This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Natasha Monteith, Professional Staff Member
The roommate mediation at 3AM. Duty ringtones that send shivers down your spine. Pizza parties with movies and maybe a dance party.
In 10 years, will these be remnants of a by-gone era for the Resident Advisor (RA) position on college campuses?
While every campus may call these student employees something a little different, like Community Assistant or Housing Mentor, the future of these roles looks unclear from where I am seated. In my own time serving in Residential Life, departments struggled heavily with recruitment and retention for these positions. In terms of recruitment, we had small pools of applicants that barely covered the positions available. Oftentimes we completely depleted the alternate pool by October of any given year and we needed to shift the remaining workload for duty, curriculum needs, and resident relationships to an already overloaded student staff and professional staff. When it came to retention, I often saw people leaving the RA role because they didn’t understand how the role was going to impact nearly every aspect of their life and that there would be secondary trauma as a result of the role. Add in the overall cultural shift of college students following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of student staff unionization, and the role needs to be reimagined if it is going to continue serving students (including those in the position).
What will a reimagined RA position look like that still serves students (and staff) during a time of slimming budgets and declining enrollment?
We have already had this happen in some spaces. Some institutions completely cut the role citing safety concerns and prioritizing academic success for students, like George Washington University (GWU) back in 2021. In lieu of the traditional RA role, GWU has instead created more specialized student housing roles such as communication assistants, peer mediation assistants, and programming assistants. Essentially, GWU seems to have broken up the RA role and spread the workload across professional staff and specialized student positions. However, this has received negative reviews from the student population in their student paper where they are requesting a peer support position for residential students be returned with a more traditional professional staff role to assist when situations arise bevond the scope of a student staff member.
I can agree with these student writers at GWU here, I believe that the addition of a peer support position is crucial to student success. Yet I loudly applaud GWU for making their original change. The duty situations many of the student staff go through are not safe and I think are at the core of why retention and recruitment are a struggle. Through this fog of choices of how we move forward, I would argue that two things will come front and center as the pillars of the RA role over the next 10 years:
RAs as relationship builders and data collectors
We see this already starting on campuses as they implement a Residential Curriculum and build up a culture of assessment. The students (both residents and RAs) crave relationships, which could lead to easier recruitment and retention. On the other hand, assessment is the language of budget justification. If a position can provide a valid pulse on the residential student population to upper-leadership so true data-driven decision making can occur, that is a necessary budgetary expenditure. However, letting relationship building and data collection be the focus of the RA role means some things need to be left behind. In my opinion, that is duty and crisis response. GWU was on to what is necessary for the RA role to become sustainable and developmentally appropriate for the student staff. May my crystal ball be a little cloudy in this take? Of course. Nonetheless, some kind of major change needs to happen to allow the RA role to become aligned with today’s students and campus leadership culture.