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Friday, December 09, 2022 — Houston, TX

Inside the lives of Rice’s newest RAs

Zeisha Bennett / Thresher

By Felicity Phelan     9/20/22 11:53pm

When Bianca Lopez arrived on the Rice campus in 2019, she received a warning about the resident associate program: “Only crazy people do that.”

RAs, a unique feature of Rice’s residential college system, are adult members of the community who live alongside and support students in residential colleges, often with their partners and children. Despite the warning, Lopez, who works in asset management for Rice Management Company, was excited to get involved.

“It sounded like a great opportunity to make a difference in the Rice community and to expose the kids [Lopez’ children – Lucas and Olivia] to something a little different, [something] non-traditional,” Lopez said.

Lopez and her husband, Carlos Escobedo, joined Sid Richardson College as RAs last month. They’re two of the several RAs who have started positions in the past year. The Thresher talked to some of these so-called “crazy people” about their new roles.

Stephanie D.C. Parker, Lovett College RA, joined the Rice community in Aug. 2021 as the associate director of the program in writing and communication. She and her spouse, Matt Wells, started as RAs this August, applying on the suggestion of Jennifer Wilson, the director of the PWC and a former RA. For Parker, increased opportunities to interact with students was a big benefit of being an RA.

“At Syracuse, I was teaching a lot. I had tons of students that I was connecting with and getting to know,” Parker said. “One of the drawbacks [of my PWC position] is I teach less … the RA position helps take away [that] negative, because I’m still getting to know students and putting together events and doing all this exciting stuff.”

Jessica Krom, the associate director of MBA admissions at the Jones School of Business and a Brown College RA, had a similar motivation. Krom started as an RA for Brown in November 2021, moving in with her husband, Daniel, and their son, Houston.

“I work in the business school, so before the undergraduate major came online, I only worked with graduate students,” Krom said. “There’s something special about undergrads …[they] are so visionary … I think the older you get sometimes you might be a little bit more averse to risk … but undergraduate students [will] just try anything, they’ll do anything, they’re so open to the possibilities that the world has, and I love seeing it.”

Both Parker and Krom agree that their interactions with students are about sharing experiences and being a resource, rather than exercising authority.

“[Being an RA is] not always providing my opinion, but providing my lived experiences,” Krom said. “Being a listening ear, not trying to solve everyone’s problems, but being available.”

Oftentimes, RAs’ personal experiences equip them to better understand and connect with specific students. 

Parker reflected on how her own freshman experience allows her to relate to more introverted students.

"If I [as a college freshman] walked in a room and there were tables, I probably would've had the tendency to sit at the table by myself," Parker said. "Not because anything was wrong, just because I think different people respond different ways to social situations. I do think that being an RA and thinking about that has made [it so] when I walk into the Commons and I see the freshman who's sitting by [themself], I get that. I can check in and say, 'Hey, how are things going?' and try to be a resource for students [for whom] the social doesn't come as easy."

The importance of being able to relate to student experiences was echoed by other RAs. Lopez and Escobedo, who identify as Hispanic, were able to share their culture with Sidizens in a recent Hispanic heritage event they hosted with traditional food, drinks and games.

"A few of the Hispanic students thanked us after [the event]," said Lopez. "They really appreciated feeling like their culture was being represented at Rice."

According to Escobedo, the impact of this representation is felt by people even beyond the students themselves.

"Even with the parents during [Orientation]-Week, some of the Hispanic parents came up to us [saying], 'Oh, we feel so much more comfortable with you guys being here,'" Escobedo said.

As much as Rice students benefit from their RAs' support, and as much as RAs enjoy interacting with their students, all the parent RAs recognized an additional group thriving in the arrangement: their children.

"I've already seen a huge developmental increase from him [Lucas, Lopez and Escobedo's son] from the past month that we've been here," Escobedo said.

Lopez added that she’s noticed a distinct increase in her son’s confidence and ability to talk to adults.

For Krom, her son Houston's positive experience living at Brown is all the more important given the larger social context.

"My kid lights up on this campus. People will see him and [say], 'What's up, Houston? High five, Houston!' For him, as a Black little boy, to grow up knowing that he's celebrated by all types of people, what does that mean for him when he's a teenager?" said Krom. "I feel like this experience is the foundation of something that could be groundbreaking for him. He's exposed to so many different people, so many different cultures, so many different experiences, and my baby boy is embraced by everyone."

Though relatively new to their roles, the RAs are already looking forward to the rest of the year and beyond. Lopez and Escobedo expressed their eagerness to support their first class of Sidizens through their Rice journeys.

"You see them [freshmen] coming in as babies, straight from high school, you'll see them going to the workforce or to get their graduate degrees, so it's exciting to see that," said Escobedo. "[It's exciting] to see what path they all end up taking and how we can impact that in a positive way."

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