Being a Black resident assistant

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Diamond Roundtree is a second year student studying Digital Media Production.

DIAMOND ROUNDTREE, Staff Writer

Excited, thrilled and nervous is an understatement to how I felt when I opened my acceptance letter to be a resident assistant (RA) for the University of Northern Iowa. Though I will not be returning to the RA role next semester, I still had an experience and process worth sharing. 

On Feb. 5, 2021, at 11:15 a.m., I received my acceptance letter to be a resident assistant for the University of Northern Iowa. When I first saw the words “Congratulations,” I was seated at a table in the middle of Maucker Union. I was so excited to start this new journey in my college life. But even in the moment of my excitement, I couldn’t help but realize that I might be the only one who looked like me in my job, and that would be a challenge. Nevertheless, there was a need for Black RAs on campus, and I was determined to fill it. 

In this job, we as RA have to check on our residents and are required to schedule meetings to talk about how their semester is going. When it was my turn to speak with my RA, I told her exactly what I felt. I felt alone, and I was the only one who looked like me in my hall. I felt alone and genuinely scared. The summer before I started classes, I was in a Jumpstart program. I was around many amazing people who looked like me, and then on the first day of classes, our worlds did not collide. I felt like an imposter. 

Although my RA couldn’t relate to me or empathize with me, she listened to me and showed me that she cared. She went out of her way to invite me to hall dinners hall events. She walked down to my room to have conversations with me. We created a relationship that is still inseparable to this day. When we became more comfortable with each other, she encouraged me to be the voice I didn’t have. Representation has always been vital for me, and I knew it would be difficult, but in my head, I thought, if not me, then who?

I haven’t been alone in this RA journey. One of my colleagues is a person of color, so naturally, I gravitated towards him more than anyone. On the first day of RA training, I sunk into a hole of doubt. I started to wonder if I could be the person I came here to be. I didn’t know If I could use my voice the way I wanted to. I felt constricted by the physical appearance of others and my mind overthinking. It was frustrating being one of the only ones who looked like me. I felt like the topics of race and how to deal with people who don’t look like you were not covered enough, and quite frankly, I don’t think they ever will, mainly because of recent laws passed in Iowa. 

I had the realization that no matter what, I will always be a part of the minority population here at the University of Northern Iowa. Being the only Black woman in certain rooms, I used my voice to talk about specific issues and topics. I spoke with people about why we say Black Lives Matter and why there is a constant theme of police brutality in the U.S. It was very tiring talking about such topics, but I knew that If I didn’t bring it up, the voices of our residents would never be heard. 

Being the only Black person on my staff has had its good times. I like to say that my other co-worker of color and I  brings flavor to the group. I give an entirely different perspective, and I am willing to share my culture and experiences with my staff. Whether it’s sharing how diverse Black women can be with their hair, or breaking down other concepts and answering questions, like if Black people can get sunburn. 

I have tried to relate and build relationships not by race but by experience. At the same time, I make sure to express my Blackness all the way. I am not ashamed of who I am. I believe that my Black is beautiful and I want to show them that. Most of my co-workers come from small towns or places that aren’t diverse. I have tried to break down stereotypes and share my culture and a part of who I am with them. 

Connecting with my residents has been the most important thing to me in this job. I wanted to give residents of color something I never had: someone who looks like them. My floor is one of the most diverse floors in Dancer Hall. I have built relationships with other residents from different floors and different buildings around campus. 

It has warmed my heart to see those residents comfortable in a space because they have someone they can go and trust. I have found that my influence goes beyond students of color and my hall. I’ve connected with everyone. I am Black woman who faces the unknowns of life. I know what it means to struggle, and I know what it means to overcome. 

Being an RA of color at the university of northern Iowa has had its ups and downs. There are times when I feel alone in this job, and there are times when I feel appreciated. I’ve loved my experience with my residents and with my co-workers. I intend to use my leadership skills and experiences as an RA and enhance them in other campus programs, such as Panther Promise Academy. I have enjoyed this experience. It is my hope that people read this and realize just how important our voices are on campus. We need more RAs of color.