Kate Doty is a Residence Director at Lake Forest College. She considers herself to be more of a bird than a tree as she loves to travel or relocate entirely when the urge for adventure hits. She spends her days behind a camera, painting, reading or trying to perfect her guacamole recipe.
Most days I don't find myself wishing I had a pack of flying monkeys at my beck and call. However, the days I do wish I had some flying monkeys, those are some tough days. Being a residence director on campus has many difficulties. Having the first professional position in my career makes me want to impress my supervisor, hold my weight with my colleagues, and inspire those whom I supervise. This allows me to wear many hats. A newspaper hat for creative projects, a party hat for programming initiatives, a ball cap for supporting campus events, and then there's the black pointy hat. This hat is the one I feel like I'm wearing when I hold my staff accountable for completing tasks necessary for the function of our department and for their position on campus. This is the hat people picture on my head when I don't let them miss staff functions or have an extension on a deadline. This is the hat I seem to wear when I put someone on probation or ask why they handled a situation in a particular manner. This is not a hat I was prepared to wear.
While I came to the RD position with a vague understanding that supervising others was not always rainbows and yellow brick roads, somehow, the darker part of the story got pushed to the back of my mind. It was replaced by visions of conversations about growth and development and how things will be better if they just believe and ask for support. In reality, these situations are taxing to say the least. They are guilt inducing, frustrating, shake-your-fist-at-the-ceiling, sometimes exasperating moments that I was not prepared for.
While donning this hat, there are times I must make the decision to let someone go or keep them, to give them the benefit of the doubt or to trust that the discipline process will serve its purpose, to talk with someone as a mentor or as a boss. It's a fine line. I wish I was better prepared for handling these types of situations: when you owe it to someone to be the bad guy in their story so that they can learn the lesson before they move on in life. It has a profound effect on those students I serve and also it's has a deep impact on me, which I was not expecting.
I would be lying if I said being the villain in someone’s story didn’t affect me. Each time I have these types of interactions, I get a better sense that what it right isn’t always easy and what is easy isn’t always right. Looking someone in the eye and telling them they are not meeting expectations seems to put a weird air in the room, almost making it difficult to breathe. Sitting in the discomfort in the room takes strength. However, if supervision is to be meaningful, if people are to grow and learn and create good habits to carry on into their adult lives, I owe it to them to wear the black hat when necessary.
Though I can’t say wearing this hat has gotten easier, I can say, I am glad it still gives me pause. I have respect for that hat, the power it holds and the impact it can have on a person’s life. In my short time as an RD, I have experienced being both the villain and the hero. I have had residents excited to work with me and residents who wouldn’t return a single email. I have also been lucky enough to be thanked by someone for holding him accountable. Further, I’m blessed to have a supervisor who believes in my ability to be a leader and to treat others fairly. She has taught me to trust my instincts even as I’m going through the tornado that is learning this position and joining a well-established team mid-year.
This semester has been a sort of trial-by-fire for me. I came to this position thinking of upbeat melodies and cute shiny shoes. In actuality, my heart, courage and brain have all been tested. I have learned many things on the job. I do wish I had been better prepared for this journey by knowing that wearing the black pointy hat doesn't make me bad, mean, a witch, or worse...I wish I had learned ways to make the days when I wear that hat more about growth and moving forward than focused on past failures. I wish I had learned that I would be a villain to some people sometimes, and that it was ok because it would likely change the both of us for good.
What No One Told You About Student Affairs is a month-long series of guest posts highlighting lessons learned in the field of student affairs.