Binghamton University

Monday, April 07, 2014

Mutant Mania 2014

Mutant Mania—an annual week full of competitions among Dickinson‘s four buildings—came to a close on Saturday night, and just now am I sufficiently caught up on sleep and studying to tell you about it.

First of all, Mania is sooo much fun. Some of the highlights of Mania, from my perspective, were:
-Helping write an anthem for my res hall that included references to cavemen, our building’s theme for Mania this year
-Helping try to build a cardboard-and-duct-tape boat good enough to sail someone from one side of a pool to the other and back
-Watching a tug-of-war that included a body builder on each team
-Knowing that we raised like $700 for charity through penny wars
-Getting a free show from a local drag queen during a cross-dressed beauty pageant for transgender awareness
-The fact that six people in my building were willing to road-trip to Times Square in the middle of the night just for a photo for a scavenger hunt
-The fact that my building’s entry in the Iron Chef contest included venison that two other RAs in my building had butchered themselves with stone tools (thank you, experimental archaeology class, for having the best timing ever—seriously, how perfect is that for a caveman team?)

Second, Mania is crazy-competitive and if you’re into it (which you should be!) you will sacrifice for it. From my perspective, these were some of the low-lights.
-Giving myself a slight asthmatic reaction by running part of a relay race in 30-degree weather
-Getting water on me because people decided to throw water balloons even though the event involving water balloons was cancelled due to the 30-degree weather
-Being the least helpful person ever in musical charades
-Losing my ID card while walking through campus’s disc golf course for the scavenger hunt
-Discovering, also during the scavenger hunt, that it is no longer appropriate to expect Toys R Us to have Barney paraphernalia (kids these days!)
-Having a borderline-coherent conversation while cleaning my res hall’s kitchen after a 4 AM attendance event
-Hearing people get into an actual heated argument over what counts as a spatula

The thing about the lowlights, though, is that—except for losing my ID and giving myself a medical problem (not practicing self-care, tsk tsk me)—ultimately they are their own kind of highlights. You look back and laugh about how intense things can get and how silly everyone can be. You don’t even have to wait till Mania is over, though, because one of the last Mania events is usually skits. Each building writes and performs two skits, one comedic and one musical (usually also comedic), about Mania. The skits are usually filled with Dickinson in-jokes, some about the different halls’ reputations outside Mania, some about who did how well in other events, and some about things people have said and done during the course of Mania. It gives us the chance to see the humor in everything, and because the teams all watch each other’s skits, we get to sort of start being on the same page again so that the competitiveness ends when Mania does. (If you’re interested, check the skits out here.)

See, by the end of Mania, we’re all definitely ready for the end of Mania, and the great payoff for everyone is that the community is much closer. You’re closer with your team, obviously, because nothing bonds people together like football and midnight road trips. And you’re closer with the rest of the buildings too, because once the dust has settled you realize that you all just spent a week pouring yourself into the same ridiculous things pretty much just because it’s a Dickinson tradition to do so.

I said I’d keep you up-to-date on how new Dickinson compares with Old Dickinson, and I’ll be honest. While there were just as many super-dedicated people this year as there were in the past, there were far fewer people who were semi-involved and far more who just didn’t participate. It’s kind of disappointing, but to be expected, I think, given how nice the new buildings are—whereas Old Dickinson housed basically only friend-hungry freshmen and those upperclassmen drawn by its reputation for tight-knit community, New Dickinson seems to have attracted a lot of people who see their res hall less as their community and more as just a place to live. Maybe as time goes on, and as Res Life and student government continue to promote the Dickinson spirt, that will change. In the meantime, those of us Dickinsonians who choose to get really involved can still have a really great time. I congratulate Rafuse Hall for their fourth consecutive win, I have pride in my own Johnson Hall for our third-place finish, and I thank everyone who helped Mutant Mania happen. Yay Dickinson!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The new model

Remember that time I mentioned that the Residential Life staff in Dickinson Community might be switching some things up this semester? And the other day, when I mentioned the Dickinson Health Fair being run by a whole ten RAs, even though any RA events I’d mentioned before had been run by just one or two people? Are you dying to find out what’s up?

Well, this is it: a new programming model. Under the old model, each RA had a certain budget on which to run three educational events per semester. Most of the events were run by individual RAs, though occasionally two or maybe three RAs would choose to collaborate. In addition, RAs would usually choose to hold community builders—like floor dinners at the dining hall or group game nights—throughout the semester.

