Job #2 – 1911 Andy Holt
The year: 1994-1997
The Music: Ditty, Paperboy; Strawberry Wine, Deana Carter; Wannabe, Spice Girls (oh, for goodness sake), ALL of Celine Dion and Shania Twain
As I quickly scanned the small cinderblock room, I noticed one big toe sticking out of the unusually large pile of clothes on her floor. “Stacy, it’s past visitation and I heard a boy’s voice. He needs to go home now.” “There’s no one here. Must have been my TV”, she said. “Stacy, I’m going to have to ask your boyfriend to come out from under that pile of clothes.” I have to admit, it was somewhat of a creative maneuver. I had, by this time, pulled boys out of closets, out from under beds, showers and storage nooks. The really sneaky ones knew to pull drawers out of the built-ins and climb through the other side to the adjoining room.
Of all of the jobs I’ve ever fallen into, being a Resident Assistant in a Residence Hall (it’s not a dorm!) at the University of Tennessee was possibly the most pivotal. If I’m honest, I applied for the job because Resident Assistants (RAs) got their own room without paying an extra fee. Heaven! So, at the end of my sophomore year, I put in an application, went through a lengthy vetting process and before I knew it I was part of the Humes Hall staff. Being an RA would be my first run-in with what leadership could look like at its best and its worst. The growing up I did during those years was immeasurable and often painful – as is most growth. I would find an extended family, meet the woman who would become my most treasured friend, and meet my future husband.
I entered the University of Tennessee on a violin scholarship. Between my parents and myself, we managed to get me graduated with zero student loan debt. I didn’t appreciate then how utterly amazing our “creative accounting” was until recently, as my children grow older and look towards their own college experience. My monthly RA paycheck would cover room and board, and at the end of the month I received $13.00. At the risk of sounding like a credit card commercial, the experience was priceless. Lest you scoff at the young “inexperienced” students shepherding your college kid, perhaps I can shed a little light.
I could tell you a million stories of the shenanigans that went on in during my RA years, but the job was actual work. Besides getting up in the middle of the night to give a bleary-eyed girl yet another lock-out key; her lips pink and swollen, mascara smeared – there was conflict resolution, confronting peers on difficult situations, grieving with students that were navigating difficult life experiences, program planning (for which I was usually put on probation for coming up short on my quota), drug and alcohol write-ups, sorting mail and the ever-popular cleaning of vacuums. Creating seasonal door decorations and building relationships with 20+ girls on the floor. Those were just a few of our duties, all while trying to maintain our own studies and personal lives. It was hard work, but telescoping back through time, it was one of the best times of my life. And coming off a tough sophomore year, being an RA probably saved my life and kept me at UT.
When the fire alarm went off, I could be found running up and down the hall banging on doors with my shoe for residents to clear out. I was usually doing this with a violin strapped to my back as it was my one and only prized possession. More than once, the fire was started by someone throwing a flaming bag of microwave popcorn in the trash.
During my first year, I had several members of the Lady Vol basketball team on my floor. I was always so impressed that Pat Summitt or Holly Warlick would actually assist their girls moving in at the beginning of the fall semester. These coaches actually carried boxes! If you don’t know who these women are, then you’ve been living under a rock and need to do some independent research. Once, when one of her players had surgery, Coach Summitt came to pay a visit. Glancing down the hall at her, I couldn’t make out her face because the sun was shining so brightly through the window behind her, but her silhouette and stance was unmistakable. I squeaked out a small hello to which she replied, but to this day I wish I had drummed up a little awkward conversation.
Our staff was an eclectic, diverse group of women. Among them, a couple of practicing Jewish girls. They were kind enough to show me and teach me, tolerating what had to be really ignorant questions. We formed a tribe, where members of the LGBTQ+ community felt safe enough to come out. Black women on staff would share what a pain in the ass their hair could be and teach white girls like me how to “step”. We learned how to be sensitive to each other and hold space for one another. To be sure, we had our share of cat fights, but they were trumped by sitting at the front desk together and talking about everything and nothing.
Not everything during this time can be cast in such a haze of happy and carefree. In my second year as an RA, I was sexually assaulted. Even as I type this, I cringe at the word rape (was it?). My face reddens and there are still stirrings of shame and uncertainty. I remember him explaining how making ice cubes with warm water instead of cold, would make the ice cubes clear. They made a perfect “clink” in the glass in which he poured bourbon and ginger ale. Later in the pale, gray light of morning, I came to and noticed three condoms lying on the side of the bathroom trashcan. As it was his desire to become an upstanding member of the FBI, I’m sure he wanted to make sure there had been no pin-holes, no chances. I jerked my jeans on, flew out of his apartment and wrote it off as my fault. I would go to the mat for one of my residents had this happened to her, but I put the responsibility of this intrusion squarely on my own shoulders. I had put myself in a dangerous situation, right? There was alcohol involved and besides, I had a very important statistics exam to study for. Right, studying will make it go away. I’m not sure whatever happened to that poor, pathetic bastard but knowing what I know today, I have more than a few words at the ready for him. All of this “messy” would set many wheels in motion that would take years to straighten out. Eventually though, things would become as clear as his fucking ice cubes.
To be continued…