Career Personal Development University Housing

What is a House Fellow?

Hmm… I thought this was going to be a cute article to write about and walk through memory lane, but I’m starting to realize just how satisfying, terrifying, and emotionally developing being a house fellow/ resident assistant really was. At least if you tried to be a good one and put in the work… Unless you ever stood in the footprints of a House Fellow, you have no clue how much work and effort you need to put in to be successful. All you have is the rants/tantrums/tears/and laughter you hear about.

As you already might know — my name is Caroline Rozado. I applied to be a housefellow during my Sophomore Year — and stayed in my position for 3 years after that. I was a Housefellow in a specialty Residential hall that focused on creating a learning community and hosting a variety of extra support programs. I wanted to be a Housefellow because I felt like my first two years at UW-Madison was insufficient. I wasn’t putting myself out there to interact with people who were different from me — race/religion/belief/majors/gender/etc. I was so AWKWARD! And approaching people wasn’t very natural for me. 

So when you read this — remember one thing — I have no regrets. I grew up mentally and emotionally. I had to grow up fast because you really have no idea how overwhelming it can become to have 40+ residents depend on you to help shape their first year in school. And of course… each resident comes with some type of baggage — that you might have to dive in and see how you can be of assistance. 

The Basics

The textbook definition of a House Fellow is a full-time undergraduate student living with an undergraduate population, residing within a specific residence hall. A resource for both the residents and residential life. We are the front line individuals who reinforce housing rules while creating events and environments to help residents feel supported and accepted. On paper, it is estimated that House Fellows work about 20 hours a week including, but not limited to: evenings, weekdays, weekends, and on-call. 

Pay: We got free housing, some perks in dining, and I believe a biweekly stipend of $200. This was enough for me to become self-sufficient. I had been working during my freshman and sophomore years, but it just wasn’t enough to cover all my expenses. With free housing, and budgeting my expenses of eating, I had enough money to carry me the entire school year without having to rely on my parents or try to find a second job. I really felt like I was adulting! 

A Former House Fellow’s Opinion about the job?

In my opinion, a House Fellow is a kid looking after other kids. Yes, I know, technically if you are 18 and above, you are an adult. I’m 25 now and looking back, I was one of 7 ~20-year-olds looking after 250 18-year-olds. Kids looking after other kids. I can’t think of many opportunities that give me the power to support/empower students. 

But after being in the position for so long, I learned that you have shapeshifting abilities — being able to connect with everyone. A Housefellow has to make sure everyone feels welcomed in the community despite their beliefs. I felt I was everyone’s mom, dad, uncle, teacher, therapist, ruler, and punisher (I exaggerate). It was the worst ensemble of roles — especially because everyone reacts differently to which person I needed to be during that moment. Being an authority figure — some residents may already be hesitant to chat with you, and other residents want to get on your good side in case they get in trouble (brownie points). It wasn’t very difficult for me personally to be able to morph into these different roles. I like to think of myself as someone who has way too many mirror neurons — empathy is a real strength of mine. But there was something that I needed to improve on — conflict. 

Conflict resolution, disruptive behavior, and enforcing rules was something that I only got better at through experience — and housing was not shy of opportunities. I’ve had lots of conversations about people fighting about an issue with their roommate, teachers, parents, themselves? How many times I’ve had to tell residents, it’s past quiet hours… so.. Shhhhh!!!! And the biggest of them all — the number of REPORTS I’ve written for medical and disciplinary action? It’s difficult to sit with people and hash out their differences, especially when the other party is uncomfortable with confrontation. 

But on the BRIGHT SIDE! These particular batch of residents were so energetic and had lots of interesting things they wanted to do. We had Halloween parties, galaxy nights,  Anime nights, coffee tasting, and my favorite Cake Bake Offs! The residents had to pay a premium to live in this particular hall, which made it possible to create amazing high-quality events that keep students engaged and open to new things. 

So I wrote this list… and wasn’t sure where to put it. It basically describes what you could find your housefellow doing/asking/saying/needing

  • Lives on your floor in a room…. By themselves
  • Asks you about your schedule, and classes you are taking
  • Informs you about different events that are happening in the hall and communities
  • Helps you if you feel like you are having a heart attack
  • Let’s you confide in them when you feel like you are struggling
  • Reports people who are breaking the rules
  • Has bi-weekly meetings with their supervisors
  • Attends mandatory meetings with their housing community
  • Goes on “rounds” and is on-call every “once in a while”
  • Helps you get back in your room if you get locked out
  • Wants you to be safe
  • Is sometimes stretched beyond their limits
  • Needs a nap
  • Helps you figure out how to get along with your roommate
  • Sometimes pretends that they are not in their room
  • Has to do well in school and maintain a certain GPA to be employed
  • Needs a lot more support
  • Put on a smile, when all they need is a day off! 
  • ETC

It might be easier just to name what a House Fellow is not… but I won’t bore you with more lists. 

Being a House Fellow is not for the faint of heart. It’s A LOT of physical and emotional work. Being mentally present while you face problems, call the police, and face potentially dangerous situations is soul-sucking and pays dividends to your future. At 25, I’m really not afraid of anything. I had such strong training through my house fellowship, that I’m very level headed and have an open heart when I approach new things. I also made amazing friends. I really don’t think I would have had such a great time if I didn’t have the student staff team to interact with and hang out. 

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