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Continued Conversations: RA Training

Editor’s Note: This post is the full text of the Conversations column in the September+October 2011 Talking Stick magazine, “Rethinking Resident Assistant Training,” where a group of our members discuss what training used to be, what it has become, and what it may be in the future.

Participating in this conversation are Allan Blattner, associate director for staff and student development at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of residential life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; Jacque Bollinger, associate director of residence life at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh; and D’aun Green, associate director of residence life at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Allan Blattner: What has me most interested in the topic of RA training (meaning live-in paraprofessional) is my feeling that we’ve been doing essentially the same thing for a really long time. Many aspects of our current training model were present in the training participated in when I was an RA (and that was a while ago) . . . Behind Closed Doors, diversity exercises, listening skills, mediation skills, etc. It could be argued that many aspects of the job have remained constant, so it would follow that the training would as well, but I’m not sure.

I also wonder how we are using what has been developed in the area of adult learning. I know there has been a lot written about how adults learn and how to create environments that maximize that learning. I think corporate human resource departments have been shifting their approaches to training based upon these current theories, so I wonder how we are using them.

Finally (for now) I’d love for us to chat about the use of new technologies in training. PowerPoints are to today’s training what overhead projectors were a few years ago, so what should we be doing? This also dovetails into the whole area of “entertainment versus training” – how to manage the push from staff that “good” training is fun and entertaining. I’ll agree that training should be engaging, but I’m not sure entertaining is a mark we should be expected to hit. Here is a link to an article related to this —Millennials Need Fun, Flexibility at Work. Read and comment as you wish!

Joe Gonzalez: I agree. I still see some of the training I experienced as an RA in the training programs being rolled out today. Guess they got it right back then? What concerns me is that those basic elements still have value, but now there is so much more content RAs should be exposed to that did not really exist in my RA era: social media, bullying, threats to campus . . . the list goes on. Identifying what is a “must have” during the traditional RA training week and what can be covered in another vehicle is quite challenging. And sometimes the “required” training is not really the most valuable use of the limited face time we have with the RA teams.
We are working hard to capitalize on technology to change how some training content is delivered. Why dedicate face time to a topic that can be successfully covered through an electronic medium? Whether this means an online course about campus resources or making videotaped sessions of training available on the Web, there are some great alternatives out there. Developing them can take a tremendous amount of time, though. Connecting these efforts to class projects sometimes helps out.
How are you dealing with the challenge of engaging the RAs actively during training? Hard to compete with those smart phones!

Jacque Bollinger: Behind Closed Doors remains our highest rated training session for community adivors (and has every year since I have been in my position). So, it may be an oldie, but it certainly is a goodie in terms of what it teaches our staff members. We now have adapted Behind Closed Doors to another full afternoon of role plays just on mental health issues. Our counseling center staff joins us for the afternoon and rotates with the staffs. It seems we cannot spend enough time on the topic of mental health as our staff deal more and more with these issues.

I also agree with Joe in that it is very tough to address all topics necessary during training, given the added complexity of issues that our staff encounter these days. We always have to ask ourselves the question “What do they absolutely need to know to open the hall?” If they don’t need it to open the halls, we add it to the curriculum of our ETC class (Extra Training Course). Community advisors are required to take ETC in their first semester on the job.

I do not believe our campus has tapped into technology as much as we could in terms of staff training. We have ideas and hear of wonderful examples from other institutions (Ithaca College, UW-LaCrosse), but we tend to run out of time or don’t have the computer/technology support to always make it happen. I do think it is going to become necessary for us to create a position within their department that will work alongside our residence hall directors when planning student staff training to design online curriculums and other technology resources for the educational content we need to provide to the staff of this generation. This is not a skill we presently require our area directors and residence hall directors (RHDs) to have. While we have a very competent technology staff within our department, the majority of the staff are programmers and technicians, not educational curriculum program designers.

Competing with smart phones? That’s tough. We do have one RHD who has a cell phone day care. Her staff put their cell phones in a basket before going into a training session, and the RHD keeps the basket with her. When they have a break and head to lunch, they can come and get their phone out of day care. This is an extreme example, but her staff totally bought into it. I am not sure other RHDs would get the same response. I do think the perceived need to entertain has required us to be creative. Over the years, I think we have adapted just about every game show to a training session of some kind. One year, instead of “Win Ben Stein’s Monday” they could “Win Jacque Bollinger’s Cookies.” For the most part, these sessions have been educational and fun; however, you can’t put that much work into every training session.

I have found that while residence life staff understand the concepts of adult learning theory and how to engage staff in learning, our non-residence life presenters often struggle and are much more comfortable with their PowerPoint and a clicker. It requires a lot of work on our part to get them to think and present differently.

