What is The Future of RAs? – To Know Thyself…

What is the Future of RAs

This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”

Guest Post by Jason Alt

There was a time when “in loco parentis” was a guiding theme in higher education. But, in the 1960s, students protested seeking more freedom and less oversight. “House mothers” gave way to the “resident assistant.” It makes you wonder… back then… what did they think the RA position would morph into?

For myself, as a Gen Xer/early Millennial, the RA was the cool older sibling. The one you fashioned and molded yourself after and generally looked up to–smooth under pressure, socially gifted, and creatively imaginative. Your RA was in every sense the quintessential role model who was obsessively involved in extracurriculars, a double major (or at least a major AND a minor) and moonlighted at the local Big Brother/Big Sister organization just to run up the score. But now, what is the future of the RA position?

Higher education is trending away from philosophizing and the traditional “Liberal Arts” and embedding itself with measurable learning and career outcomes. There is a strong focus on “return on investment” and tangible benefits to the degree being bestowed. Experience is paramount and earned through high impact learning activities. Quality is king, not quantity. The experienced, quintessential RA as we knew it is likely down for the count, a casualty of these changing times.

To know thyself is…

No matter how that saying goes or how you complete it, self-awareness and self-care have emerged as higher education priorities. I went to college knowing “floor wars” as the prime community development exercise in residential living, but in current times such a concept feels antiquated. The RA is an employee of the institution, susceptible to liabilities and standards of conduct. It does not feel like an extension of one’s persona anymore, rather a position with a clear description with a formal hiring process. It mirrors what higher education has become–more formal, and directed to training and preparation for occupational placement.

Dynamic hall programs, floor meetings, and nightly duty rounds were the hallmark of the role for the previous generation. When I was a Hall Director, we had a section called “fringe dwellers” on the weekly report. The point of this was to identify “retention risks.” It felt like an add-on. The heart of the RA was to create community, enliven the “fish bowl” and help maintain order. Now, the focus on the “fringe dweller” has become the heart of the RA role. The focus has shifted from creating community to ensuring that every member of it feels valued and included.

Although the processes have changed, the core intents have not. And to that end, the future of the RA position is bright. It is never in danger of extinction. Experiential learning is still the preferred delivery vehicle for any college’s mission statement, but just as we have become reliant on Waze and printed Mapquest driving directions, adjustments in the delivery methods of higher learning must adjust. It is time to enhance and modernize the RA role.

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