Dormitory Armitage, or: meet your new RA

Meditative up top, jokey below the fold.


Happy Labor Day to U.S. readers — especially to those who are working today. (As I am sitting in a very busy *bux, I’m quite aware that my leisure comes at the expense of others’ labor, often very poorly recompensed, though *bux is said to have excellent employee benefits.) I’m sure Marlborough Mills didn’t celebrate national holidays, either. I’m not blaming that on management — the point for me in celebrating the achievements of labor organization is to talk about the joint work of labor and management together.

A distressing scene from North & South in which Mrs. Thornton (Sinead Cusack) tells a grateful mother that she can keep her sick child’s place at Marlborough Mills if a sibling can replace her within the hour. My caps.

 This scene reads as horrifying to the modern viewer precisely because of some of the achievements of organized labor — the institution of child labor laws and safety regulations — and the work of management to improve the labor process. Laws prohibiting child labor came about both because of organized labor groups (who saw these laws a means to raise wages for adults) and because of the activities of the wealthy and, increasingly, industrialists (who were troubled by working conditions for children). Mrs. Thornton seems awful to us because she’s “only” worried about her son’s mill, but in her enmeshment in the system of production, she’s dealing as much with economic conditions as she experiences them, as is the poor woman working with her children to keep their family fed. Though some have more power than others, we’re all in the world together.

Phylly presents the Armitage solution to labor / management difficulties (from last year).


“Our” RA. Richard Armitage, correctly labeled, for anyone who’s confused, in a segment from BBC Breakfast, September 17, 2010. Source:

After my experience a few weeks ago with a use of the term “RA” with which I was unfamiliar, I was thinking about two ways in which I commonly used the term “RA” in the context of my job teaching students who are seeking a “BA” (an abbreviation I encountered a lot, assuming it meant “Bachelor of Arts” and not what it means in our context: Before Armitage).

[At left: a typical U.S. dormitory room. For an increasing number of U.S. students these days, sharing space in a freshman dormitory is the first time they have shared a bedroom with another human, and educators are starting to question the purpose of forcing students into a shared space arrangement that is often part of the learning experience but inevitably creates friction.]

One of the contexts in which I usually use the term “RA” is operative at the moment, because for about the last two weeks or so, university terms in the United States have been starting. I’ve been bombarded with twice as many messages as usual about the annual chaos, because I am still getting memos from my old job. Yup: the weekend before the term starts, all over the U.S., it’s dormitory move in for first-year students. Many beginning students are required to live on campus in order to facilitate the learning experience and enhance their access to resources that can help them to succeed. At the last university I taught, this event presented the campus with a logistical nightmare, with approximately 8,000 students moving into an area smaller than a square mile –including both university and private dorms– all on one morning. Faculty were ordered to park elsewhere and to stay away unless they were volunteering to help with the move-in.

Recently, I was thinking back to my own “move in” at college in 1987. It was a much smaller institution than most of those I’ve worked at. We drove up in the rental car to the housing office, picked up a key, and drove to the dormitory. My (shared) room was on the third floor. We carried my things up there with the help of students in a campus Christian group, met my roommate (with whom I had already exchanged letters — this was before both telephone deregulation and email), and put up a few posters. It was quickly time for my mother to go (she had to fly home that afternoon), and I walked her down to the parking lot, where she gave me a big hug, told me to work hard, and left me. Sounds a bit triste, but I was sad for all of about forty-five minutes. Leave-taking was harder on my mother than on me, even though I’d been a pain all summer, anxious about the future. I think about her now, as I begin to observe friends my age sending their eldest children to college and  reorganizing their personal priorities as children leave the nest.

Anyway, one person that the first-year student moving into the dorm inevitably meets is the resident assistant or “RA.” Being an RA is a lot of work, but as it is typically compensated with free room and board for the year, it is a competitive and highly desired position. RAs are typically both overachievers with excellent time management skills and people who get along easily and well with others. Their job is, optimally, to create a sense of community among the students with whom they live, and, at a minimum, prevent any tensions between roommates or problems between people on the floor or personal problems a student may be dealing with from escalating into disaster. They also help freshmen navigate campus, answer questions, serve as a shoulder to cry on, and try to ride herd on the crazy level of illicit drinking that many U.S. undergrads do. My RA that year was a sweet, mild-mannered junior whose name was Bronwyn. I don’t remember anything else about her; I was a music major when I started college and was busy in the practice room, so I didn’t spend much time in the dorm or participate very often in the hall activities that she faithfully organized.

I didn’t “need” my RA, but the RA is the first line of defense in anticipating and dealing with student difficulties. I frequently find myself urging students to speak to their RAs for help about developing study skills or dealing with other personal crises.


Now, the campus I attended did not have co-educational dorms, but can you imagine? You’re moving into your college dorm room (or moving your kid into hers) and a man steps up and says: “Hi, my name is Richard Armitage, and I’ll be your new RA!”

Richard Armitage as Lucas North in Spooks 7.2. Source:


“Is there anything I can help you with as you’re moving in?”

Sure, Richard Armitage, my new RA! You can:

Help me move some boxes!


