Working in Housing: The Life of a Live-In Pro
In the 8 years since I began my undergraduate degree I have lived in 9 different residence buildings. All of my adult life I have only ever lived in university residence halls. And for the past three years I have lived almost directly above my office in Pitman Hall, where I work as the Residence Life Facilitator. In fact, living on Ryerson campus and in downtown Toronto was one of the main reasons I applied to work at Ryerson. As the Residence Life Facilitator, I support the day-to-day work of our residence staff, respond to resident issues or concerns, and work to provide great experiences for our students. My overarching goal in my work is to build vibrant communities where students can start their transition into university life.
Working and living in residence has afforded me many amazing experiences and opportunities— especially here at Ryerson. When I started working in Housing I had lots of ideas about how it would be. And while I had lots of student experience, I was not sure how a professional role in Housing would play out.
Accurate depiction of what I expected in my day to day as a professional.
What I have learned is to prepare for a job in Residence Life takes lots of training, the best of which is on the job experience. This rings true for all Student Affairs professionals with which I’ve met and worked. My first year working in housing I had extremely high expectations of myself. I had been a strong student leader and thought that I knew exactly how my year would go. I knew I would be a great boss who would never upset his staff by making the same decisions that some of my Residence Life supervisors did.
I thought of myself as the person who puts out fires. I thought I would be seen as a fun boss who did everything perfectly. To be honest, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. But as is often the case, once I got into my role I had to change my expectations of both my work and my role.
I have learned a lot as a Residence Life Facilitator, and there are four lessons I want to share that I think are helpful to up-and-coming residence life professionals (and perhaps a few old timers, too).
You Gotta Laugh
Some days my work can feel so serious—it can seem like life or death—but, the stakes are seldom that high. And while I wouldn’t recommend cracking a joke in tense situations, I do highly recommend making sure you are able to laugh throughout your day. Humor is an equalizer and can be a great tool for connecting with people, diffusing tension, and making your day a little lighter and brighter. Whether it’s a YouTube clip or laughing at yourself for spilling coffee on your keyboard for the tenth time that day, make sure you laugh. Our jobs can feel thankless so it is important to take time to find joy in our everyday—especially when the work feels tough.
Saved by the Bell Lied
Growing up I loved watching Saved by the Bell reruns. With each episode came a new storyline that, regardless of the situation, rarely took more than 22 minutes to resolve. Unfortunately, working in Residence does not tie up as neatly or quickly. Residence halls are our biggest classrooms and are home to amazing experiences, developmental milestones, and the lives of students. It’s a place that is about realizing potential—even if that’s just helping someone understand how to do their laundry. Unlike SBTB, there is no 22 minute script or scheme to teach life lessons. Somedays there are warm and fuzzy endings in our work; but other days students don’t succeed. In student affairs sometimes the hardest part of our work is holding space for students to fail so that they can truly learn and develop resilience.
Be Humble and Hustle
I am proud to be a member of the hardworking and amazing team in Housing & Residence Life. Up until this past September, I was the first and only full-time Residence Life Facilitator at Ryerson and when I first started in my role I thought that flying solo entitled me to talk about how busy I was and use that as a measure of my work ethic.
I would constantly say things like, “It’s hard living above my office. All the staff know where I live,” and I would often be the first to vent about being busy.
But here’s the thing—venting doesn’t get the work done. Telling people you’re busy doesn’t impress them or make the work easier. My role in students’ development is an amazing and humbling experience. Hustling and striving are what make great things happen—not measuring your busy time. Amazing training sessions, great community building, and strong teams don’t just happen on their own; you have to put in the work.
My job is hard, but it is the job I signed up for. I love some parts of my work unconditionally, and find other parts incredibly challenging. Working as a Residence Life Facilitator is a unique position at any school. It can be hard to explain to colleagues across campus the challenges and joys we face living and working in a residence community. While I think it beneficial to have colleagues outside of Housing understand our challenges, I feel the most important part of our story that we should focus on is how we strive to make great things happen for students.
Integrity is Key
I work at Ryerson and I get to call it my home, too. I get to be in the middle all the things I loved as a student, but without the stresses of student life. If I am running to the photocopier or to grab some groceries, I see students and staff. When I am cooking dinner my staff text me to ask what smells so good—some even go so far as to ask for leftovers. As I said earlier, I do in fact live above my office and often student-staff see live-in professional staff as the go-to person for after hour’s questions, requests, or emergencies. This can make it feel like I am always ‘on’ and with students I am always seen as ‘working’ to some degree.
All of this means that work-life balance can be hard. How I conduct myself during work hours and when I am at home can have direct effects on my work, my professional reputation, and my home life. A strong sense of integrity is key to my work. My decisions can have wide impacts for the students I support so I have to make choices for the right reasons. In those moments when we are making impactful decisions with students, we have to try our best to do the right thing no matter who is or is not around the table.
Being a live-in residence life professional is a challenging job. But, every day when I come to work I know that I will be doing work that matters. Some days it’s helping a stressed out Residence Adviser manage floor issues, or helping a student understand their impact on others, or making sure our students are ready to leave residence and live off campus. There are days where the most impactful conversation I have is about a student’s mental health struggles. Other days, my impact is finding the best way to get roommates to make a chore wheel and follow it. And even with these very different stakes, my work contributes to exceptional residence and student experiences.
Living and working in residence has taught me that each of us can leave at the end of the day knowing we have done our best to support our students and challenge them to grow. We are in the business of supporting future leaders and we are all impacting the future they are going to build. Some days, you may be the hero who helped a student get an extension or a grant, or you might be the ‘villain’ who has to say, “No, that’s not okay in our community and we have to fix this.” Regardless of what we do to support students, remember that at the end of every day—our work matters.