Your Friend, the RA

Imagine you are eighteen years old. You’ve just moved out of your parents’ home for the first time, the place you’ve spent your entire life. It’s a warm day in late summer, and you’re now in Sioux City, Iowa, at Morningside College.

You notice the campus looks nice. There’s green grass and pretty deciduous trees and squirrels running around and friendly-looking people walking up and down the sidewalks. The buildings look old but somehow new at the same time. It’s all made out of brick. You see a fountain spouting water at the center of the campus. There’s a nice-looking couple holding hands in front of it. You’re watching them watch the fountain.

You look around and see other clusters of people, walking briskly, talking energetically to each other, laughing smiles on their faces. But you, you’re all alone. A sudden knot of dread tightens in your chest. You scan your field of vision frantically for perhaps a high-school classmate, perhaps a distant cousin, or maybe, just maybe, one face you’ve never seen in person, but seen once on Facebook. . .

Who could you possibly turn to in this situation? Well, chances are you’re going to live in the dorms, and lucky for you, your dorm hall will have what’s known as a Resident Assistant, and the Resident Assistant is required to be your friend.

Miriam Phfaler is a 21-year-old senior at Morningside College. She has been a Resident Assistant, or RA, since her sophomore year. In her own words, an RA is “someone you can go to for issues. An RA will help and listen and try to make the resident’s experience in the dorms better.” So in the case of the scared and lonely freshman, an RA such as Miriam is the perfect person to turn to for social anxiety, culture shock, homesickness, and dating prospects.

Broadly speaking, an RA is a student who, along with other RA’s, oversees the dorm halls on week nights and weekends. The RA’s work in shifts, doing their best to juggle their student responsibilities while trying to provide RA services. But an RA’s duties are not limited to just consoling the lost souls of freshman.

Imagine you’re in your dorm room. It’s midnight on Saturday night, the ideal time to study and do homework. Thus, you are diligently studying. All of a sudden, from down the hall comes a blood-curdling scream. It sounds like a female.


You freeze. An icy panic courses your veins. You’ve had this thought before, that if someone were in trouble, you’d like to be the brave person who courageously steps forward and helps, rather than be the bump-on-the-log-bystander who is later interviewed on television about the incident and then asked why you didn’t do anything to help and you don’t have a response and you stand there in embarrassed silence while everyone watching judges you for the coward you truly are.

So you get up from your desk and make your way to your door. The scream sounds again.


This time, the scream is louder. You open your door and step out into the dorm hall. You look in the direction of the scream and see a large man, dressed entirely in black with a strange ghost mask over his face. His arms are wrapped around a young woman. You recognize her. It’s Jennifer, the quiet girl in your composition class. The intruder’s hand is clasped over Jennifer’s mouth, and her muffled screams unnerve you.

But just then, seemingly out of nowhere, a tall, fair-skinned young woman leaps out of a neighboring dorm room and tackles the man. The three bodies fall to the ground, and Jennifer manages to escape the clutches of the intruder. The heroic young woman quickly climbs on top of the intruder, flattening him to the ground face-down, pinning his arms behind his back. She jerks her head in your direction, her thick red hair fluttering over her shoulder like it were blown by the wind.

You recognize her. It’s Miriam Pfhaler, your RA.

“Call the police,” she says to you.

You see, an RA is much more than the person in your hall who can write you up for drinking. In order to become an RA, one must go through three weeks of grueling training. Naturally, because of the dangers of our world, this training includes emergency response training, CPR, and role-playing, such as the scene just described.

An RA must also undergo career therapy counseling, so that when a student comes to them in tears and says, “I don’t know what to major in,” the RA will have a system by which to rehabilitate the distressed, hopeless student. It is possible that throughout the years, RA’s have helped to motivate many students from dropping out of college and becoming drug addicts, so remember to thank your RA when you get the chance.

Aside from being the rock on which the entire dorm hall relies for its strength, hope, and will to endure, and in addition to being the dorm hall’s last line of defense from total annihilation, an RA is also required to participate in community service. Throughout her years as an RA, Miriam has taken part in countless community service projects, including breast cancer awareness events and promotions geared towards becoming more environmentally friendly, like buying a reusable mug at the campus coffee shop and using that instead of being wasteful and using a different paper cup each time.

Besides just simply carrying out the tall orders already discussed, an RA at Morningside College must also be socially, culturally, and politically aware. Miriam has had to stay up on the latest fashion trends, for, in the case that a resident comes to her, holds up two different outfits and asks, “Which one should I wear?”, Miriam must be prepared to offer an informed recommendation that will be the most likely to lead the resident in the direction of social success.

Since almost all college students are at least eighteen and therefore eligible to vote, and since it is almost certain that a presidential election will take place during an RA’s tenure, it has been Miriam’s duty to stay politically informed. We all know how stressful it is to vote for the first time. Thinking back to that first time we voted, it is possible that it was the single most impacting thing that changed our lives. Thus, when a resident comes to Miriam, possibly in tears, and says, “Who should I vote for?”, Miriam must be prepared to offer a concise yet informative and unbiased summarization of the platforms of each candidate and where they stand on key issues such as gay rights, abortion, war, health care, and the legalization of marijuana.

Miriam has also had to stay culturally informed as an RA, for, the services she provides must not be second-rate for a student with a different cultural or ethnic background than her own. She has participated in activities that promote diversity, because she must be able transcend potential cultural barriers and provide the many difficult duties described thus far to students of all colors, cultures, and backgrounds.

As if everything discussed so far wasn’t enough, as an RA, Miriam has also been in charge of providing entertainment for her dorm hall. And mind you, this involves more than simply juggling in front of a small crowd of uninterested people or playing an unpolished cover of a Taylor Swift song that you’ve told the listeners prior to “still needs some work.” No. Miriam’s duties entail actually organizing real events such as a free movie night at the Carmike Cinemas in the Southern Hills Mall. Of course, the consumption of alcohol at these events is prohibited, for college students have a propensity to consume alcohol in excess and engage in belligerent behavior they wouldn’t otherwise exhibit. Of course, several students violated the prohibition order.

In her three years as an RA, Miriam has RA’d Roadman Hall, Dimmit Hall, and she is currently the Head Resident at the college apartments on campus. Although the events described in this article sound hyperbolized, they are not beyond the realm of possibility. But the truth is, in regard to responding to dorm hall emergencies, Miriam’s experiences have mostly dealt with residents being locked out of their dorm rooms. In these cases, Miriam, who has a key that opens everyone’s room, will promptly accompany the resident to their locked dorm room. Next, Miriam will insert the master key into the locked door. She will turn the key and unlock the door. The resident, depending on if she is a decent human being or not, will say, “Thank you.”

For Miriam, being an RA has involved sacrificing her social life. Over the years, she has had to give up many weekends and stay in the dorms and carry on her RA duties. Although the job has inhibited her socially, Miriam says that being an RA has been a good experience. “It has allowed me to find my authoritative voice,” she says. “I’ve become more assertive, and also more approachable.”

Some people have accused RA’s of being on a power trip, of abusing their authority, of “raining on the parade,” or being “party poopers.” However, no substantial evidence has ever been compiled to support this claim. Instead, the overwhelming amount of evidence, including that contained in this article, suggest that an RA is your friend – some might even say your guardian angel.

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