Under the new model (well, not exactly new, since Newing piloted it last semester), each RA is put into a group of four or five RAs from their own hall and a separate group of ten or eleven RAs from across Dickinson. The five-person group is assigned a certain week during which to host an educational event targeted at their building; the ten-person group is assigned a certain week during which to host an educational event targeted at the whole learning community. RAs are also now required to hold community builders, sometimes individually, sometimes in groups, depending on which hall they’re in.

If you’re a Dickinson resident, there are a couple upshots to the new model. First of all, unlike last fall, there won’t be upwards of 100 educational events in your community in a given semester. When you see flyers and emails for that amount of programming, it kind of all becomes white noise. A major goal of the new model is to decrease the quantity of events (so people are more interested when one comes up) while increasing the quality (because, theoretically, the effort of five or ten people can create a better program than the effort of one or two). Because the educational events will now take place on a schedule more or less set in the beginning of the semester, they won’t overlap or otherwise be timed in such a way that you’ll have to choose one over another. Also, because your RA will most likely host more community builders under this model, there will be more things specifically set up for you to hang out with the other people in your building. And because RA budget money is now set aside not just for educational events but for community builders as well, your RA can host cool community builders that cost you nothing!

From an RA’s perspective, I will say that I was happy with the two programs I’ve helped host so far. The first was a hall-wide community builder, in which the rest of the Johnson staff and I set up a fondue and coloring party at the beginning of the semester. The second was my five-person event, Super Mega Jeopardy, in which maybe twelve attendees played an academic-themed Jeopardy game in order to win bags of study supplies and snacks.

This Saturday, from 2 to 5 in the C4 Multipurpose Room, my ten-person group will be hosting Polish Your Pitch, an event to help students get ready for their careers (feel free to stop by if you’re around!). Then next Wednesday, I’m working with Johnson Hall’s other sixth-floor RAs on a dessert-night community-builder. After that, I’ll be helping run two more community builders before the end of the semester. So I definitely wouldn’t say that the new model creates less work for the RAs, but that isn’t the point—the point is to provide programming that residents will enjoy and gain from, and I sure hope it works.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Never really off-duty

I’ve been in the Johnson Hall RA office for the past three and a half hours. I’ll be in here another two and a half more. That’s because I am on duty—I am the RA who is in charge of letting locked-out people into their rooms, walking around the building to make sure everything’s all right, and being a sort of all-purpose go-to person. Every res hall’s RAs go on duty on a rotating basis. The RA on duty needs to be in the office from 8 pm to midnight (or, for most learning communities, 8 pm to 2 am on weekends) and then available in the building until 8 am that morning.

I was on duty yesterday night, too, and every Wednesday I have to go to a staff meeting, which takes maybe half an hour. Plus I had a half-hour one-on-one with my supervisor, and I helped with Assistant Residential Coordinator selection for an hour, so you could say that officially I spent 27 hours working this week. The thing about being an RA, though, is that it’s really less of a job and more of a lifestyle. Like, most of what you do “to be an RA” is not certain scheduled things at certain scheduled times. Instead, the RA role is kind of woven into your life. For instance, in order to be available for residents who may want to talk to me, I might spend three hours doing homework in my room with the door open rather than three hours doing homework in the library. Does that count as three hours of RA work? If a resident comes in and has a conversation with me for fifteen minutes, do those fifteen minutes count? What if we just exchange hellos? What about the hours I’m on duty after my shift in the office has ended, when I’m just sleeping? What about times like right now, when I am on duty, in the office—but all I’m doing is writing this blog post and talking with my lovely friends and fellow RAs Kara and Natalie?

On the other hand, as a Dickinson resident, I would probably choose to participate in events like Color Combat and Mutant Mania. As an RA, I’m required to participate. I don’t think that really counts as work either, but instead of just joining a team with friends, as an RA I would go around trying to get other people to participate too—does that count as work? Building relationships with residents is a big part of my job description, so does starting a conversation in the laundry room count as work? What about the little things I do to modify my behavior due to the fishbowl effect? What about random conversations with residents in the dining hall?

I will never be able to give a solid answer when people ask how many hours a week I work as an RA. That’s kind of annoying, but the flip side of having my work be so integrated into my life is that I get to see bonding with people as a legitimately productive activity, I get a sense of purpose from the things I do for my job, and most of all, I am being pushed to be a better version of myself at almost every hour of the day.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


On-campus residents have started to return for the spring semester, which officially begins on Monday. As an RA, I’ve been here since last weekend, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that only today did I finish cleaning up the mess I left before going home for winter break. After I finished cleaning, my building’s staff hung out together to eat pizza and other food provided by our Resident Director (because she’s awesome!).

