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 Cayla Thompson.
It’s 4:45 a.m. I hear the unmistakable duty phone ringtone. My heartbeat begins to slowly increase until I can wake myself enough to grab the duty phone, never knowing what will be on the other end. Sometimes it’s an early morning fire. Sometimes it’s a theft. Other times someone is calling to ask a question or clarify some information. I will never know what is on the other end of that phone. This is my time on call. These mornings are unpredictable.
A week later, it’s 3:15 a.m. I hear the soft music coming from my phone slowly getting louder and louder. Lulling me into a steady state of alertness. It’s time to wake up. I drag myself out of bed after four or less hours of sleep, brush my teeth, and put on my maroon shirt and drive the two minutes to my second job. My morning will be as predictable as it has been for the past 4 months. I’ll get to work around 3:45, start making coffee and prepare to open for the day. I’ll open the doors promptly at 4:30 and my first customer will arrive at 4:38 precisely. Small coffee and a buttered hard roll. Each day is the same. This morning is predictable.
In the past, when people talked about their jobs, I used to feel so lucky. I didn’t have a job; I had a calling. I had something I woke up every single day loving to do. I didn't have to worry about working or feeling stressed or hating my job, I was doing something I felt truly called upon to do. Hence, the calling. Now, I have a different perspective. I have my calling, the day to day work I do that makes me so incredibly happy, and I have my job, the work I have to do in order to keep myself financially stable and personally balanced. I like my job. I love my calling.
Having that second job has taught me so many things about myself and about my position as a hall director. Most importantly, it’s taught me that my time is valuable and that it matters too. It's given me the ability to speak up more about my needs, concerns, and fears within my housing position. It’s helped me to form and strengthen the backbone I needed in order to stay in residence life and not burnout early, like so many who begin their student affairs careers in residence life.
For me, being a woman in housing means sacrifice. I have loved everything about being a hall director. I love my students, I love my staff members, I love my coworkers and supervisors, and (most days) I love living in but my journey hasn’t been easy. Last year at this time, I wanted to quit and walk away. I almost did just that. I didn’t feel like I could do it. I didn’t want to deal with the politics at my institution. I was in a terrible working situation that I felt like was unresolvable. I had reached out to several colleagues who all suggested that I should consider moving on. But I didn’t. I felt like there was more for me here. I waited, struggled, and sacrificed. Six months later, the light came. The terrible working situation dissolved itself and the change I asked for was given to me, and. I started to realize that I could do it, and I knew I was in the right place.
I’ve wanted to be a residence hall director since my second year as a resident assistant. I knew early that I would be living on a college campus for a good majority of my 20s. When you live in or on, as many of you know, you’re not ever given the chance to go “home”. We can be out shopping at the local supermarket and be stopped by a student asking about a roommate conflict or wanting to host an event in the student lounge. When you live on, the students perceive that you have no personal time or space. But you know all this. You’ve lived it.
With my degree and now a few years of professional experience under my belt, I could theoretically go out into the field and find a less demanding job. One that’s higher paying, one that gives me more personal time, one that’s live-off. I could, but I won't. It seems like being passionate about housing is not as common as it once was. When I was in graduate school, I was in the very small minority of students who wanted a housing position post-graduation. And I completely understand why. Being in student affairs takes a lot of personal sacrifice and often comes with little to no rewards. Why would someone willingly couple that with living on or in which is arguably even more stressful and demanding? I get it. Being in student affairs is hard. Living in or on doesn't make that any easier.
One of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this blog series was to say this. To anyone who is in residence life and loves it so much that they are willing to do whatever it takes to stay there, I see you. To anyone who feels like housing is the best use of their abilities as a student affairs professional, I understand you. To anyone who thinks that maybe it might be time to transition out, I feel you. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and that’s okay. Being a residence director is transitory. It isn’t meant to be a stopping point in the student affairs field. Being an RD for most people isn’t the lifelong cumulation of your student affairs experience. You will move on or up. You will continue to make the lives of students better. You will continue doing the good work.
But while you’re here, don’t be afraid to reach out. Women in housing are a family. We are all going through similar situations and sometimes it helps to have some support on the inside. When I went through my tough time last year, I wouldn’t have survived without my network of colleagues in the field. Asking for help isn’t weakness. Asking for help is using your resources to the best of your abilities to make yourself stronger. We are an interconnected team of strong, smart, driven, and incredibly resourceful women. We should be relying on and learning from one another. Together we are stronger.
Cayla Thompson is a Residence Hall Director at the Culinary Institute of America. She’s been working in housing since her first position as a Resident Assistant at Hendrix College in her sophomore year. She graduated from the Texas State University Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s program in 2015. In her spare time, Cayla enjoys spending time with her incredibly supportive boyfriend Raul and her extremely demanding eleven year old cat Mika.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.