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Credit: Katie Shia

When College freshman Spencer Rosen begins to feel the pressure of freshman year, he knows there are many outlets upon which he can draw for support. While Counseling and Psychological Services provides many resources for students, and friends are often available to chat, sometimes the most helpful resource for Rosen is his residential advisor College senior Tucker Reynolds.

Reynolds, like all other RAs and graduate associates, has gone through intensive training with staff from both CAPS and Student Health Services in order to provide the support Rosen and his 21 other freshman hallmates might need.  

“He’s really useful and the entire hall asks him questions,” Rosen said. “He’s done a great job bringing the hall together.”

This year, RAs and GAs received four days of mandatory training beginning on Aug. 14, just before New Student Orientation on Aug. 22. The I CARE training with CAPS trained the RAs and GAs in how to respond if or when difficult situations with residents arise. 

They discussed many issues such as what to do in situations involving sexual assault, eating disorders, and in cases where students might seek out support when contemplating suicide, Reynolds said.

CAPS launched I CARE in 2014 as a way to train students and faculty in how to be resources for others on campus. Over time, the program has expanded and Greek organizations on campus have taken it on as a priority to have a representative from each group trained in I CARE. 

In addition to typical I CARE training, however, training for RAs and GAs includes reporting any worrying behavior of students to CAPS or to Student Intervention Services.

According to Riepe House Coordinator Alaina Bailey, who graduated from the College in 2017, one of the most important responsibilities that RAs and GAs learn is how to provide campus resources to students.

“RAs are supposed to be givers of information,” Bailey said. "The RA can feel comfortable saying, 'OK, student who's having an issue, let me take you to this person that I know.'"

One part of that summer training is role playing, in which former RAs and GAs act out difficult situations — such as alcohol and marijuana use, fights, or crying residents in need of comfort. A group observing the role play later critiques how the trainee handled the situation.

“You are using these skills the entire year,” Reynolds said. “I realized within the first month how much these skills come in handy.”

Part of RA/GA mental health education is noticing signs of depression because “not everyone comes forward,” Reynolds said. 

These signs include mood swings, increased alcohol use, not leaving the room for long periods of time, and not taking showers. If a roommate discloses any concerns, RAs or GAs check in personally with the resident.

According to Riepe House Dean Marilynne Diggs-Thompson, RAs and GAs are not confidential sources, though. If they know that a student plans on harming themselves or is contemplating suicide, Thompson said they are instructed to call CAPS or Student Intervention Services immediately.

Taylor Boggs, who is in her first year for a master's degree at the School of Social Policy and Practice, said it is important to always remain with a student who is having suicidal thoughts.

“It’s scary. It’s not easy and it’s not something you want to or hope to be in, but at that moment it’s about saving another human being’s life,” Boggs said. “You break confidentiality even if it means they get mad at you, because I’d rather you be mad at me than not be alive to be mad at me.”

Rosen said that Reynolds’ training “has been super helpful” in helping him become an approachable and effective RA.

“He is there to be serious when it’s time, but he’s also a friend,” Rosen said. “That’s what you want in the RA, someone who’s there to talk about the big issues but is also there to joke around and be a good support system.”