I spent one semester of my sophomore year at Binghamton and the other semester studying abroad. Halfway through last year, I moved out of my on-campus apartment because I’d been hired as an RA. That means that this is the first time since my freshman year that I’m spending spring semester in the same place and with the same people as I spent fall semester. I like that I’ve had so many different experiences, but as I look around my newly-neat room and get ready to meet with part of my staff again in a few minutes to watch a movie, I feel really content with the continuity of my experience this year. I’m looking forward to getting back to old commitments and old friends. I’m looking forward to squeezing in some new experiences, too. Actually, I’m looking forward to everything. I’m anxious, of course, because this is my last semester, but keeping the general framework of my life the same as it was before the break is making me feel more comfortable.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Things you can’t learn online

Today during RA training (yup, I’m back at Binghamton!), the Multicultural Resource Center gave a presentation. It involved a few different activities that touched on a bunch of topics, but one activity in particular stuck with me. This activity started with every RA being given a sheet of paper with moral-judgment statements about issues such as abortion, drug use, and corporal punishment. On the sheet, each person had to mark whether they agreed or disagreed with each sentence. The papers were then collected and redistributed so that everyone had someone else’s.

One side of the room was marked “agree,” while the other was marked “disagree.” When the presenter read one of the statements, each person had to walk to the side of the room that matched the way their paper had been marked for that statement. We then had to think through the issue from our assigned point of view and argue in favor of our assigned opinion. It was a bit of a sixth-grade-style activity, but hey—training is tiring, so presenters need to get creative to get us engaged.

Having us argue positions we may or may not have actually agreed with was smart. Not only did it make us see things from different perspectives, but it also prevented the arguments from getting too heated. At the same time, because we were using only the answers of the people in the room, it let us get a feel for what the people around us actually thought.

This training session reminded me of one activity we did back in my first-year experience course, during the unit on diversity. For that activity, the facilitator would say a sentence, and then everyone in the class had to stand by a sign reading either “strongly agree,” “agree,” “slightly agree,” “slightly disagree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” One sentence was something like “Women’s responsibility to be breadwinners is equal to that of men.” All the students—male or female—chose either “strongly agree” or “agree.” A lot of the guys had expected the girls to disagree, while a lot of the girls (myself included) had expected the guys to do so. Realizing that our assumptions about the opposite gender (women want to put the financial burden on men; men have a macho thing about making the most money) didn’t apply to the people around us, as well as finding out about other people’s assumptions, was definitely a good experience. Personally, I tend to get annoyed at forced-interaction educational activities. Even I have to admit, though, that stuff like this can sometimes be a part of what makes going to college a better learning experience than just reading a textbook or something, because it makes you think about things in a way that sticks with you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

This moment in Dickinson

I had my last RA event of the semester last night in Johnson’s Great Room. The event, called Fighting Finals Stress, gave all Dickinson residents the chance to grab some free healthy food, complain about finals, and talk about self-care techniques. A lot of people showed up, which reassured me that I’d planned a helpful program, and I thought it was cool that of the residents attending, there was a mixture of people I knew (whether from participating in Color Combat, letting them into their rooms after they’ve locked themselves out, or just being around the building) and people I didn’t. I enjoyed spending a little de-stressing time with people from both groups. It was one of those moments that make me grateful to be part of a residential community.

And I do feel like I’m part of a residential community. You might remember me being worried about this feeling being lost when Dickinson transitioned into the new buildings, and I won’t lie—I still miss how small the old Dickinson buildings were. I don’t recognize most of the people in New Johnson Hall the way I did last year in Old Johnson Hall, and as an RA, I feel like I have to be more alert when on duty because things might not be as obvious as they would in a smaller space. That said, I know more residents by face than I might have expected to, and I’ve met a decent number of residents who aren’t assigned to me.

The new larger size has its advantages as well. Having more RAs around puts less constant pressure on each individual RA, and it means that if a resident needs something, there will almost always be at least one staff member available to help them. Also, I will admit to having been a bit of a skeptic as to the necessity of having a lounge in each neighborhood (which means three lounges per floor), in addition to the Great Room, study lounge, laundry lounge, and rec lounge on the first floor. Now that it’s finals week, though, those common spaces are all being put to very good use, and we’re definitely glad that we have them.

