The Role of an RA is a complex, yet very important one.
It encompasses becoming a mentor, a role model, a police officer, a guide, and sometimes, a counselor to your students. Due to the ever-changing nature of student mental health the role of a student as a sort of counselor can often take a turn for the worst.
I encountered my most daunting mental health experience during my first year as a Resident Assistant for Belmont. A resident of mine, who will remain unnamed, was undoubtedly suicidal. He was new to Belmont and missed home, but felt as though he couldn’t go back home for fear of disappointing his family. Ultimately he was stuck in a cycle of extreme self doubt. He knew that he was capable of truly amazing things but could not see the fruits of his labor. He began to fall behind in classes, and fall deeper into his own mind. He wanted to feel better and experience everything that Belmont had to offer, but he could not shake his emotions. As his friend (and RA) a few coworkers and I chose to engage those emotions. It was not unusual for me to be up until four of five am talking to him or walking with him around campus while he processed through the invasive thoughts he was having no matter how long it took.
It was exhausting for both of us. I would be sitting in a lobby and watch the sunrise even though I had an 8 am the next day because I wanted to help. We were trained as RA’s to call an Residence Director who would in turn call a counselor on duty. We did this a quite a few times, but it never seemed to make a difference. Eventually my resident begged me not to call while we were talking. He hated going to the counselor and was continuously stuck no matter what. Sometimes I called, but most times I didn’t. He trusted me and his friends first, the community that he did have. Around this time I noticed that he had started to use a coloring book app when he was in dark places, and i saw an opportunity.
During Question, Persuade, Respond training, I took one major component to heart. Guarantee something for tomorrow. Whether it was a handshake, a lunch date, or even a digital coloring book page. Just something that can provide hope. I explained to him that life was like a coloring page. every part of the page is like a season of life. Some are good and some are bad but they are all necessary, and you will never see the full . I downloaded the app myself and offered to send a page to him every day if he would send me one. So we did.
After a few months of sending pages to each other, talking with great people, and finding help that he needed, my resident was back on his feet. He is doing so extremely well and I cannot explain to him how happy I am when I see a post on Instagram or Facebook about his life whether it’s good or bad. Regardless, I see hope.
Another friend of mine came to me later and shared an idea with me. “Have you ever thought of a coloring book for college students?” and I began to create College in Color.
I took into account my experience. I wanted to create something that would have real impact. Since then, I’ve developed the company on 3 main principles; Engaging students where they are, Building a community of support, and connecting students with important and necessary resources on their time.
This may be the beginning, but our story is far from over. If you are reading this now, its likely that you are or will be part of that story. Thank you.
Stay joyful, stay honest, and stay colorful.
Jordon Washington | Belmont University