This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Kendra Sherman, Professional Staff Member, Seton Hall University
Lifesaver. Friend. Resource. These and many others are the expectations of Resident Assistants everywhere. The variety of hats that RAs wear means that these individuals develop a multitude of skills and knowledge that can be translated into any career they pursue after college. With the skills and knowledge that they gain, they also experience situations that can weigh heavily on them, such as mental health episodes, suicide attempts, Title IX situations, student deaths, and physical fights. All of these experiences vary in emotional intensity and can leave an RA dealing with secondary trauma.
As we look to the future of the RA position, it would not be surprising if the duty responsibilities changed or were taken off RA contracts altogether. Many institutions, such as Dean College and George Washington University, have looked into and implemented changes around this topic. When thinking about these changes, there are several pros and cons to consider.
- If the role of duty was removed from the list of RA responsibilities, the view students have of the RAs on campus might change for the better. When RAs are seen as the policy enforcers and the individuals that call pro-staff and administration in to handle incidents, many students are left with a bad taste in their mouths towards the RAs; they see them as “police.” If you were to take this responsibility away from the RA, it removes the RA from situations in which the students might think badly of them.
- The RA would then have more time and energy to focus on community building and developing and facilitating educational programs for their residents. This would help emphasize the positive view the residents have of their RA.
- One also has to consider the tremendous benefit of relieving these 18-22 year old’s from having to be the first-responders to life altering situations. Not every duty situation leads to life-or-death decisions, but when they do, it can leave the RA feeling all sorts of emotions that they themselves will have to work through. Every institution must train their RAs on how to respond to these events and provide them the same resources they would to the residents in the incidents themselves, but is it worth putting these individuals into these situations in the first place?
- When looking at the cons, there is the question of who would duty fall on, if not on the RAs? Would professional staff be asked to take even more onto their plate? Yes, they usually already participate on a duty rotation, but they might be expected to perform more rounds and respond to even more incidents. There is already a trend of residence life professionals leaving the field due to burnout and exhaustion, would institutions want to risk increasing that trend by giving their professionals more to do?
- There could also be a worry that students might not receive the best support. If RAs are not performing duty, they would not be trained on how to respond to incidents, leaving the students without direct support for situations that arise in the building. This change might do more harm than good.
I think there is value in evaluating the duty role of the RA. Residence life at any institution is dedicated to holistic student support and wanting the best for the students they oversee on campus. It would not be surprising if institutions started to evaluate the holistic support of their student workers and changed the role for the betterment of their RAs.