Nevermore RA's

By Andromeda Yelton
Written as an e-mail message to the CTY-L list
A number of people have mentioned in the last few days that CTY is attracting and/or hiring an insufficient number of alumni as residential staff, and that this has detrimental effects for the campers. (The only RA I ever hated, really truly hated, was one of those authoritarian it's-just-another-summer-camp clueless ones, who got all cliquey with the 13-year-olds on the floor and didn't have a clue of how to deal with a 16-year-old, 8-session veteran.) I think we can just as safely say that CTY is hiring an insufficient number of CTY-*like* people (I had some great RAs who'd never been to CTY), but that's a fairly different problem, so I'll leave it aside.

So -- why might this be the case? Allow me to brainstorm.

  1. CTY veterans not wanting to apply because they have heard of problems other CTY veterans have had as RAs (too chummy with the students --> fired or invited not to return, insufficiently obedient to Baltimore --> fired or invited not to return, not hired in the first place by a central administration which doesn't want no-mores (or doesn't want them from *that* social circle)).
  2. CTY veterans not wanting to apply because they disagree with the direction the program is going: arbitrary and authoritarian increase in rules, fear of liability to the extent of ignoring student concerns, etc. (When I was in college, I fell into this category, despite having sworn up and down that I'd come back as an RA.)
  3. More lucrative jobs available in the private sector (eg codemonkeying).
  4. No more lucrative, but much more resume-relevant, jobs available elsewhere (eg summer research).
  5. Old enough to have permanent employment; difficulty getting 3-6 weeks off.
  6. Old enough to have family or other responsibilities. (This is the category I fall into now. (Well, I haven't stopped being in the other one.))
  7. Enough time out of CTY with no particular connection to it (at least, as a current thing) that they don't think to apply there, or don't hear about it.

Alright -- what can CTY do about these things?

#3-6 -- not much. Well, perhaps CTY can fundraise and offer more competitive salaries, but they can't really affect the existence of other opportunities. (Or heck, maybe they could be really creative and make deals with businesses -- "give this prospective RA/TA extra vacation time, we will give you a free very bright high school intern from your area for a while.")

#7 -- would fall under the header of "viable alumni network," something CTY has struggled with for a long time now. I'm not sure that people really care about having one; could they be made to? I mean, in many ways we had a DIY experience, and this is more true the less rapport students felt with site admins. In general, I think we *do* keep in touch with our closest CTY friends. (I married mine.) But the institution...?

*hrm* I think there are some legitimate, useful functions the alumni network could serve -- getting people in touch with people they've lost track of, say. And 'class notes' sorts of things are always fun to read ("wow, I haven't heard about Zaphod in ages! That's so cool what he's doing these days..."). And honestly, I'd be fascinated if I could get some sort of alumni magazine put together *by the CTYers themselves*, something that told me what Lancaster was really like this year. (Or whichever site, but I spent seven sessions at Lancaster, so I have my bias. ;) I wonder if a certain amount of alumni-student communication wouldn't be welcome -- I mean, on the one hand, the students are all living at a breakneck pace and generally aren't reflecting on the past or connection to other generations of CTYers; but on the other hand, I've never met the CTYer who wasn't interested in stories of CTY other times, other places. *hrm* And, of course, if a team elected at each site produced the magazine throughout the next year, they'd have a little more time ;).

Back to reflecting on #6. I also think that, if CTY is going to get people involved in the alumni network, it has to start instantly. In fact, sooner than instantly -- if you hand a CTYer a piece of paper about the alumni network during Passionfruit, it will never, ever be noticed ;). Maybe end of the second week -- give them the information they'd need to sign up for the alumni network (if there is one) or get on a broad-age-spectrum CTY mailing list (such as this one, though there's no reason for there to be only one, and it may in fact be useful to have several if there are a lot of people involved) or access the web pages or whatever. And, if you want maximal participation, site staff needs to be involved to make sure they get at least *one* person from every (or at least every large) social circle psyched about alumni foo. They'll tell their friends about anything interesting going on.

#1 and #2...uh, wow, this email is really long and I haven't gotten to the parts I'm bitter about yet ;). I will be brief and let other people do most of the work here. But the obvious things are...

As I think about it, a lot of this stuff can be traced back to one central thing, which would also be the _sine qua non_ for hiring CTY-like folks: the central office needs to understand geek culture. Their actions have not traditionally demonstrated to me that they do.