This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Danielle Jones, Professional Staff Member
The question of the future of the RA role is not one that is new or original. This question has found itself posed by residence life professionals again and again. It is asked yearly, but it also finds itself prioritized and highly debated after any event that has shaken society to its core. From the first colleges to the recession to the start of the pandemic, the RA role has found itself reexamined again and again. But the RA role, just like all positions in housing, flexes and adapts to what is needed by the residents.
The future of the RA role will be determined the same way it always is—by the residents in their communities. Departments hire, train, and prepare RAs for their roles but the skills that the RAs use are determined by the needs of the residents. One cannot pose the question of what the future of the RA role looks like without first considering what the incoming student populations need from the RAs as well as from the institutions that they are entering. Attention must also be given to trends that are seen in this generation.
As professionals, we know that Gen Z is so vastly different from every generation before them. We also know that Gen Z has had very little stability when it comes to their education as the pandemic ripped away any sense of normalcy. These students are entering colleges and universities without having some of the fundamental development that occurs during the last few years of in person high school education. Furthermore, professionals know that Gen Z deals with more stress and mental health issues than other generations. Examination of generation Z is how we answer the question of what the future of the RA role is.
The future of the RA role is one that provides more attention to holistic well-being. Gone are the days when RAs solely focused on holding events that drew residents from their rooms and were all about fun. We now see programming models replaced with curricular approaches that focus on developing students more fully than in the past. Learning has to happen in the residence hall just as much as it happens in the classroom.
RAs now, and in the future, are tasked with being resource providers and teaching basic life skills. Events are still happening, but the reasoning behind those events has changed. Centralized themes of wellness, leadership, engagement, and connectivity are now at the forefront. It is no longer enough for the RAs to be fun, they also must be a safe space free of judgment where “silly” questions can be asked, where concerns can be raised, where vulnerability is praised.
However, it is not fair to just give these tasks to the RAs. To tell RAs their role is to connect with students and make them feel welcome and at home and retain them does a disservice not only to the RA, but to the students they serve. If we look at the future of the RA role, we must always always look at the role of the professionals who supervise and guide RAs. If professionals want to see the RA role persist, excel, and continue then professionals must also remember that the RAs are just the first step.
The same support RAs give residents is the same support professionals must give RAs. We, as professionals, cannot ask RAs for more if we are not willing to give more ourselves. The future of the RA role is primarily tied to the students they serve but it is also tied to the professionals who once held the position themselves. If the students are changing, it cannot only be on the RAs to change.