Four residential college advisers (RCAs) huddle outside an oak door in a dormitory hallway. A slip of paper posted beside the door gives hazy details of a freshman student’s concerns with his roommate. “Who’s going in?” someone asks. Alyssa Mancini ’13 nods and the others step back as she knocks on the door. “Come in!” a voice calls from inside. Taking a deep breath, Mancini turns the knob and enters.
The scene inside is improvised, cut, and critiqued. It is early September before the Class of 2015 has arrived, and Mancini, a new RCA in Forbes College, is training to become an upperclass mentor to freshmen and sophomores.
While RCA training consists of a wide collection of presentations and discussions, RCAs overwhelmingly agree that the three days of role-playing sessions, collectively known as the “Behind Closed Doors” program, most realistically prepare them to serve as leaders, friends, and resources to their fellow students. Associate dean of undergraduate students Cole Crittenden *05 insists the program “is far and away the most important thing we do with RCAs.”
For a typical session, a group of about four new RCAs take turns acting as an RCA while senior RCAs step into the roles of freshmen with common first-year problems. Once the door opens, the situation is “real” and its handling is later analyzed by the non-acting RCAs and visitors from various campus resource offices. The scenarios are designed to prepare RCAs for what they are most likely to encounter and range thematically and in their level of urgency— from residence hall and health concerns to more complex identity issues.
For Mancini, the sessions were invaluable for putting knowledge of campus resources to use while learning from experienced RCAs what really works in the field. The silences throughout an exchange were important, she explained. “They gave everyone time to think and calm down in a tough situation.”