By Jesse Berlin
Patrick O’Connor didn’t know anyone on the fifth floor of Brooks Hall when he moved in last fall. The freshman from Chicago started to feel more comfortable, however, after meeting his resident advisor (RA), senior Karlea McCord.
“A lot of people at first are very hesitant about [reaching out to their RAs] because they think, ‘Oh, they’re an older kid. They’re seniors or juniors,’” O’Connor said. “As soon as you start to get out of your shell and start talking to your RAs and other people on your floor, it just makes it such a better time.”
O’Connor and McCord would talk frequently in the floor lounge, which is how McCord learned of O’Connor’s love of cooking — something he inherited from his mother and had practiced while working in a grill restaurant before starting college.
Fast forward several weeks to when McCord’s boyfriend came to visit. McCord wanted to cook chicken alfredo and broccoli for him in the Brooks Hall kitchen but didn’t know how to get started. She enlisted O’Connor to help.
“I was like, ‘Hey, Patrick, can you help me?’” McCord said. “So he came downstairs, and some of the other residents followed. We just had like a little get-together and made dinner.”
The group meals became a regular practice. “It became a thing where if they see my boyfriend and I walking down the hallway with our supplies, we make this train to the kitchen,” McCord said. “Our little fifth-floor family dinner.”
Cooking gave McCord the chance to bond with her residents on a personal level.
“They’ll be like, ‘Oh, we cook something similar at home. We add this, that and the other,” McCord said. “I get to learn things about my residents, their home life, their families, what they like to eat, what they like to do.”
Cooking gives some residents an escape from the stress in their day-to-day lives and a chance to speak about what’s on their minds.
“I have had my residents come to me, and say, ‘Thank you, it’s been a really rough week,’” McCord said. “They’ll be like, ‘Stuff’s going on at home.’ … We’ll be able to talk through some things.”
“It was just a very safe and happy place we would go to,” O’Connor said. “You have more people to talk to. You have somebody you can open up to and know that they will protect you … I feel like it just makes your college experience a lot safer and just easier.”
“If I can be a friend and be there for these residents and be there to help them, make them laugh and feel safe,” McCord said, “I’m going to do that.”