This blog series features different writers responding to the prompt, “What is the future of the RA role?”
Guest Post by Jennifer Watley, Graduate Student Staff Member
ResLife staff members are certified shapeshifters. If the residential environment of our buildings and communities represent the wild, then we staff represent the chameleons strutting about. Similarly to these reptiles, we shift and adapt; we change our form and make do with what we’re given. That being said, the ResLife community is more than accustomed to bringing balance to the chaos that a wild building brings. But what could be more wild than the unforeseeable future?
Residential Life as we know it has a long and intriguing history. Starting with specific geographic locales and dwindling down to the impressive architecture, dormitories were constructed purposefully to reflect the ideals of the country’s earliest higher learning institutions. A quick dive into the timeline will remind one that these initial ideals both align and differ greatly with the environments we seek to cultivate today. Antiquated versions of the university focused on practices that would today be considered non-inclusive, an issue that institutions have since strived to overcome in modern times despite having considerable room for growth. All of that is to say that the residence hall has changed significantly over time since its conception. Even so, we continue to uphold many of the initial core values: enhancement of classroom learning, community building, and an increase in maturity and responsibility. It is for this reason that I suggest that the wild future that faces the Resident Advisor role actually looks mighty familiar. The change that they’re up against? Novel trends stemming from technology, cultural shifts, and differing social dynamics that are infiltrating their floors.
Old Roles, New Tricks
RAs as Technological Innovators
We’ve already seen Resident Advisors put their creative minds to the test in formulating and facilitating programs for their communities. However, we are experiencing a slow but sure shift in the institutional landscape towards technology on various fronts. The pandemic showed both universities and prospective students just what digital learning can do. But if fully digitized learning environments persist, where does that leave RAs and their role in very physical spaces? While the concept of webinars and zoom events took precedence during lock down, the return to campus calls for the exact opposite. In fact, we may be able to predict more expansive and advanced programming than ever before. In lacking community, students found that it was one of the aspects of the college experience that they missed the most. If the space itself is able to shift, universities will be providing multipurpose technology within provided residential spaces. RAs will be able to come up with programs like we’ve never seen before. Movie night is a classic, but future RAs will have to think outside of the box to invent what programming looks like in an age ruled by technology, yet starved for social connection in the midst of new health protocols and concerns.
Consider: Familiarize both yourself and your RAs with any new improvements and technological resources or amenities in your building. This can be accomplished during training and staff meetings. Brainstorm ways to utilize technology beneficially in order to obtain positive outcomes for your community’s social environment.
RAs as Advocates
One of the essential elements of being a Resident Advisor is to support students. Doing so can look a number of ways. In today’s world, though, the concept of advocacy may stretch far beyond what we’ve previously seen. We are now living in a time that demands the implementation of critical thought and social justice and inclusion (SJI) work as a necessity for our communities, and rightfully so. How can RAs expand upon the support that they offer their residents? The world is happening now, and the safety, security, and overall well being of our residents could be on the line because of it. Computers in their palms and pockets, students are more in touch with the news, both credible and otherwise, than ever before. This could impact mental health and well-being. RAs of the future will need to further increase their level of cultural competency not just to properly interact with and support residents but to strive towards acts that benefit the public good.
Consider: Bring SJI oriented activities to your staff meetings. Encourage students to be self-reflective and aware of privileges and identities that they may hold. Be thoughtful about selecting campus partners to collaborate with on projects towards bettering your building.
RAs as Teachers
Resident Advisors have long since shown new residents the ropes of the college campus. Be it offering advice about professors and office hours or acting as a launching pad to the proper place in a sea of resources, RAs will inevitably teach their residents a thing or two. Recent trends may escalate the ways in which they teach, propelling them to a different level. The typical model of the good old dormitory is on its way out. With an influx of concerns about health due to the pandemic and an emphasis on well-being and mental health, students and families are increasingly accentuating their preference for new and improved living spaces for their college years. New spaces come with new amenities, and with new amenities arises the task of ensuring that those amenities are utilized safely and properly. This is particularly true as it pertains to the new apartment style living spaces being created. The residential curriculum is knocking at many of our doors, and RAs will be the ones enforcing and upholding the completion of these learning outcomes.
Consider: Prepare yourself for big change. The rollout of something like a residential curriculum could easily shift a significant portion of the way things are run in a building and the way RAs are trained. As with anything new, glitches and bumps in the road are surely to be expected. If you feel prepared, you can prepare your RAs to the best of your ability.
RAs as Liaisons
As previously mentioned, it is quite normal for Resident Advisors to act as a pipeline for their floor’s residents towards resources and other features that a university may offer. However, there is a growing number of students who are choosing to experience their college education in a way that might not require living in a residence hall. Be it commuter students or those making use of online education, the various ways that people ‘do college’ these days continue to expand and become more popularized. In this case, where does the RA role come in handy? Nothing is for certain, but many universities have a tendency of collapsing programs, resources, and centers; they flatten responsibilities so that a single employee might take on the newer tasks. For some RAs, this may look like communicating with students in commuter lounges or providing online assistance and responses to those who live off campus, but attend the university all the same.
Consider: Nontraditional college students may need just as much support and assistance as traditional college students, even if that support looks different. Look into what supporting students in different circumstances may look like and prepare your staff accordingly.
Into the Wild
To conclude, you may notice that many of these roles are as familiar to us as the warmth of our own beds. The scary part of the future is change; large leaps into the unknown can be just as jarring to us as the sound of the on-call phone’s ringtone. I’m ending this by saying this: “Fear not Reslifers.” Transformation is undoubtedly scary but the worlds of unpredictability, irregularity and chaos have shaped us into flexible professionals who can handle just about anything. Even a venture into the wild.