Blattner: Interesting to consider that housing and residential life departments are going to need IT staff that have some expertise in educational curriculum program design – a very expensive skill set. Without that resource, I think our ability to make major technological innovations in training will be limited unless we figure out a way to develop that skill in other staff or are prepared to contract out.

I agree with the ever-expanding list of “must cover” topics, some of which are helpful while others are political cover. Everyone wants a piece of our training time, and that makes it hard to craft an experience that has a natural flow and logical progression. Throw in time for facility inspections, early arrival check-ins, and other housing-related (but non-residence life) tasks – and the training time is gone. We have a class for first-semester staff. It is currently under review to help it dovetail better with our fall training program.

Do any of you measure training outcomes against a benchmark or set of learning objectives? We have done this but fell away from it; now we just ask “how did you like” and “what did you learn” questions. I’m feeling the need to get back to a more defined assessment model in order to look at more than just satisfaction.

As far as training engagement, as part of my welcome/kickoff each year, I remind them (pretty bluntly) about our expectations during training: no cell phones, stay awake, etc. Works for some, not as effective with others, but it provides a set of shared expectations if we need to have follow-up conversations later. We have really tried to find engaging ways to teach, but it is a challenge. We bought “Turning Point” clickers this year to add to a number of sessions; we hope that will help, but it is old school to them as many of our faculty have used them for years.

D’aun Green: Yep, I agree. The greatest challenge we face with training our student staff is to reach them in an understandable medium. The days of standing up in front of the group and lecturing are over. Doesn’t work in the classroom either. Our students don’t learn that way anymore. This offers us a huge opportunity to learn some new tricks along with our staff members. Students are much more visual and kinesthetic these days I think. I found an interesting PowerPoint by Jessica Utts at the University of California, Irvine – http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jutts/CMC3Utts2008.pdf – that offers an overview of learning styles. I don’t think we really take into account adult learning styles or incorporate tools that help adult learners. I think we also struggle with not having professionals trained in training and development or adult learning in the role of planning and implementing training.

Our highest rated training activity is our lip sync. It’s a staff bonding exercise. We give them their assigned lip sync song in the morning and they have until that evening to come up with props and what they are going to do. We tried giving it to them the day before and found they were staying up all night and producing movies which really didn’t do the whole bonding thing as well as we had hoped. While their productions were amazing, we decided to give them a shorter timeline and it has worked well. The majority of the staff groups prepare well thought-out lip syncs. Our Behind Closed Doors activity is also a favorite with staff. One twist we will put into the scenarios for next year will be something having to do with veterans. We are seeing an influx of veterans, and our Veteran’s Affairs office has asked that we focus on being “veteran friendly.” We look forward to adding this topic to our scenarios.

The technology piece is dizzying at best. Trying to stay up with the latest and greatest is exhausting. I wholeheartedly agree that with all of the things we need to train our staff on these days, we are going to have to find some new mechanisms. Budgets also prohibit having staff come too early for days and weeks of training. We are thinking about having some online training modules they can complete before they get to training and then maybe just have a Q&A follow-up. Last year we decided to create a social media-oriented grad position, and it has paid off well in areas other than training. We have a new person in the position for this upcoming year, and I look forward to what he can bring us in the way of online types of training modules and/or other innovative ways to reach out to our technology-focused staff.

Another thing I thought of last night are the challenges we face trying to keep up with things like the Clery Act and other governmental mandates (meningitis inoculations). The new “Dear Colleague” letter will most certainly be a continuing source of training for our student and professional staff members as we proceed with understanding exactly what the letter means for housing and residence life operations. I found out in a meeting two months ago that we probably need to do an active shooter type of drill during the fall semester to be in compliance with Clery. I’m currently designing what such a drill would look like, and our student staff will be major players in this activity; ongoing training will be needed to facilitate this drill and help educate our students.

We have been wrestling with our academic initiatives type programs because our student staff do not see them as being helpful in creating community. As seasoned professionals, we scratch our heads and think . . . really? Of course they can help create community; however, many staff see programming as this mountain of paperwork and hoops they have to jump through to keep their jobs. They really struggle. For us at least, we were once solely focused on community development and then went to the other side of the spectrum of being focused on learning communities, Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs), and an educational curriculum. I think we are finally seeing that there needs to be a balanced mix of both the community development and educational curriculum type programming in our model. Both were actually always there together, but we are being much more intentional to show how the two specific types of programming we value most can work hand in hand and operate independently. Trying to train our staff in how to be effective programmers continues to be a challenge for us. Although a basic block of the CA/RA position, it does seem to challenge student staff and professional staff alike these days.

