community (in the Heights) to be like it is in the dorms but to facilitate the … best possible community that a neighborhood … full of Franciscan students that love the Lord can be.”