“Actually, I’m a professional staff member…”

Oh, the plight of a new professional in ResLife: everyone thinks I’m an undergrad. And by everyone, I mean mostly the students and parents who arrived this weekend. My staff gets it for obvious reasons. Really, though, it’s tough to be 24, live on a college campus (in a residence hall), and not be mistaken for an undergrad.

Several well-meaning parents asked me this weekend “So what year are you?”, at which point I explained to them that I am actually a professional staff member with a master’s degree and I oversee all of the student staff, programming, student conduct, etc in these buildings. One mother told me “Oh, well that’s a cool job; you’re a full time staff member and everything?”

Ugh. Yes. And everything. I get paid, even. I have benefits. I have an advanced degree! I know what I’m doing! It’s really tough not to be frustrated with these kinds of questions. Students are equally confused when I shake their hand and say “Hi, I’m Ashley, I’m your Hall Director”. One senior even said “Wait, really? How old are you?” ( I think lots of students have a crazy moment when they shift from the assumption that I was a peer to the knowledge that I am a professional. They realize that they can’t be friends with me/hit on me/go out to a bar with me, etc. It really throws them for a loop).

Students were particularly surprised when I was playing volleyball with several RAs and residents tonight (I was wearing gym clothes and none of the typical “HD” markers like a polo or nametag). I almost felt guilty, like I was going incognito by wearing gym shorts and then introducing myself later. I felt weird about acting my age, and nearly didn’t tell the student who asked me how old I was. But I did tell him that I’m 24. Because I am.

I’m 24; I have a master’s degree, and I’m their Hall Director. I decided what I wanted to do with my life when I was their age and I’m thrilled every day about the job I have now. I’m qualified for my position and that doesn’t mean that I’m always going to be sitting in my office wearing dress clothes. I’m going to be part of the community that I oversee, as a role model for good behavior, integrity, and experience in the college environment.

So yeah, I look a lot like my students. And parents, you look a lot like my parents. But really, I know what I’m doing here. This is my real job. Trust me; I’m a professional.

How have you dealt with difficulties in perception of age and experience as a new professional?

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