Have you ever tried to explain an aspect of Taylor to someone who doesn’t go here? It’s no easy task.
“Pick-a-date? So, you voluntarily have awkward small talk with someone you don’t know in the form of a massive group date?”
“Wing? You mean you all know each other? And share one bathroom?”
Surprisingly enough, there’s one job at Taylor that is especially difficult to explain to both those who know Taylor and those who don’t. Around 150 students hold these jobs at Taylor, according to Olson Hall Director Jessie Woodring. Including myself.
I’d love to give everyone at Taylor a little bit more context about this job.
Being a Personnel Assistant (PA) at Taylor means many different things. I often equate this position to another college or university’s Residential Assistant (RA) role, but in reality there is an added layer of complexity within this leadership position.
The Taylor Website defines the necessary traits for a PA with a single paragraph, but I have asked a few students who currently hold this position to describe it for themselves.
Senior Carson Brauer, a PA on Second Center Wengatz, describes his role as having a wide variety of responsibilities.
“PAs share a lot of the responsibilities of traditional public school RAs, but priorities shift a little bit with a tight-knit Christian community like Taylor,” Brauer said. “I always tell my friends and family that we’re primarily focused on event-planning and relationship-building, and we’re equipped to resolve conflict when we see a need.”
Every PA has a different experience. Some have incredible stories of growth and friendship. Others have difficult stories of heartbreak and frustration. It can be hard to shoulder the weight of many people’s hardships and feel responsibility for each of them.
This same responsibility can also be said for a Discipleship Assistant (DA). There is a whole web page on the Taylor website full of information about what this role can and should entail, compared to the single paragraph provided for a PA. The DA role can still seem unclear.
“Both PAs and DAs are working towards student learning and community development, but we ask the DAs to be particularly focused on the spiritual aspect of this growth and development,” said Scott Barrett, director of Residence Life, and Julia Hurlow, director of discipleship programs. “This doesn’t mean that PAs don’t care about spiritual growth or that DAs only care about spiritual things, but we do want these to be particular areas of focus.”
PAs work around 15 hours a week while DAs put in four to six hours.
Junior Taylor Heath, a DA on First West Olson, said the role’s description can seem blurry, but aspects include planning/leading small groups and trying to create spiritual spaces on the wing or floor. Another important aspect is engaging in spiritual conversations.
Heath said since the DA position is unpaid, it is common for DAs to have another job and it can be hard to find a balance.
It can also become more complicated when a floor or wing has one PA and one DA. Junior Leigh Sumner, PA on Third Center English, said her experience with this balance has been one of growth and shared responsibility.
“This year has been a blessing because (my DA) always helps me out in any way that she can and always has good ideas for events for the wing to do,” Sumner said. “Since there is only one of each of us, we lean on each other and try to support each other in the most helpful way possible.”
In my experience, being a PA is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Creating a space of intentionality, vulnerability and grace is the ultimate goal and desire for my wing. While there are inevitable trials of various kinds, what makes Taylor special is the fun, safe space created and cultivated by these leadership roles.
I challenge you to stop and thank your wing or floor’s leadership staff today. They go above and beyond to make sure you’re being taken care of in the best way possible.