When I first stepped foot onto Florida International
University’s campus as a freshman back in 2015, I was more than 1,000 miles
away from home. I was nervous, yet excited, for this next chapter of my life.
Almost immediately, I connected with my resident assistant, who served as a
guide and mentor throughout my first-year experience. She encouraged me to take
a leap of faith and apply for the RA position. Through this leadership role, I
had the opportunity to learn and grow under outstanding supervisors who found
an ideal balance of challenge and support. They brought out the best in me in
terms of creativity, leadership, and, most importantly, self-confidence.
In graduate school, I worked within the Office of Conduct
and Community Standards at the University of Florida. Through my assistantship,
I became even more passionate about housing and student affairs as I gained a
more intentional insight into the hardships that college students face and the
decisions they make as a result. I crafted my conduct philosophy to be one of
education and care. I tried to destigmatize the notion that the conduct office
is scary, but is instead preventative and restorative. In doing so, I was able
to create meaningful relationships with students whom I was meeting at
understandably the most stressful points of their collegiate careers.
As I transitioned to full-time roles within housing, I have
made it my mission to offer the same fundamental support I was given as a
resident, resident assistant, and graduate community coordinator. You never
know what somebody is going through, but with kindness, an open mind, and a
listening ear, you can make a tremendous everlasting impact on students. I hope
to continue inspiring and serving the next generation of students.
During National Suicide Prevention Week at the beginning of the month,
I reminded my student staff of the importance of tending to their mental health
and completing intentional check-ins with their residents. I shared that no
matter the time of day, I will be here to support them in crisis, as I never
want them to feel as though they must struggle alone. A few days after this
conversation took place, a student approached me requesting to chat. As I
always have an open-door policy, I readily welcomed the person into my office.
Shortly after the conversation started, I could tell that something was wrong.
The student shared the history of their mental health and their current
struggles and was very open to receiving help and allowed me to quickly connect
them with resources for support. This person could have suffered in silence,
but instead, they fully trusted me and looked to me for guidance during a time when
they were at one of their lowest points. The heartfelt thank you they provided
me was all the reassurance I needed to know that I made the right choice of a
career in student affairs.
I try to create a very friendly and inviting atmosphere in
my office. As soon as you enter, you will see all the decorations I have
created and collected over the years proudly displayed on my door. These
symbolize the past, present, and future of my student affairs career. Once
inside, you will notice I have several cork boards and white boards. I love
hanging up any notes that my students, resident assistants, and supervisors
write for me on the cork boards. On the white boards, I like to write motivational
quotations and my to-do lists. My favorite items in my office are a memory book
one of my best friends from grad school made me, sorority memorabilia from my
big sister, and photos of my friends and family.
Florida International University has my heart. The campus is
vibrant and modern. Inside the student union, you will find hundreds of flags
on display for all to see, representative of every country a student has come
from to attend FIU. As someone who came here from a small town, I really enjoy
the diversity and inclusion on campus.
Two of my favorite FIU superstitions are the consequences of
stepping on the university seal and the kissing bridge. It is said that if you
step on the university seal in front of the Graham Center, you will not
graduate on time. To reverse the curse, students must walk laps backwards
around the seal for however many years they have left until graduation.
The kissing bridge is in the center of campus. I was told
during my freshman orientation that whoever you kiss on the bridge is who you
are bound to marry. To release yourself of the potential marriage vows, you
would have to push your ex-partner into the water below. So far, I have yet to
see anyone pushed in!
Some of my favorite FIU traditions are homecoming, August
move-in, and the Relay for Life. During homecoming, I love seeing the university
community filled with school spirit all week long. There is a signature event
that people can enjoy daily, from Panthermonium and a baking competition to
Panthers Got Talent, Trail of the Torch, and, finally, the football game.
Move-in is certainly an all-hands-on-deck operation. There
is nothing more exciting than seeing students return to campus and getting
ready for the year ahead. Finally, as someone who lost both my grandparents to
cancer, I am extremely thankful that FIU hosts the Relay for Life event
annually. I really enjoy seeing people come together for this cause and showing
support by walking in solidarity and silence to honor survivors and those we
have lost, hearing stories about those most impacted by cancer, and feeling
connected to others while on the quest for a cure.
In residential life, no two days are the same. I enjoy
figuring out ways to overcome both foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges. I
am surrounded by a very supportive and motivated staff who continuously help me
become a better version of myself. Simply put, I am motivated to make an impact
and create intentional, positive, and sustainable change for the next
generation of leaders and scholars.
I wish I had the ability to read minds. Often, so many
students suffer in silence, and I wish I had the ability to know when they were
struggling so I could prevent any atrocities. In the interim, I will continue
frequent check-ins with my staff and residents to ensure that I provide them
with the care and resources they need.
Jaime Weiser is a residence life coordinator at Florida International
University in Miami. Have a colleague you think others should get to know? Please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you may see them in a future issue of the magazine.