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 Shannon Healy.
When I left my job as a hall director last summer, I thought my time in housing was done. It had been a great ride for six years as a grad assistant and professional, but I was ready to move on. Then through a weird bit of serendipity, I ended up back in the world of housing, but instead of working on campus, I found a job working back in housing, this time off-campus.
It is what I refer to as the Bizarro World of Housing. For those of you who didn’t read a lot of comics from the 60’s (or who don’t have a weird older brother who went through a weird Superman phase), Bizarro World was a fictional planet populated by the bizarre versions of Superman, Lois Lane, and all their friends. Basically, everything you know is there, but a weirdly warped version of it.
The company I work for now is relatively new and full of people whose backgrounds are in business and construction and marketing. So they have a lot of concepts for how to manage a rental housing business, but not a lot of experience managing the students that will live there. They have a plan for flips, but don’t have a good method for instructing students how to complete a unit inspection. They know that roommate conflicts happen, but don’t have any background in addressing it with tenants. They want to find tenants to be tour guides and show rooms, but instead of offering dining dollars they want to offer rent discounts. All the pieces of on-campus housing are there, but everything is just a little different.
Which is why it’s been so great to have a good knowledge of how on-campus housing works and to use that to my advantage. Not only do I know how to move students in and out quickly, but I also know how to relate to them while they live with us. All those Augusts and Aprils spent streamlining a move-in and move-out process is coming in handy when there are leases continuously starting and ending in all our buildings. Not only that, but I know what students living in residence halls are looking for. I know what they like about on-campus housing and what they hate about it that makes them want to move off. I’m able to give that information to the people doing our marketing and the architects and construction workers planning our new building. It’s great insider information to have.
Do I feel a bit like a double agent? Sometimes. That’s more because I like to imagine myself as the protagonist of an action-filled spy show. Shannon Healy and Sydney Bristow sound kind of alike, right? It also goes back to always feeling like a bit of an imposter. I’m going in undercover as a property manager for this assignment. They have no idea I’m secretly a hall director who is faking at being an adult in the first place. Fake it ‘til you make it. Be unsure if you've made it or not. Continue to fake it just to be safe. Wait, what does "making it" feel like? Decide to just quietly fake it until no one's looking, and then kinda still fake it anyway in case someone looks. And if anyone asks, just tell them you’ve made it.
I live for those moments where I can tell someone I’ve made it. When I’m able to share insight at work that comes from my background in on-campus housing I feel like I am showing that I can do this. I can survive in the business-oriented world of off-campus housing.
Do I still miss on-campus housing sometimes? Yes. When I want a Coke at 10:00 pm and there’s not a vending machine outside my front door anymore, I miss it. When I don’t feel like cooking and I can’t walk down to the dining hall, I miss it. When there’s a snack I want to try but I want to use debit dollars and not real money, I miss it. I realize now that these are all food-related.
In all honesty, there are many non-food things I miss about working in on-campus housing, but I appreciate having so many moments now where I feel like I am truly making it.
Shannon Healy is a housing operations manager for an off-campus property management company. She previously spent four years as a living center director at Grand Valley State University (Go Lakers!) and several years before that doing a variety of student affairs jobs in a variety of states (Go Hornets, Irish, and Huskies!). Despite never being a resident assistant, she has found a calling in housing.