One last thing we have been doing for the last several years that I know has had a great impact on our student staff is community service day. We take a morning of training beginning at around 8 a.m. and send our staff members to various community service agencies within Lubbock. Many will work in the parks, while others will assist with our food bank or various food kitchens around town. This activity of giving back to the community is meant to spark a personal commitment to community service and to show staff they can organize programs for their residents doing similar things. We like to stress community service because our department values service. After the activity we eat lunch, and later in the day they will reflect on what they did and what they learned. I do think reflection is a tool to use in training our students. They can be extremely introspective.

Blattner: Reading what you might have to do to comply with the various laws, rules, mandates, etc. leads to another interesting piece of the puzzle: the various interpretations each state or campus has for what compliance means. This is a challenge from a national and international perspective as far as determining best practices and/or sharing models with one another. It also is a challenge as staff move around the country in terms of un-learning and re-learning what RAs need to know and how they need to perform.

We have had some challenges with the academic community concept as well. Many of our staff get that it is important, but many of our staff are experiencing a VERY difficult time having academic conversations. We’ve instituted training on “having challenging conversations” and “why does housing care about academic performance?” They get it but feel that they are being overly intrusive if they ask. There is also the “cool” factor for some – and talking about grades and being a good student isn’t. We have started sharing mid-term grade reports and academic probation lists with our full-time, live-in staff. They, in turn, have conversations with RAs regarding their residents that have a “reason for concern” (we don’t share the specifics with the student staff). Many of our RAs are paralyzed when it comes to turning that concern into a conversation; they are willing to have a time management program for the floor, but individual coaching conversations really throw many of them for a loop. We’ve not yet found a training program that builds enough skill and/or confidence in this arena.

We have a community service day as part of our January training, and it is great! We partner with the university’s Institute for Social Capital, which has a community outreach program called Crossroads Charlotte. Our training includes a pre-service orientation (understanding national and local reasons why the need for our service project exists), a 2-3 hour service project, and a post-experience debrief. I agree; the reflections are amazing. We intentionally position the service program in January because they spent the first semester building strong floor/hall communities and by second semester they are perfectly positioned to take those communities to the next level: communities that give back. We see many follow-up projects come from this training effort.

We also step up our social justice programming/conversations in the spring semester. Same idea: they have spent a semester creating a comfortable and safe community, so they are able to have more challenging conversations within that context. In order to prepare for this, we have significant social justice training in August and return to the topic in January, with in-service opportunities throughout.

Bollinger: Allan’s comment about staff feeling overly intrusive is a theme we have found with this generation of student staff. We have had to do more training with our staff on how to engage students. I remember how shocked I was to find out that our CAs were not using their meal plans to interact with students and really did not understand how having a meal with their residents might help them get to know them. They felt this was intrusive. It also perplexed me that they found knocking on doors of the residents they may have not seen in a while (affectionately known as hermits) as almost a violation of that person’s privacy. We have gone back to the very basics when it comes to communication and building community training. We now incorporate sessions on effective verbal communication and group dynamics, as well as doing community development role plays on how to have conversations with residents. While we don’t call it this, we actually have a session that should be titled “How to be more intrusive.” We make it seem nicer than that.

Ongoing staff training throughout the semester is a challenge, and we have gone away from centralized CA staff developments and have given RHDs responsibility for planning monthly staff developments based on the needs of their hall and staff. However, these also become a challenge due to the fact that staff meetings and staff developments on our campus often occur after 9:00 p.m. That makes it difficult to bring in any presenters (other than res life staff). It is also difficult to keep staff members’ brains focused and attentive after 9:00 p.m. Webinars and other online resources really help as they give RHDs some resources from which to train creatively at any time.

We love our Citizenship Day here at Oshkosh as well. I think this year we celebrate our 15th Citizenship Day during staff training. It is one of our favorite training traditions, that and Camp Onoway. Training wouldn’t be training without camp!

Gonzalez: I agree with Jacque, and we use the same question – “What do they absolutely need to know to open the halls?” – to guide the decisions we make when it comes to training content. We also coordinate content with the subsequent RA seminar series that new RAs take in the early fall. Ironically, this led to us cutting the service project out of our program as it did not meet the absolutely-need–to-know criteria.

This year, perhaps in the vein of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” we are going to create a hashtag on Twitter for our RA training week. The leaders of our RA Council are going to facilitate it. It will be interesting to see what content this yields.

We have been considering investing in clickers to be used during training. I realize they may be old school to the RAs, but I am intrigued by the potential they offer for assessment and verification opportunities. This tool could provide the ability to say, “At this point in training, 100 percent of our RA team knew the correct answer to question A.” Might be useful as we try to develop stronger methods to capture what our RAs have learned during training and determine if our learning outcomes are being achieved.

What is Your Mission?

Maybe “mission” isn’t exactly the right word since we all have missions and values and vision statements. We all want to provide student and staff support and we all value student development and we all have a vision of fiscal responsibility. Vision and mission statements have their place, but we were challenged recently to say what our department is known for. Our students will recognize academic and programmatic support and great service, but they cannot recite our mission.  If you could capture what your students think of you, what would it say?

