Living where they work: The challenging role of resident director
This issue of the Horizon features women’s RDs Lorren Oesch and Emily Kauffman. Check the Nov. 25 issue for a profile on men’s RD Terrence Jones.
By Gabriella Audrey
A digital clock showed a gleaming red 12:30 a.m.. Everyone in Erb Hall was fast asleep as the moon hung in the sky, looking over the rare stillness of the blue planet. Then someone decided to put popcorn in the microwave for longer than it needed and a fire alarm broke the tranquility of students’ sleep. Everyone hurried outside, waiting for the alarm to cease.
Who do we always count on in these situations? The Resident Directors (RDs), of course.
Lorren Oesch and Emily Kauffman have dealt with their fair share of fire alarms, but as RDs, they face tougher issues all the time. Their jobs and personal lives are interwined, a unique and demanding job characteristic.
Oesch has been living in her apartment just across from the bookstore for one and a half years. As the only RD who returned to Hesston College from last year, she has the most experience among her colleagues. That’s a tough responsibility cast upon her shoulders.
“Yes, it is stressful to hold the biggest responsibility, but I enjoyed the new kind of leadership this year has brought,” she said.
That responsibility has also pushed her to grow personally, especially working with all new people.
“I have to learn their working styles, but [I] also have to learn my working style, and kind of collaborate with theirs,” Oesch said.
Her working style is closely related to her self-care. This year, she realized that it is okay to take a little break for herself so she can remain calm in urgent situations such as fire alarms and medical assistance. Terrence Jones and Kauffman, the other RDs, help Oesch through every step.
“I feel like I have learned this year,” she said. And even though I’m the one with most experience, I still have a lot to learn about people. I think the other two RDs helped me a lot with that,” Oesch said while sharing her contagious laugh.
Alongside Oesch, Kauffman has also experienced a lot of changes in her life. She is a new face in the student life department. But then again, maybe she’s not so new since she is also a Hesston College alumna. Kauffman graduated in May of 2016 and now she’s back.
“This was not an easy decision to come back,” Kauffman said. “In many ways, it felt like the safe decision because Hesston is a community I felt very known and affirmed in as a student here. On the flip side, much like my decision to come to Hesston as a student, coming back felt like a very risky decision.”
She transferred to Goshen College in Indiana after Hesston.
“At Goshen, I began to learn how my identity as a white, middle class, educated, Mennonite-raised woman informs not only how I relate to others, but how others relate to me. At the time, I wasn’t sure if Hesston would welcome me and my broader, more inclusive way of living. The move back to Hesston also felt risky because I was leaving my parents, my support system. On most days, I am grateful to be back.”
On other days, life as an RD has not been easy. After all, she lives where she works. And she has to be mentally and physically prepared for 24/7.
“I’m not going to lie, the transition has been rough. Very rough,” Kauffman said.
The most challenging aspect is knowing how to set boundaries.
“I am a naturally caring and empathetic person,” she said. “I invest a lot in relationships. But in order to care for others, I must care for myself. This is hard to do because in the same space that I care for others, I care for myself.”
Knowing how to set boundaries has been difficult. But as Oesch mentioned, teamwork and collaboration among RDs is very helpful.
“I am incredibly grateful for those who are walking alongside me, supporting me and affirming what I bring to the table. I wouldn’t be able to do this job without Lorren and Terrence with me every step of the way,” Kauffman said.
In this short span of four months, she has learned a lot from the students.
Everything “from how to say ‘welcome’ in Albanian to what is the most current slang term to how resilient one can be in the face of depression. I learn something new every day.”
The students learn a lot from her and she learns a lot, if not more, from the students too. Kauffman stays busy with two campus clubs, Foodie Club and BeLongTo group.
“I love food and using it as a connecting force and tool for story-telling,” she said. “BeLonGTo is another group I have been apart of facilitating meetings and providing support for. I feel privileged to help create a safe space for queer students on this campus.”
These two superwomen are the powerhouse of Erb. Call them when you are sick, or craving good food (yes, Emily bakes a lot of delicious confections), or when you just need extra pairs of ears. But please, don’t burn your popcorn.