You're a celebrity! You're a star! You're a...fish?
"Life in a fishbowl" is a common phrase known among the Residence Life departments all across the nation. The phrase encapsulates the kind of life a Resident Advisor/Assistant (RA) experiences in their college career. "Life in a fishbowl" means that as a leader and representative of the school, your words, actions, and decisions are noticed by everyone on and off-campus. To a degree, it's like being a celebrity; you're well known, looked up to, and highly recognized among your peers. As mentioned in a previous article in this series, RAs wear many hats, the most valuable of which is being a role model and following through on the policies they enforce.
Personal Life and (Para) Professionalism
When living in a fishbowl everything you do in public will be noticed, but you also need to remember that you're in college too! So long as school and legal policies are followed, living in a fishbowl does not mean your personal life is non-existent. However, because you are "on" almost 24/7, you need to find a yin and yang balance between your personal life and *paraprofessional one. If there is a party in a freshman dorm with alcohol, 9 out of 10 times it's a dry hall (dry meaning no alcohol is allowed in the building) and therefore you should not attend. If you are out dancing, have a great time! Just make sure you're not sloppy by the end of the night. If you had a bad day, don't start giving your residents' attitude or ignoring them when they really need help. You're their leader and resource, and helping your residents is the genesis of your whole job.
There will be situations that are tougher calls but if you feel unsettled by the idea, more than likely you may want to go with your gut or ask your Resident Director (RD) for advice!
Your Social Media Footprint
Being conscientious of your social media profiles is exponentially important. In an age where social media can sometimes make or break a person's career, it is highly important your profiles are held to a certain standard as you represent yourself and your thoughts online. This is true for everyone, RA or not; if you are not wary of what you post on social media it can be used against you. In my experience, 90% of the RAs fired during my time in Residence Life were fired because of something they posted or someone else posted of them on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter. There are always people watching and the reality is that there can be one person who will take an incriminating post you made and send it to your boss whether in Residence Life or later in your professional career. Here are a few tips to staying social media savvy:
- If it's a personal account, put your settings on private.
- Do not bad mouth your institution online (and quite frankly, not allowed either). Whether you agree with a policy or not, as an RA you represent your institution. You are entitled to your own opinion, but voice it in a respectful, eloquent manner.
- Do not put yourself in an incriminating position. In the age of camera phones, anything can be caught on cam.
- Think before you post. If you're a selfie queen, by all means, do you. But be aware of your background and anything that could arouse suspicion.
Admittedly, being an RA is not your "average" college experience but it better prepares you for your post-graduate career and can even put you ahead. While it does sound overwhelming (and sometimes it is), remember that your staff is going through the same thing; you are not alone. Being an RA at a college institution is a safe environment to learn and make a few mistakes. You will be just fine if you follow your own common sense. Even if you're not an RA, the advice in this article will still apply to you too. When applying to jobs, an unflattering social media footprint can be damaging or hurt your chances.
Though it is important to be aware of your actions and posts, mistakes come and go. The metaphor of "life in a fishbowl" is just a warning label to proceed with caution. At the same time, no one can expect perfection and a mistake isn't a period nor an ending; it's a part of growing and learning which is what college is all about.
*RAs are considered paraprofessional trained student leaders.
With a BA in Communications and Music and a "Mouseters" in all things Disney, when not writing fabulous articles this native New Yorker is either making up songs in her head about her daily interactions, practicing voice overs for the next hair care commercial, or munching on Doritos she couldn't resist grabbing at her local bodega. The purple bag is hard to resist.
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