In the life of a resident assistant, or RA, as most people know us, we get to meet new people, learn critical thinking and problem solving skills, and plan programs for all of our residents to attend. Creating and hosting programs is probably the most exciting part of my job. However, I noticed early into my first year as a resident assistant that the most common programs—the ones easiest to plan and host—involve showing a movie or making a card and handing out free cookies, pizza, or popcorn. I love all of the listed foods, but I also love to promote a healthy lifestyle; it’s an integral part of my life and career field.
Last semester, I hosted an event where I played the movie Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a classic, and handed out over ten gallons of ice cream and many bags of popcorn to well over a hundred residents. I spoke with almost every resident that came through, and had a crowd of about forty residents in the Jester West lobby watching the movie and unwinding. This was the week before finals, so I thought it was a great idea. It wasn’t until I submitted my event evaluation that I really reflected on what I did.
Did I help a bunch of residents relax and de-stress before finals? Yes. Well that’s fantastic. I think that’s a job well done, right? Did I just feed them a lot of unnecessary fats, sodium, and carbs they really didn’t need? Yes.
Oh. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea.
Finally, I asked myself one final question, “Did I just teach them a poor method of stress coping behavior?" Absolutely. That was the nail in the coffin for me. This program certainly wasn’t about taking care of the body anymore. Together with the thirty seven other RAs who had similarly unhealthy programs, I realized just how large this unhealthy conditioning experiment really was.
As a first step toward healthier programming, I started swapping out my “incentive” to come to the event. Instead of ice cream or Tiff’s Treats, I started getting a fruit platter. Fruit, while slightly less popular, is still really sweet. Combine its awesome taste with the fact that it’s free, and it becomes clear that serving fruit is a good move. But that’s not enough. Residents should be encouraged not only to eat well, but also to get out and be active. This is incredibly tough to coordinate as a Resident Assistant.
Firstly, most sports or activities hosted by the dorm require a disclaimer and proof of insurance to be completed by each resident before participating. Talk about a roadblock! Most residents don’t want to bother with the paperwork. Next, it’s difficult to conduct physical exercise inside the dorm. Most areas with proper exercise equipment and space are outside of the dorm. Believe it or not, it can be really difficult to convince a group of residents to come out and exercise simply by posting an event flyer. The most effective way to motivate a resident and get them to come out and exercise is simply by befriending them and encouraging them to come out via word of mouth. This is time consuming, but it is proving to be the most useful method so far.
Despite these seemingly large roadblocks, I decided to create a weekly event called “30 Minutes of Something.” It emphasizes the need I feel for residents to just get out and do SOMETHING! The event is fairly self explanatory: every Friday at 4pm down at Clark Field, residents are invited to come out and do any form of exercise for 30 minutes. Personally, I tend to mix it up. We can start out with a lap or two around the track as an easy warm up and then toss the Frisbee for the remainder of the time. Over the last several weeks, this event has evolved into several activities that span well over half an hour.
The first half hour is generally spent on the track. I’ve had a resident show up, completely out of shape, and tell me his goal was to jog without walking for 15 minutes. That’s the type of motivation and goal setting I love to see. That’s the type of passion that keeps me personally motivated and focused on self-improvement. I remember jogging with that particular resident for 15 minutes and, even though we walked a few times, he went on to jog for an additional 15 minutes. That type of impact is really jarring as an RA.
As the weeks have passed, the participating residents have naturally partitioned this program into several sections. From 4-4:30pm, a few of us jog around the track at Clark. From 4:30-5 or 5:30pm, one group comes out to toss the Frisbee, while another goes and plays pickup football on the field. From 5-7pm, several groups come out to play 5-on-5 basketball at the courts near Brazos Garage. I partake in every activity, and really enjoy seeing people have fun and improve their fitness. So, if you have time on a Friday evening between 4-7pm, feel free to come out and join us! Remember “the mantra” and get your 30 minutes in!