[title_box title=”Profile: Nothing small about assistant hall director’s impact”]
One of the first things you notice about Rashad Small’s office is the number of messages, thank you notes and creative drawings on the walls.
Some are funny, some serious, but they all share the same theme: students saying thanks. All of the handmade, artsy gratitude is fitting of what Small, the assistant hall director at Reese Hall, has given to other students.
“I just use my creative skills elsewhere when it comes to problem solving for students and helping them in the best way I can,” Small said.
Those creative skills originated in Georgia, where he grew up. After his parents divorced when he was three, Small split time between his mother and father. Throughout high school, Small would stay with his mother in Norcross, a city just outside of Atlanta, one of the most diverse cities in the state. In the summer or on holidays, he would travel to a rural town in South Georgia named Collins, home to about 500 people, to live with his father. The difference in lifestyles opened his eyes toward the future.
“It was very beneficial because in the environment where my father was, a lot of people there would get pigeonholed into doing things that I wouldn’t want to do, necessarily,” Small said. “And then being in Atlanta, I was exposed to so many things and opportunities in the school system there where I was at. And having those different environments really pushed me and prepared me for college and after.”
Small said he fell in love with art and photography in high school.
“I really found the passion for that through a lot of different things and how it relates to my life, like problem-solving, critical thinking and thinking outside of the box,” Small said.
Although he found that passion, he was hesitant to commit to it because of stigmas that said artists make little or no money while not doing anything worthwhile. After taking a year off to figure out what direction he wanted to go in life, Small decided art was still his passion and was accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. However, the tuition was a little too high for his liking. He reassessed where he wanted his debt to be after college and chose to enroll at Georgia Southern University for his undergraduate studies.
His time as a resident assistant at Georgia Southern opened his eyes to a new world. Small said he was a bit shocked when he first arrived at GSU, but resident assistants were there to help him out. He said their support, along with student affairs, helped shape him into who he is today.
“For me, it’s all about giving back to other people,” Small said. “It’s been pretty cool to be able to give back in that way because students always need help with an event or something like that.”
His four years as a resident assistant at GSU gave him a passion for serving people. When he decided to come to the University of Tennessee for his graduate studies, he made sure to bring that passion with him.
“Rashad is one of the most personable people that I have known,” John Abernathy, a junior who has been a resident assistant under Small’s care for a year and a half, said. “He can communicate well. He is very caring towards everybody, including staff and non-staff members, and the best way to describe him is a warm character.”
It is not only the students under him who notice. His boss, hall director Terrance Jagrup, said that Small always has a smile on his face that rubs off on the students around him.
“I just think his personality is contagious, and once you get to know him, you just have to love him,” Jagrup said.
As someone who identifies as African-American, homosexual and a vegetarian, Small brings a little bit of everything to the table. He said that he uses his identity to teach students to be aware of the many minority students at UT.
“I make sure I let my RAs know that they can support LGBT students by doing different types of things in the building,” Small said. “You can support students who have disabilities by doing this; you can support minority students by doing that. And I think that’s helped out a whole lot because students are seeing that and are starting to change things when they plan out events.”
Even though he graduates in the spring, Small is unsure of his employment plans after graduation. One thing he does know, however, is what he will be doing.
“My goal is to — no matter what — help out college students,” Small said. “I really see value in that because [college] is a very crucial time in your life, and at least in my experience, you change so much in your college career.”
Featured image by Nathan Odom
Edited by Courtney Anderson