This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Susan Robison, Professional Staff Member
Our students have had the world flipped on its side in the last three years. They went from being able to see their friends every day at school to almost total shutdown and isolation for months on end. In addition to the isolation, the college experience has changed drastically in the last four years. Colleges and universities faced scrutiny from every angle. Entire departments, missions, and visions were put under the microscope, and these years of uncertainty led to doubt about the necessity of residence life programs and utilization.
Residence halls were once full of open doors and bustling community spaces, but today’s students do not like having their space on display and value privacy and individual time more than ever. Preferences have shifted to passive and random events and programs, rather than intentional, planned out, big events.
That’s where resident assistants and advisors come in. Through training, intentional interactions, programs, and events, RAs help students become adults and grow into the people they are meant to be. The future of the RA role is being a mentor.
Resident advisors receive weeks of training relating to regulations and policies on their campus, as well as policies and laws at the federal level. They focus on the resources available to their students through their own housing department, as well as other offices and spaces on campus. With their knowledge, RAs become lightning rods for their students, especially when students are needing help, assistance, and/or advice.
Resident advisors cannot be experts on everything on their campus, nor are they expected to be. However, RAs can be holders of a lot of little bits of knowledge that they can utilize to direct, educate, and inform their students. Some students may need help learning to use the on-campus laundry machines, whereas others may need assistance navigating campus in general. RAs have been and will continue to be most students’ first stop. Needs such as these have not changed, even while almost everything else has changed. The argument can be made that these needs have increased tenfold in comparison to what they were in a pre-pandemic world.
Residence Life programs need to lean into what our students are already utilizing their resident advisors for. The positions do not need to change drastically, but the focus should shift. Students are asking for guidance on the college experience, how to better communicate, pass classes, and get involved without overextending themselves. Focus can be on common questions and needs that students have, for example, basics such as laundry and clogged toilets to learning to navigate campus and respond to emails, to name a few. What’s important about navigating this shift is that RAs are still RAs and do not become guidance counselors or a crutch to lean on. RAs are students first and foremost.
Resident advisors are integral members of the higher education model that exists today. In order to keep the engine running smoothly, we need to modify and work on obstacles as they arise. If residence life programs are able to adapt to what the students of today need and expect then retention and recruitment will continue to trend in a positive manner. A way to adapt is starting with the staff members that interact directly and frequently with our students: RAs. Taking feedback from student staff members is also important, as they are the people who are directly impacted by what is happening now and what will happen as changes are implemented.
It’s not that our world has changed so drastically that the college experience is the opposite of what it once was. But students have changed–in part to the pandemic and the shutdowns and isolations that came with it, but also in part to our ever-changing world and technology.