A pre-COVID era RAD Retreat in January 2020. Two weeks after this photo was taken, the first COVID-19 case was documented in Singapore.
“To be soft is to be powerful.” – Rupi Kaur
On 10 April 2021, the annual Resident Advisors (RADs) Retreat took place at the Kent Ridge Guild House, with 16 RADs, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) Deanery and OSA Residential Life staff. The day felt auspicious and brimmed with optimism and excitement. It was the first time that everyone was meeting in person after 15 months, given the slew of on-campus safe management measures that prevented us from doing so.
But one must not think that not meeting for 15 months equates to no work done, in fact it is quite the opposite. RADs are full-time NUS faculty and non-faculty staff, who live on campus in the Prince George’s Park Residences (PGPR) and UTown Residence (UTR). They perform roles of pastoral care, enforcing communal standards and organising programmes for residents, all on top of their day jobs. When COVID-19 hit in January 2020, RADs were in the thick of action – delivering meals, adapting programmes and attending to constantly evolving safe management measures. If being an RAD was a test of how nimble one was on their feet pre-COVID, being an RAD during the pandemic was a full-on marathon, constantly racing against time to beat an unknown adversary.
Assoc Prof Ho Han Kiat sharing his opening remarks – with an attentive masked audience, no less
Given the hectic nature of the RAD role, the RAD Retreat is one treasured day in a year where RADs gather to take stock of their efforts in the past year, review programme and annual survey results, and brainstorm for new engagement strategies for the year ahead. At this Retreat, Deputy Dean of Students, Assoc Prof Ho Han Kiat, also took the chance to outline strategic residential life pillars for the way forward – forming strong community bonds, providing effective pastoral care, and displaying strong leadership.
Dr Eugene Tay (Asst Manager, NUS Care Unit), a new RAD who joined UTR in January 2021, mused: “As a new RAD, the presentation of survey results was extremely meaningful for me. I wasn’t aware that such an exercise was being executed on a regular basis, which is and will be an important tool for us in assessing our quality of residential life at UTR. The comparison across residences also helped us make sense of where we might need to improve on. Overall, the results were really positive and I’ll have to maintain if not improve on the high standards set by my predecessors.”
Ms Jothi, (Manager, NUS Biz), PGPR RAD, echoed these sentiments:
“It was truly a blessing to be back in a physical retreat after 15 months, and to learn about the strategic direction ahead for residential life. I just feel sad that we had to observe safe management measures strictly and we couldn’t hug each other upon meeting – which we always do!”
RADs in high spirits after hearty discussion on engagement strategies for the next AY
Programme turnout rates were at an all-time low, but naturally so, since none of the usual physical programmes could take place last year. Despite many virtual programmes that were offered, Zoom fatigue is a natural occurrence and deters students from camping out for longer than necessary – even if a programme was attractive. This begs the question – do we beat ourselves up for less-than-stellar outcomes in an extraordinary year, or can we take a step back to appreciate what was done in the face of seemingly insurmountable unknowns?
Perhaps Prof Ho summed it up best in his opening remarks, eulogising:
“When we are gentle and humane with ourselves, we show our students that it is okay to be too.”
To be soft is to be powerful; to be gentle and humane with ourselves, is perhaps the strongest thing we can do. In the strange year of 2020 fraught with the constant uncertainties that COVID-19 presented, everywhere we looked, there was an opportunity to be gentle and humane with our work, each other and ourselves. And right at the centre of it, walking that fine line of gentleness and humanity, quietly toiling away day or night, are our RADs.
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