The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Elizabeth Cooper.
As a student affairs professional, I never gave considerable thought to the fact that living in a residence hall was a viable option. However, I worked within student activities and was eager to expand my experience into residence life. I was fortunate enough to find and be selected for a hybrid assistant director of student activities & leadership development and resident director position. This position was the perfect bridge between my current experience and the skills I wished to develop. I accepted the offer and became an engaged, 28-year-old professional who was moving into her first live-in role. My new home was central to campus, housing 82 mixed year college students and was known for no significant issues. I was eager to live in (something I hadn’t done since my undergrad over eight years prior), supervise two student staff within the hall, and serve on the administrator on-call rotation.
My then fiancé left his apartment and job to join me in the one bedroom apartment. My transition into this position could be best described as quiet because my supervisor was on maternity leave and my first full time day was the day after winter break began. I took advantage of the opportunity to get my bearings and prepared myself for when the students returned for the spring semester.
I jumped into my dual role and reveled in the crisis management experience I was gaining as a student activites professional. My professional life felt complete and I was feeling confident that the institution was the right fit for me. However, at the same time my personal life was becoming more challenging, as my fiancé was struggling to find employment and we were adjusting to living together for the first time. Adding the additional pressure of planning a wedding and the novelty of students continually knocking on my apartment door began to quickly take its toll. I also realized that living in presented an added roadblock in the pursuit of a work/life balance and setting healthy boundaries with myself and others. I then realized that living in was not as easy a transition as I had assumed, as the looming feeling of constantly working work was creeping into my thoughts.
The arrival of commencement meant my first year was ending, which ended in what could only be described as silent, pure joy. Knowing my apartment no longer had a spotlight over it, temporarily relieved and allowed my shoulders to loosen up. I still look forward to summers and every in-semester break, so I can recharge and feel more at peace.
As summer came to an end and fall planning went into full swing, my wedding date approached. I was having my wedding over the Columbus Day weekend, which meant planning ahead for the days I’d be away (both from the office and from my residence hall). Parallel to our wedding, my now husband started a new job and began an EMT certification course. The next several months were a blur of him commuting to class, me working late nights, and the two of us stealing a rare weekend away to visit family in Maine. We made the best of becoming two passing ships in the night, complete with fire system checks at 11pm, when we both worked early the next morning (you never do get used to fire drills in your home).
Add the purchase of a new vehicle, my husband crashing this vehicle, and him enrolling in an intensive (and expensive) 12-month paramedic program, you have the beginnings of some amplified live-in struggles. Additionally, I was disregarding my self-care, was not consistently setting up boundaries and even a student saying hello would ignite a pang of anxiety. Then I went home to a husband who I simultaneously missed and was aggravated by his every action; things were not going down a good road. We agreed he’d only work one shift a week, as school was made the priority. Unfortunately, I was feeling pressure to provide our only income. I considered how my position provided our apartment, our meal plans, the ability for our new vehicle and my husband’s school. That weight came crashing down into both my professional and personal life (which I can now see are 90% identical).
Presently my husband is in his eighth month of the paramedic program, I was recently promoted to an associate director and we’re beginning to entertain thoughts of building a family. We take joy in scanning Pinterest for home designs. I do not love all that goes into living in at 30 years old, but I give myself permission to be open and honest about that, with both my husband and my supervisor. Whether someone lives in or not, there are great, good, bad and terrible days and it’s giving ourselves permission to acknowledge and embrace the challenges while appreciating the benefits living in gives.
As I become more professionally confident, I give myself permission to be open and honest about my dual role; somedays it feels easy and other times it feels unsurmountable. I will not lie to you and claim I imagine myself in this same one bedroom apartment with children in tow, but I am still extremely grateful for the opportunities and experience this position and yes, even living in, has given me. Likewise, I look forward to handing over the duty phone after a long week, although in hindsight I can recognize that the benefits of the responsibility outweigh the trials. Will I want to be in this same living situation in two, three or five years? I have no crystal ball telling me when moving out of a residence hall is the right decision. I can only give myself the permission to grow at my own pace, both personally and professionally.
Liz Cooper is a mid-level student affairs professional at Dean College. Liz was born and raised in Portland, Maine and holds a MBA in international business and entrepreneurship from the University of Wales. In her spare time, Liz enjoys reading, attending wine tastings with her husband Jack and anything involving coffee.
The 2017 Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.