Through the Student Lens – Building community while gaining skills: Life as a residential advisor

Hanna Wauczinski ’24
Easthampton, MA
Major: History Major / Concentration: American History / Minor: Legal Studies

What is the role of a residential advisor, especially during the summer months? Meet one driven lead RA whose impact has been felt far and wide across campus as you take a look “Through the Student Lens.”

1. How have you seen Residential Life’s efforts impact the community at Wheaton?

In my opinion, Residential Life (ResLife) is hugely impactful for the Wheaton community both in creating opportunities for community engagement and ensuring that our residence halls are a safe living environment for students. 

ResLife staff are all excellent resources for students who need help navigating a variety of different situations including roommate conflicts, academic concerns and mental health issues. Additionally, ResLife is focused on ensuring that students find their place here at Wheaton.

When I started off as a first-year student, my residential advisor (RA) was hugely impactful in helping me create connections with other students; three of the people on my floor in my first year are still my best friends! Becoming an RA, for me, was a way to help pass on that strong Wheaton community to others. 

Creating opportunities for community engagement is a substantial part of our job as RA’s and many of these opportunities are both popular and beneficial for the Wheaton community. Some recent examples of programs that ResLife has pioneered are Freaky Friday, Upper Campus Tours, and a plethora of smaller educational programs. 

Freaky Friday is the annual Residential Life Halloween event that hundreds of students enjoy. The program looks a little different each year, but generally it consists of face painting, mocktails, music, trick or treating, and a haunted house in one of our residence halls. Freaky Friday is one of my favorite programs because many RA’s contribute and there is a high participate rate among the students. It is a great way to kick off Halloween weekend. 

Upper Campus Tours is another annual program produced by RA’s in which current students are offered tours of the different upper campus dorms before they complete their housing selections. This is a great service that ResLife provides and the program is very practical in helping students make informed choices about their living situations for their next year. 

Beyond these larger, campus-wide programs, each RA puts on monthly programs that range from educational to just plain fun! I have seen RA’s use ping pong to talk about wealth inequality, create letter writing campaigns to encourage politicians to address environmental concerns, sponsor Bob Ross painting nights, and create trivia nights for Women’s History month. Each of these programs provide Wheaton students with a chance to expand their knowledge and try new skills. 

2. What do you like best about summer at Wheaton and what kinds of opportunities are available to summer residents?

I loved my summer at Wheaton and it is frankly hard to pick my favorite part! For me, it was a trial run for living independently. The experience was a great opportunity to learn what some might consider to be more mundane skills that are necessary for life after Wheaton—budgeting, meal planning, cleaning scheduling, etc., while also having Wheaton resources to fall back to for support. 

Over the summer, I was working two jobs. I was a Summer Residential Advisor (SRA) and I conducted research with Assistant Professor of Political Science, Miranda Yaver. We worked to research the laws surrounding employer provided health insurance and how they limit a patient’s rights when they receive a coverage denial. 

My mornings were spent working in the Residential Life Office where I spearheaded an office reorganization initiative, helped plan residential advisor training, planned events for summer residents, and worked as an office assistant. In the afternoons, I worked on my research which mostly consisted of reading journal articles and finding and summarizing relevant case law. 

These experiences are just a few of the available opportunities for Wheaton students over the summer. Many of my summer residents were working internships in the surrounding areas, taking summer courses or conducting research with professors on campus. 

Outside of work, I could often be found either laying out on the Dimple reading with a friend or cooking communal meals. Looking back, it is those slow, summer evenings with friends that I remember most fondly. 

3. How would you describe summer activities, and summer in general, at Wheaton and what is your favorite part about being an RA during the summer?

I would describe summer at Wheaton as quiet, though not in a negative way. 

As an SRA, I was responsible for creating summer activities for other students. Some of my more popular events were movie nights, couponing nights, pizza parties and walks in the Wheaton Woods. Putting on these events for my residents was one of my favorite parts about being an SRA, both because it was rewarding to create a community for summer residents and also because it gave me the opportunity to create new connections. 

Equally rewarding was helping staff the Wheaton Food Pantry. It was great to have the opportunity to help address food insecurity on campus and connect students with resources. 

Outside of the events SRA’s are putting together, I think spending the summer at Wheaton really gives students the space to develop our own interests and explore, in a way that we don’t always have time to during the regular academic year. I started a book club with some of my friends and co-workers which gave me a chance to expand my literary horizons, spent a lot of time trying to learn how to cook new foods and took day trips to Boston.

4. What is something you’ve been a part of within Residential Life that you are proud of?

At the end of my sophomore year, I was chosen to be a lead resident advisor, a position that I have held for two years now. In this capacity, I have really focused on increasing the accessibility of RA programs and creating educational programs that focus on equity and inclusion. Lead RA’s fill a variety of roles. We serve as on-call support for RA’s who are responding to emergency situations, we oversee a quad of RA’s and help them create programs for residents by managing the event schedule, purchasing supplies, developing program ideas, and any other help RA’s might need. 

In my capacity helping RA’s create programs, I have focused on increasing the accessibility of our events and helping RA’s think beyond just holding events in physically accessible places. I have encouraged them to make events allergen safe, make promotional materials that are readable for people who are colorblind/have a reading disability and ensure that videos shown at events always have captions, etc.

A large part of my interest in these kinds of equity and inclusion initiatives stems from my involvement in Wheaton College’s Model UN travel team, which I have been a member of since my first year at Wheaton. I have served as the co-president for the last two years. Being a member of Model UN really taught me the importance of understanding how different experiences can impact people’s perspectives on issues and the necessity of educating ourselves about those experiences so we can create better solutions for a better world. That understanding has translated into my work as a Lead RA through helping RA’s create opportunities for students to learn about different world issues, engage in inter-group dialogue and expand their understanding of different perspectives. 

My RA’s and I have put on programs about how to stay informed about local, national, and global news as a busy student; we’ve hosted History of the Civil Rights Movement trivia in collaboration with Wheaton’s History Club; and we’ve used Disney movies to talk about income inequality. It has been incredibly rewarding and exciting to see my RA’s work and push themselves to create more accessible, inclusive and substantive programs! 

5. What should students and parents know about working with the Office of Residential Life?

Residential Life centers putting power in the students’ hands and encouraging students to develop their own critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Our philosophy as a department looks to promote student independence while also ensuring that students have support to fall back on should they need it.

Hanna is just one of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents, guardians, and families you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.