This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Julianne Schrader, Professional Staff Member
Thinking about the future of the Resident Assistant (RA) role is more than just thinking about the future of the Resident Assistant role! What you’re really asking is what is the future of student affairs?
Consider this–how many of your colleagues started out their higher education careers as RAs? This particular student affairs position, more than any other, feeds our field, from residence life (obviously) to careers in conduct, orientation, diversity, and leadership. It’s rare that someone enters college with the goal of becoming a student affairs professional, but there’s something about the role of the RA that so inspires and challenges them that they decide to find out more about how to do that on a permanent basis. A career that the student didn’t even know existed, and now they want to do that with their life. It’s amazing, really. It speaks to what a powerful change agent an RA can be, both for themselves and for their residents. For people who work with Resident Assistants, the challenge is not only shaping the RA role of the future for RAs and residents, but also how this will shape the future of the student affairs profession. Whoa.
Currently, our students are overwhelmed with a return to a near pre-pandemic normal in terms of workloads balanced with active social lives. The grace given with regard to the sudden pivot to online classes in 2020 and the steep learning curve has largely been exhausted. Remote learning is now being scaled back in favor of getting students together and learning to engage with others face-to-face. Most are feeling the real pressure of college life for the first time, no matter their classification. Yeah, it’s been that long, and our RAs are no exception.
Looking towards the future, it’s more important than ever to really see the student leaders in the residence halls and acknowledge that they are not the RAs of four years ago, before we had ever heard of COVID-19. Acknowledge that many students have serious mental health issues that emerged during quarantine and we need to help these students co-exist with them. Acknowledge that students need to learn work/life balance as much as we do, and it’s our job to teach them how to advocate for it (even if we are sometimes terrible at it). Acknowledge that although they never did this job for the money, it’s time for us to figure out how the compensation can be increased. Acknowledge that there are a lot of lines in that lengthy job description that need to be removed because we tend to treat that position as a dumping ground for things that we don’t have time to do ourselves. Maybe that means more individual interactions and less large-scale programming and more partnerships with outside resources, rather than expecting RAs to become semi-experts in everything. Perhaps they don’t have to support hall council and can leave that to the interested students who don’t have other leadership roles in the hall. Maybe we need to pay them enough that they don’t need a second job (or give up the RA job) to pay their bills. What are the critical roles of the RA based on the needs of your residents? More importantly, what are not?
What the RA role becomes at your institution in the future will shape the professionals that we all work with in the future. More specifically, it will shape the number of professionals we work with in the future. It’s easy to blame the pandemic for everything from budget shortfalls to “why I can’t find Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos,” but the staff shortages at all levels of student affairs are a symptom of our failure to acknowledge the changing needs of both employees and students (and in this case the employees who are students). It is time to do the work and make changes that make sense.