story | Pang Wei Han, Guest Writer
photo | Pang Wei Han
A year ago, today, I never would have imagined that I would become a Residential College Advisor (RCA). I didn’t really think much about it when the application window opened… and closed. I never saw myself doing it: I had a pretty decent internship planned for the summer and two big Capstone-esque projects planned for my final year, and my second semester of junior year had been tough. Really tough.
On some level, I think becoming an RCA involved a lot of luck: my internship fell through at the last minute and Cendana still needed RCAs. But on another level, all the inspirational people and work that I had witnessed in this school that made me feel like maybe I could do more, and maybe I should do more. I’m not sure if it’ll be too self-obsessed if I used this platform to thank them for moving my heart so deeply…but Kavya, Tee, Yeng, Saza, Kris, Pragya, and Art, thank you.
Whenever someone asks me about the RCA experience, I turn immediately to one of the many permutations of “shag” (Singlish for exhausted) that my suite and I have created over the years. Shaggi Goreng is pretty famous, but when things get really tough, we call it Shaggi Goreng Add Egg.
Being an RCA, at least in my experience, was so much more than organizing events or ordering nice food or putting up fairy lights. It was all the late nights and quiet moments listening to students share about their fears and struggles. It was all the afternoons crafting emails and going for meetings with school administrators to discuss and change policies that could create a more inclusive experience for students. It was all the mornings cooking breakfast for the students or doing one-on-ones to create trust, such that at the most painful or difficult moments they feel safe enough to reach out.
I know I have spoken about love and empathy a lot over the years, and I still do think that they are the most important things in this world. But this year, love and empathy has meant a lot of pain and suffering for me too. Love and empathy mean that when the first-years suffer and hurt, I feel, to some extent, their pain. After many of these sessions supporting students, I sit in my suite and cry because I can’t believe how cruel the world can be sometimes, or maybe just feel helpless because there’s so little that I can really do other than be present with them and offer every fibre of love and care.
It really takes a lot, I think, to constantly pour love and heart and care into the first-years and into the community. A lot of heart and soul and spirit. But the first-years really make it worthwhile. It’s a huge privilege, to have gotten to know all of them, and to have walked through so much together. In bearing witness to their brave and resolute spirits, I have learnt, truly, what courage and trust looks like. It’s been humbling, grounding and inspiring.
What has kept me going this year, in addition to the support and hugs of my closest friends, my partner and my Dean’s Fellow supervisor, has been the presence of all the other RCAs who I know were knee-deep in the struggle with me and doing their very best. To all the RCAs of the Class of 2019, thank you so much for your work, for your presence, and for your heart. Every bit of it is seen, acknowledged, and appreciated. It’s been an immense honor to have walked this journey with all of you. It’s meant a lot.
And if there’s any “legacy” that I get to leave beyond, I hope it is this. To RCAs of the Class of 2020 and beyond, thank you so much for your labor. It’s going to be pretty shag, but I hope the experience fills your heart with love. Put in the time to build trust and to listen, it’ll mean a lot to your first-years. Know that sometimes, our hearts can get exhausted and drained too, so try to show the same amount of love that you have for the community for yourself (it’s easier said than done!). And finally, know that as an RCA, you have a chance to make a difference, so choose love. Because love is an act of courage, not of fear. Because love is commitment to others and to their cause. Always choose love.