The other day, I was in the new Digman Hall for the first time, to help people move in. Digman will open (with two of its five floors to be occupied, I believe) in January, because construction on that hall ran behind schedule. This means that this semester’s Dickinson—with Johnson, O’Connor, and Rafuse open—is only three-quarters the size of what it’s supposed to be. My personal perception is that, even at three-quarters the intended size, Dickinson is less of a united community than it used to be because, except for people who knew each other beforehand and people who are very involved in Dickinson activities, there’s not much social crossover between the buildings.

That’s not the worst thing in the world, granted, especially if people are making friends and socializing within their own buildings, but I think next semester will strengthen our community ethos. First, Dickinson Res Life has got some programming changes waiting in the wings—stay tuned for more on that. Also, as an RA, I have the opportunity to hold community builders, and I’ve talked with other RAs (like Christina!) about some cross-building stuff we can try out. In terms of physical setting, all four res halls face the Dickinson co-rec field, a beautiful oval of grass (currently covered in snow) that we were all forbidden from stepping on this semester…but when it opens in the spring, we’ll have a nice, central area to congregate and hang out. Finally, spring in Dickinson means Mutant Mania. Color Combat was a great bonding experience, but Mania is much more engrossing, and even though it pits the buildings against each other, it brings everyone together in the end.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Five formerly impossible things before breakfast

1. I woke up to natural sunlight. When I’m at home, we always pull down the shades when we sleep, so when I got to college I naturally always shut my blinds completely. Then, when I spent a semester living in a furnished apartment in Milan, Italy, my bedroom window came with blinds that I’d never seen before but that I’m told are common in Europe—they’re very adjustable, so you have a lot of control over how much light gets in. I discovered that I loved leaving these blinds slightly open when I slept. The sunlight woke me up much more gradually and less painfully than any alarm clock, and it made me feel a little happier when I woke up as well. The blinds in my on-campus room now are obviously American-style, but my experience with the European ones taught me that leaving them a little bit open can make me feel a little better on a daily basis.

2. I appreciated how easily I could think in the language I would use throughout the day.
Don’t get me wrong, speaking Italian was one of the most exciting and stimulating parts of my semester abroad. That said, it was also really difficult. It made me realize how privileged I am to use my native language in my everyday life, how much mental effort goes into speaking a foreign language, and also how marvelous it is that with early exposure, something as complicated as language comes to people as second nature.

3. I was not impressed by my dual-function toilet. OK, it’s kind of cool that Dickinson (as well as Newing) has environmentally-friendly toilets—you push their handles up for a smaller flush to get rid of liquid waste, and down for a bigger flush to get rid of solid waste. But the toilets in my apartment in Italy gave even more control. Instead of a lever that you push, each of them had a knob that you could turn. The farther you turned it and the longer you waited to turn it back, the stronger the flush. So yeah, the dual-function thing is way ahead of most American toilets, but it’s pretty behind the traditional toilets in Milan.

4. I put on eyeliner. Before Milan, I used eyeliner (and most other make-up) only once in a while. When I was there, though, I noticed that I got subtle, disapproving glances from strangers more than occasionally. After a few weeks I realized that I got way fewer of those glances when I was wearing make-up. I also noticed that almost none of the local women went out without wearing some, so I figured I might as well try to fit in, and when I returned to the US I decided to carry that with me.

5. I put in my Pac-Man earrings.
Four months in Italy’s fashion capital did get me more into make-up, but it didn’t make me a slave to vanity. It made me analyze my attitudes and habits related to my appearance, and because it got me away from my family and friends, it made me feel less self-conscious about experimenting. This perspective helped me decide which mainstream fashion-y things I did want to adopt (like using eyeliner) and which I didn’t. For instance, I didn’t buy any real jewelry at any fancy shops. Instead, I went to one of Milan’s biggest Senegalese street markets and bought a pair of earrings, one shaped like a Pac-Man and one like a ghost.

Despite what many Americans may think of when they think of Milan, I don’t mean to imply that make-up and earrings were a huge part of my experience there (if you follow this blog, you know there was a heck of a lot more to it). I do think it was interesting, though, to see how fashion-related things played out day-to-day in such a supposedly appearance-conscious city. Also, by writing about the eyeliner and earrings, along with the other elements of my routine this morning, I hope to make this point: study abroad doesn’t radically, magically change who you are, but it does give you a new perspective on a million different things. This will affect your perceptions for a long time after you return home, and exactly how you integrate that into your life is largely up to you.


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