I’ve kept strangely quiet about my summer job in a college after my first optimistic post. Every time I try to think over what happened, to make sense of the chaos and horror that was this summer, I come up empty. It’s almost as if I’ve repressed the memories to keep myself from going insane, but I need to write about it if I’m ever going to get over it. I’m still hurt and angry, and I’m afraid this post has an awful lot of complaining in it, but writing it all down has helped. As my sister says, writing is healing.
The first thing I learned as Dean of Residence Life was that I was not ready for this job. I had just graduated, had no real job before, and was coming into an important administrative role with no prior experience to pull from. I did not know what it took to house and run a residence life program. I thought of myself as a lead RA because that’s what I understood. I did not have the skills, the attention to detail or the ability to keep up with the work load required for this job. A few days into the program, I found myself at my wits end and with nowhere to go but down. A week into the program, I made a mistake and was led to believe that all my coworkers resented me, and that I was a “whisper away from being fired”. I was quickly labeled as incompetent (even called selfish) and the majority of my responsibilities were given to other administrators for the rest of the program. They even promoted two RAs to administrators in order to “delegate more effectively”. It’s important to me that my boss and coworkers believe in me, that I can do my job and improve. Maybe this isn’t a good thing, because it makes me reliant on others for my self-assurance, but so it is. I did not feel that they had faith in me after that first week and my self-esteem suffered as a result.
The second thing I learned was that this program was poorly designed and managed. The students doubled in number this year; the admin team did not double in number this year. That is not a recipe for success. This program was extremely ill-designed and set up all its workers for failure. Is it reasonable to expect every administrator to be efficient while working 19 hour days for three or more days? This is not an exaggeration. Throughout the duration of the program, I got five hours of sleep on a good day. We had multiple administrators and RAs up until 2am or 3am dealing with residents going to the ER, getting locked in trash rooms, getting calls from peeping toms; the list goes on. Expectations from the main office were not communicated clearly or in a timely manner, so deadlines were missed, mistakes were made, and miscommunication multiplied. The most frustrating thing about this job was that no matter how many times we as an admin team tried to tell the director that things needed to change, she was unwilling to listen and make changes. If a worker is not performing well, you can respond in one of two ways. You can (1) threaten and criticize that worker in the hopes of scaring them straight, or (2) work with them to discover the root of the problem and implement strategies to improve. As a boss you also play the role of the teacher. If a teacher does not succeed in teaching her students with one method, it is expected that they try other methods in order to help that student reach his or her goal. These were not theories the director attempted to put into practice, despite having a doctorate in higher education.
The third thing I learned was that if you cannot communicate and work with your coworkers, you cannot be successful. I thought in the beginning that we were communicating well, but that quickly failed after the first weekend. We were not communicating well at all. Misinformation was abundant and when mistakes were made we blamed each other instead of changing the process. It got so bad that we had an intervention where we all sat in a meeting for three hours alternatively blaming each other and then being vulnerable and apologizing. I was the only one who cried; it was mortifying. After this, things got a bit better, but we never fully recovered. Again, our boss didn’t seem to care that we had problems responding to her communication and management style. This experience has made me realize the importance of acting quickly in the future when I have conflicts with coworkers and my boss, and to apologize early when you make mistakes.
I had many breakdowns during the program, but the incident that made me go absolutely crazy happened on my last night on campus. We had two students left in the dorms and most of the RAs and admins had already left. I wanted to celebrate the end of the program with a few RAs who were also my friends. We weren’t going to do much, just go have a drink or two at a local bar. When my boss found out that this was happening, she freaked out and called me 11 times in 20 minutes, left two voice messages, and many texts asking me the same questions over and over about who was going to be in charge while I was out “partying”. I was not planning to be off campus for more than three hours and felt that she was overreacting. She gave me instructions to put two RAs on duty while I was gone and make sure the residents knew who to contact if anything happened. My RAs were not on contract, so I thought it unfair to ask them to be on duty. After I told my boss I was following directions, which I did reluctantly, I got a call from one of my RAs saying they were scared because my boss called her. My boss said she couldn’t get ahold of me and was threatening to come to campus “if things weren’t going her way”.
This is when I hit my limit.
After I unnecessarily woke up students to give them the RA on duty’s number and doing exactly as I was told, even though it was completely unnecessary, my boss called my RA and freaked her out about the whole thing. I was outraged and only saw red. I called my boss and yelled at her saying she had no right to call my RAs and scare them and make them do anything when their contract had ended. She was the one who did not think through the closing procedures and put safety measures in place. I was there voluntarily. What would she have done if I had left earlier that day and not decided to stay the night? It was fine to bother me about this stuff, but to call and freak out my RAs? They did not deserve that. I hung up after I told her never to call me again, and she didn’t. I know it was unprofessional, but my contract was over; she couldn’t touch me. I knew even before my outburst that I would not get a good reference from her anyway. It felt so good to tell her off like that, especially since it was not the first time I or the other admins had been harassed past 10pm by my boss who was most likely not sober.
I was never so happy to leave a job in my life. There were so many times that I wanted to quit this summer, because I was stretched far past my limit mentally, emotionally, and physically. But I’m glad I didn’t because I was able to finish what I started, even if I went a little crazy in the end.