Teach me how to live in close quarters with strangers!

Claude Monet (Richard Armitage) moves into Bazille’s apartment in episode one of The Impressionists. Source:

Give me some advice about how to use the university exercise facilities!

Richard Armitage as Lee in Cold Feet. Source:

Get me involved in some intramural athletic teams with friendly fellow students!

Ian Macalwain organizes a rugby game to enhance teambuilding in Red Troop in Ultimate Force 2.2. Source:

Give me some advice on how to my research for my term papers!

Richard Armitage as John Porter in Strike Back 1.3. Source:

Console me when the first term of college is just too hard for words!

John Bateman (Lucas North) reassures Maya Lahan (Laila Rouass) in Spooks 8.8. Source:

If Armitage were your RA: watch out world! That alone would be worth the room and board cost. Servetus calls home: “Mom, I have to say I just LOVE my new RA. I think I’m going to be participating in a lot of dorm activities this term!”

~ by Servetus on September 5, 2011.

14 Responses to “Dormitory Armitage, or: meet your new RA”

  1. I would cerainly have fainted if Richard Armitage had stepped up and introduced himself as my RA. I can see it now — a little babbling idiot before I hit the ground.

    Speaking of roommates, my son’s is from Belgium and apparently doesn’t realize what is considered racist. He’s made some pretty harsh jokes, and my son who is the personification of live and let live, pulled him aside this weekend and said, “Hey, man, let’s talk….” Needless to say son is getting quite an education.


    • I know, right? Suddenly, college becomes a lot more — compelling?

      Interesting about your son’s RA. I don’t typically think of Belgians as racist, but the lines that define racism are different in every culture. On the other hand, some people are just jerks. Hope he’s educable, and nice of your son to help him out 🙂


  2. @Frenz — I would say you son’s roommate is getting quite an education too! And hopefully he won’t get himself in trouble with someone who isn’t as patient to explain things!

    Servetus — I love this post! My son just left home to return to university in a city quite far away. It’s his fourth year and he’s sharing a house with several close friends so no big move in that Mom and Dad have to help with this year. As for RAs I have known some very good ones but none would be as wonderful an RA as “our” RA! Great pic spam! 🙂


    • Oops! According to the Urban Dictionary I shouldn’t have put a space between the last two words in my previous comment.
      I should have said: “Great picspam!” LOL! Apparently there is a big difference!


      • I had to look up picspam, so no worries. 🙂


        • OMG! Servetus had to look up a word…you have no idea how thrilling this is to me! 😉 Here was my introduction to the word picspam — from a long ago link off of Nat’s blog to this now defunct blog (sadly) called Eleveth’s Journal :

          Funny stuff!


          • that is funny!

            I look up words all the time. I am the biggest fan of the dictionary in whatever language. It’s not like I was born knowing all the words I know 🙂


            • Well, yeah of course! But if you knew how often I look up terminology here… I might as well always have an open tab for google … (copy) word (add) define. Yes, I use Google not a real dictionary. Does anyone use those tomes anymore?
              I don’t read your blog at work ya know, so it wouldn’t matter how many dictionaries were in our school library, I wouldn’t have access to them from home! 🙂
              Anyway, did you read that blogger’s picspam. It is a scream! It’s also where I first saw the term “glove porn”. I died laughing when I read that!
              Oops! Sorry, I am getting carried away here. Lovely chatting with you!


  3. Don´t miss part 2.


  4. oh thank you thank you! I’ve been trying to refind Eleveth’s site/journal/whatever for months. That was THE first RA related website I stumbled upon immediately following my first viewing of North and South. I read Elevth’s journal late one night and nearly passed out trying to stifle the hysteria so as not to awaken the Man of the House. I’ll not misplace this again…it’s now on my favorites!

    Yep, a dictionary resides right beside monitor at the house. I have a whole huge list of new words learned at these blogs. Another department of my Ongoing Education.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to live at the dorm so remained home w/parents. Never had the moving-in experience, no roomies, no obnoxious neighbors and NO * gasp* RA!!! Had to wait for the real thing some 40 yrs later. Sad really. I still mourn the lack of dorm life. Altho I did share it in the way of overnights with GIRLfriends at various colleges all over TX. Way before this guys and gals all in the same dorm thing. Plus it was a babtist school. 😉


  5. A little late to comment, but as a University student (already done my BA – with both of your definitions :), and on my last year to get my MA degree), I think it it a good experience to live in a dorm, living and sharing. Of course, when the room-mate is nice and friendly and all that. I have had both positive and negative experiences with that.
    I have also lived in brand newly remodeled dorm, but for the last 3 years I have been living in one from 1968, and it hasn’t seen much renovating ever since, so it’s quite shabby, but it’s cheaper and close to school, and it doesn’t feel like living in a hospital like in the new ones! Of course, people get to used to almost anything in life, and I don’t complain.


    • And a really late answer: I lived in a dorm for four years and loved it. As a young student it was a neat way to meet people. Now I wouldn’t do it, I guess.


  6. […] If you hurry, you can still make it the first session. One might add — if only RA were my RA. […]


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