It’s Sunday morning in one of the common areas in Beta Hall. The scene looks as though it was clipped from one of the Resident Services information pamphlets. A diverse group of students are laughing, studying and smiling together. There is no hesitation when they comment about what they did over the weekend or how they are doing in school. If you didn’t know better, you would think that these students have lived together for years.
The truth is that Beta is a freshman dorm, and these students are only in their second semester away from home. The comfort level they are experiencing may be attributed to one man and his unorthodox approach to his job as a resident assistant.
Adarius Payne is a sophomore majoring in psychology with minors in sign language and criminology. He has been given authority over students not much younger than himself, many of whom are away from the watchful eyes of their parents for the first time. So how does an individual in this situation handle this mixture of responsibility and temptation? He has a good time with it.
“I’m the fun RA,” Payne said. “One night I squeezed my whole floor into an elevator, and we rode up and down yelling and causing a ruckus. It was great; I had a blast.
“If you want to become an RA, be willing to put yourself out there. You have to be completely open,” Payne said. “Be approachable, be friendly, be accountable and make sure that you have the energy and the drive to do it, because if you don’t you will burn yourself out in the first two weeks or so.”
Payne has taken his own advice and put it to practical use.
“I have an open-door policy; if any kid needs me, they know where I am, they know how to get me. So they’ll call me up at 3 in the morning and say, ‘Hey, I want to talk.’ I might be going to sleep, but I’ll get back up and go talk with them.”
The students living in the dorm appreciate Payne’s policy and his methods.
“I think Adarius is a good RA in terms of keeping everything together and in order,” said Ryan Moxom, a resident of Beta Hall. “I don’t think that he is too strict. I think he knows what goes on in college dorms and doesn’t let it get out of control.”
Payne applies his own brand of common sense to a lot of situations, but has been given some guidelines. Each RA at USF receives a Resident Assistant Training Manual that outlines the basic responsibilities of an RA and defines them as a friend and a helper. By that definition, Payne appears to be fitting the mold. He does not, however, go completely by the book.
“In terms of social life, this is the party floor, basically,” Payne said. “We get in trouble the most, but it’s fun; I make this floor seem like it’s their home.”
The mission of Residence Services is to provide students living on campus with a sense of community and belonging. Payne takes this concept and applies his own philosophy to it.
“If they can’t have fun at their home, then what can they do?” Payne said. “As long as my residents can have fun and relax, the floor is the way I want it. That’s how I like to be as an RA.”
Although Payne makes a conscious effort to have fun with his residents, he does realize that there are other aspects to his job.
“The hardest decision to make as an RA is deciding what the right thing to do is and writing people up,” Payne said. “Because you get so close as a floor and a building, it is hard to write people up. I feel like each thing that people do is a learning experience. Instead of getting them in trouble, I try to let them learn from it.”
Payne’s thoughts regarding his role as an RA coincide with those of other students living on campus.
“I think an RA should make sure that all of the new residents are satisfied. I know my RA pretty well; he has been really interactive with his residents,” said Edwin Thiruchlevam, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences.
For Payne, balancing the positive and negative aspects of his job is a double-edged sword.
“The best part of being an RA is meeting all of the different types of students on campus,” Payne said. “You are basically their first contact to the University. The worst part is being that direct contact as well, only because residents will come to you more than they will someone else.”
This genuine empathy toward his residents is what allows Payne to develop a community in which members can foster a feeling of belonging. This empathy doesn’t, however, undermine his overall commitment to the job.
“The freshmen come in here, and they build up what I call false relationships,” Payne said. “There is a sense of incompletion in their social lives because they leave their friends behind. They try to fill that void with immature friendships, (and) problems (arise) among the roommates and they want to switch rooms. Eventually you have to teach them not to run away from their problems, but to face them. They need to learn how to build better trust-based relationships.
“Even when I’m not on call, I’m on call. Anyone can call me with a problem or stop me in the hall and I take time to resolve their issue.”