RA Training is a Community Effort

Several tables with groups of 6-8 RAs with a facilitator during RA Training

What does it take to prepare 258 Resident Assistants (RAs) for a successful year of building community, responding to crises and incidents of varying levels, resolving conflicts, and referring to campus resources?

At Miami, it’s a community effort. RAs go through an intensive, 10-day training to prepare them for this important role on campus.

This year, RAs moved back to campus a full eleven days before the official first-year move-in day. Over the next week and a half, they learned about their role, practiced skill-building, and planned educational bulletin boards for their halls. They learned about planning a successful event, referring students to campus resources, and responding to a crisis or emergency.

One of the perennial highlights of training is Behind Closed Doors (BCDs), during which RAs get the opportunity to knock on the door of a residence hall room and practice responding to an incident, acted out by returning RAs. Incidents ranged from having an individual meeting with a student to get to know them better to supporting a student who is experiencing suicidal thoughts. The session mimics real-life experiences that have occurred at Miami. RAs report that this is where the learning coalesces, and they can put their training into practice.

An RA working in the RA Resource Room on a die cut machine

Training allows time for administrative tasks, such as 
creating bulletin boards and door decorations
“I felt pretty reassured after taking part in Behind Closed Doors because it gave me a real life situation where I was able to react,” said Allison Abas, first-year RA on the Scott/MacCracken RA team. “It can be hard to know what you are going to do in the situation if you are not actually ‘in it’ so this activity really helped. I think that this activity helped to reassure me that everything will be ok.”

During these full days of training, the area coordinators, resident directors, and graduate assistants in the Office of Residence Life are hard at work. They prepare in-hall facilitation each day of training, typically another 1-2 hours each day, in which RAs receive building-specific information, complete administrative tasks, and debrief the day.

Online training supplements the in-person training, with daily quizzes to check their knowledge and provide opportunities for reflection.

“But we try to make sure to have fun too,” said Erik Sorensen, assistant director of residence life. “We lead icebreakers, teambuilders, and the very important annual broomball tournament at Goggin.”

These efforts would not be possible without the support of offices across campus. Student Counseling Services provides support and guidance to RAs during sessions that may be emotionally or mentally difficult. Several divisional staff present important topics to RAs, including responding to and reporting incidents involving sexual assault and interpersonal violence, event planning, Welcome Weekend and the First 50 Days, confronting student conduct, and responding to incidents.

In total, RAs will have heard from 91 faculty/staff members through 24 sessions of training. “We hope, and know from our assessment, that RAs become more confident and skilled at addressing student concerns throughout training,” said Sorensen. “They make connections with staff and faculty across campus that leads to greater collaboration throughout the year.”

About 25 RAs and RDs posing in from of Hepburn Hall. The 2019-2020 Honors Quad RA and Resident Director Staff