What do CAs Actually Do?
Two CAs talk candidly about the ups and downs of the job
“CAs are like a box of delicious chocolates. You never know who you’re going to get,” joked Ruaidhrí Crofton ’18. He quickly clarified that Community Advisors fulfill all sorts of vital roles for students living in residence halls. “We promote a community that is accepting to everyone,” added Brandon Hong ’19, explaining the intent behind their title — Community (rather than Residential) Advisors.
As Crofton and Hong revealed in an interview with the Justice, CAs are more than just a source of a cheesy quips like “keep growing this spring” and “you’ll be a popping CA!” They are peer advisors, relationship builders, residential programmers, community standards enforcers, supporters of the Brandeis academic mission and valued members of the Community Living administrative team. According to Crofton, CAs aim to be an available resource to students living in residence halls. “We’re not super scary people,” he promised. “We’re here to help, and we’re here to get to know you, and that’s our main job, so come say hi to us.”
Whether assisting with job applications, roommate conflicts, sexual harassment or “anything that you can imagine,” CAs often act as the “first point person” students can come to for help. “We go through extensive training to help with these situations, and point people to additional resources on campus if we’re not able to help them satisfactorily,” Crofton explained.
Crofton started as a CA in summer 2017 for Ziv 127, and is now a CA for the third floor of Shapiro B, located in Massell Quad. Having spent most of his life living in residence halls, he believes they are sometimes overlooked as a “forgotten part of the college experience.”He became a CA to foster closer connections with the members of his Brandeis community and make the residence hall experience a memorable one.
Hong started as a CA in fall 2017 for the ground floor of Reitman, located in North Quad. He became a CA to help people through their struggles, big or small, and aid their growth as individuals. “I like helping people. I like meeting people,” he said succinctly. After gaining insight over his first two years into the aspects of dorm life that students struggle with the most, becoming a CA felt like the next logical step for his Brandeis journey.
One of the many ways CAs make their halls feel a little more at home for residents is through door decorations that revolve around a certain theme. “You have the freedom to choose what your theme is,” said Hong. He chose to display city skylines on the doors for his first hall theme, eager to expose his residents to locations around the world that they may not have heard of and hoping to get them thinking about where they come from. “There’s no real rhyme or reason behind them necessarily, [but] people do put thought into them,” Crofton shared. He put up the national parks on the doors for his first hall theme, hoping to give his residents cool ideas for places to explore.
Another way CAs engage with residents is through programming. Passive programs, such as bulletin boards and goody bags, allow for indirect interaction between CAs and residents that can occur at the students’ leisure. Active programs, such as watching a movie or going on a field trip together, afford CAs and residents direct interaction but require them to be in the same place at the same time.
Hong explained that CAs more or less have the freedom to use whatever resources they need, within reason, of course. “DCL gives you some money that you can play with for your event, but you have to have the spending approved, and I mean, I haven’t had anything unapproved, so they’re pretty flexible with what you want to do,” he remarked gratefully.
In line with his international theme, Hong developed a passive program utilizing his hall’s bulletin board called “Where in the world do you come from?” in which residents could place pins on a map to show just that. Since he only had about 20 pins, they kept moving around depending on who had most recently placed them. Over the course of the semester, the pins migrated around the map. “The program idea comes from me, which comes from Pinterest,” he deadpanned.
This semester, Hong focused on exercise-themed events since most of his residents like playing sports. He recalled one event where the people on his floor went on a 2-mile run through downtown Waltham with a peanut butter party afterwards, and another where they lifted weights in Gosman. He also turned his “Where in the world do you come from?” map in a cultural calendar, but as his residents ended up mainly putting their birthdays onto it, he realized that “sometimes it’s better to go with the flow.”
Crofton wanted to emphasize multiple themes last semester, so he created programs for his residents about health and wellness, environmentalism and multiculturalism. In one event, they made their own trail mix and took a hike through Sachar Woods. For another, he turned his bulletin board into a “Healthopoly” board, which contained useful facts about eating well, exercising and mental health.
This semester, given the approaching summer break, Crofton turned “Healthopoly” into “Lego of your worries,” using paper cutouts of Legos to give his residents tips for applying to jobs and internships. He also built programs around recycling, ramen-making and, most recently, a Rose Art Museum scavenger hunt.
Crofton confessed that passive programs are his favorite because they remove the scheduling pressure inherent in active programs. “It’s just that ever present issue of, you know … People have a million things they’re doing, so trying to find a perfect time for [active programs] to work is difficult and not always very successful.” Hong agreed, having a rigid schedule himself as a pre-med student. He understands that his residents cannot always attend his active programs. “They’re important,” he feels, “but if you’re studying for a test, then that’s way more important.”
Crofton and Hong admit that aspects of the CA role, such as program planning, meetings and on-call hours certainly take up time. However, they maintain that the experiences they’ve gained more than make up for the time commitment — Hong believes that the connections he’s forged “could probably last a lifetime.”
Hong sees the role less as a challenge and more as a “you get out what you put in” mentality, citing the flexibility the Department of Community Living gives CAs to shape their roles based on their needs and those of their residents. “It’s not like an 8-hour block. You can split up the time to however fits your schedule.” Crofton agreed, adding that the role has helped rather than hindered his work ethic by teaching him how to manage his time most efficiently. He avowed that “in the end, it’s pretty enjoyable, and a hundred percent worth it.”