Family Away From Home

By Brittany Bluthardt ’20

First-year student Alyssa Johnson wasn’t sure what to expect when she moved into Irvington House a few months ago. She was one of few students on campus as part of the Ambassadors of Change Pre-Welcome Week program. From one home to another, Alyssa was overwhelmed and nervous to begin her new journey at Butler University. She felt instantly more comfortable after she met her resident assistant, Murjanatu Mutuwa, for the first time.

“She was extremely energetic and helpful,” Alyssa says. “Now, she’s someone I can go to at any time for support.”

Resident assistants, RAs for short, are mentors for new students on Butler’s campus. RAs are fellow Butler students who help first and second year students while they are living in a residence hall. Murjanatu and other RAs plan programs and activities for their residents throughout the year. They also help to develop a respectful community while serving as a resource for students. RAs maintain an environment within residence halls for students to grow academically and socially while pursuing their first few years as a Bulldog.

Murjanatu knew she wanted to take on this role after her own experience as a resident in Schwitzer Hall. As a first-year student, Murjanatu quickly began helping others, from planning events to becoming the residence hall president. As she worked side by side with her own RA, she quickly determined she had the desire and the drive to be one too.

Three years later, Murjanatu is now a senior with a job lined up after graduation and many other responsibilities on her plate. Her biggest responsibility, perhaps, is caring for a group of fellow students as their RA.

She and her residents live in a small section of Irvington House, a place they proudly call “The Island.” The group is always together, whether they’re sitting in the hallway, chatting and doing homework together on school nights, or eating a family-style dinner at Atherton Union.

Murjanatu has created more than a community in her unit. She’s created a family.

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Growing up in Cedar Lake, Indiana, Murjanatu was used to living with many people. When she was a teenager, her family adopted a little sister. Her parents also fostered many children in their home, some of them were even Murjanatu’s classmates at school. In her mind, everyone just became a new brother or sister.

“I’ve learned how to accept people who are very different from myself,” she says. “At the end of the day, a family is who you come home to - it’s where you feel yourself.”

With this early foundation of acceptance and caring, Murjantatu learned how to love people, even when it’s challenging. Because she’s just a few years older than her residents some things can be a bit difficult, but she’s learned how to support them and be an authority figure at the same time. Her residents reciprocate the same compassion. When Murjanatu had to go home after a sudden loss of a friend, her residents surprised her with a signed card and candy when she came back.

“When I go through things, people here are always there for me,” Murjanatu says. “People at Butler walk through challenging seasons with you.”

Although Murjanatu is in a new residence hall with new students, she doesn’t forget the friends she made in years past. She occasionally meets with her past residents to talk about their lives, grab a coffee, or unwind with a slumber party. Sophomore Julia Junker had Murjanatu as a resident assistant last year in Resco, and she remembers the support Murjanatu always gave her when she needed it the most.

“I don’t see her as often anymore, but when I do, she’s always excited to see me, and we’ll have long conversations together to catch up,” Julia says.

Another resident, Kennedy Broadwell, had Murjanatu as an RA last year in Resco. Kennedy said their hallway of residents took a while to get close with each other, but Murjanatu made sure to plan plenty of bonding events. If anything, their hall bonded over their love for Murjanatu and her funny personality.

“Murjana as an RA was a literal ray of sunshine walking down the hall,” Kennedy says. “She is probably one of the busiest people on campus, but she always made time to talk to her residents when we needed her.”

Now, Kennedy is a sophomore pursuing a major in sports media. Although she does not see Murjanatu as often as she wishes, when they do see each other, it is as if nothing has changed.

“Murj’ is just someone I know will always care about my well-being and will always be there to listen, whether she's my RA or not,” she says. “Now, somehow, we manage to pass each other every couple of days, and we always get so excited to see each other.”

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On a late Sunday afternoon, Murjanatu opens boxes of pizza, sends a final reminder message to her friends, and anxiously waits for approximately 30 Butler University students to arrive at the Community Room in Fairview House. At this “family dinner,” as Murjanatu calls it, her Butler family, past and present, will get to meet each other.

Julia and Kennedy reunite with Murjanatu and meet Murjanatu’s new students from “The Island.” Other past residents FaceTime from off campus just to say “hi.”

“It was so fun to meet them and kind of compare stories from our first semester last year to their semester now,” Kennedy explains. “I could tell how much they already love Murjana and I wasn't surprised in the slightest. They are the luckiest kids on campus!”

With a semester and a half separating Murjanatu from graduation, she grows sadder when she thinks of leaving her residents. For four years she has worked to create a family at Butler. She has cared for students who in turn, have cared for her. While she’ll officially no longer be their RA come graduation, just like with a real family, the bonds will remain.

Cambria Khayat, a current resident of Murjanatu, aspires to be like her when she’s older.

“I look up to her so much,” Cambria says. “She’s where I want to be my senior year. I feel so blessed to have her as a friend and my RA.”