What is your signature? What do people think of when they hear your name? If you had two or three words to guide all of your work, a snapshot of your core principles, what would they be? Some famous taglines you may be familiar with are “That was easy” (Staples), for us old-school people who remember what a wrist watch is: “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking” (Timex), and “Fly the friendly skies” (American Airlines).

We had a group travel to the University of Texas in Austin and the University of Florida in Gainesville recently and met with their staff and toured their facilities. Impressive operations in theory and practice but one of the key things we came away with was how impactful a clear and concise message can be in guiding the department.

At the University of Texas, one message was “Wellness and Diversity.” It permeated everything they did and was so ingrained we were really struck by simplicity of the statement. If you look up the values, focus, mission and vision for UT you will find the following information:

Focus on an enhanced campus-wide culture of wellness

Respect for ideas, values and contributions of others in a diverse workforce

One of the takeaways from Florida was Learning & Innovation.  Not in the sense that you are allowed to travel to the next ACUHO-I conference, but in a much larger sense, what your responsibilities are, what are you doing to advance yourself and your organization, how rounded and versed you are in every facet of your department. It was impressive and daunting to see and you can recognize the commitment at all levels of the organization to do exactly what they say they are going to do.

As we go about our strategic planning and day-to-day operations we will begin to think about what will guide us in everything that we do.  It is our hope that eventually the guiding principles will be evident to casual visitors, guests, staff and students. It will be as easy and as natural as breathing.  It will take some time to reach a maturation level but with the talented and dedicated staff, we will definitely get there. We are not clear exactly yet where “there” is yet, but recognizing the problem is a good first step!

So what three words describe your organization?  Bold. Fun. Reputable. Prestigious. Academic. Development. Friendly. How is your story being told?

Looking Back on RAs

Alert ACUHO-I member Tony Cawthon told us about this article: “Background Checks for RAs,” in the Jackson Sun. The article discusses a new Tennessee state law that mandates background checks for anyone who would have access to student residences at colleges and universities.  Since most, if not all, institutions already use background checks before hiring regular employees, the law mainly changes how resident assistant jobs and similar positions are filled.

The law was driven after a campus RA, who had a criminal record, was accused of attempting to spy on female residents.

Members told us background checks are required of all employees (including students) in Kentucky and Wisconsin; do other states have the same legislation. Some institutions background check all employees, even though state law does not mandate it.

What does your state require? Do you perform background checks on RAs and other student employees? Are there other pre-employment precautions you take? Do you feel the expense of a background check or other procedures is balanced by the added safety?

Getting Services Centered

Many things are in the works on the Michigan State University campus. A number of our work functions have been centralized, and more may do so in the future. These changes create opportunity, but like any change they also can cause some issues. Employees are concerned that jobs may be lost for the sake of efficiency. People have to adapt to new roles and new environments. There may be increased expectations on the group of employees that is centralized, and this comes at a time when results may be the hardest to attain. Simply producing the same results as before may be difficult at first.

I’ve found myself thinking of the future and wondering if, when the euphoria of creating something new and shiny subsides, the tedious work may bring down morale. Employees may begin to snipe at each other simply because stress in increased. People are feeling pressure to produce, and the level of trust among  co-workers has not yet had a chance to take root like the relationships of the past. Managers will be tested by those they supervise because, well, that’s what we humans do. And don’t get me started on the costs for starting up such endeavors! Read more

What Is Your Legacy?

I recently returned from The Placement Exchange where I had the chance to sit on the “good side” of the table for my home institution.  While I was there I was continually impressed with the breadth of greatness that we have within our profession.  This greatness was evident not only in my colleagues who were recruiting for open positions, but more so in those seeking to further their careers.  While I was there I couldn’t help to think about what it was like to sit on that side of the table and the excitement of taking that next step.  I also spent a lot of time pondering what things will be like when I get ready to take that next step and what my legacy will be when I leave my current position and/or institution.  I’m not saying that it just donned on me so, “now I’ll work on that.”  What really hit me the question of what my legacy should be is one that I should’ve asked myself the day that I stepped onto the job.  Read more

Who – Not What – Is Your Future?

You are sitting on application number 237, and right now it all seems to be a blur. Who was that student from New Mexico that I really liked? What hall does this student live in? Haven’t I seen this application already? It is the dilemma we face every year. It is the lengthy, but more than rewarding student staff selection process.

No matter what you call them, what is it that keeps you motivated during the process of selecting student staff for next year? I could ask each and every one of you reading this that exact question and I would get a different answer every time. As professional staff it is easy for us to think about next year and the goals that we might have. It is easy to think about the department perspective and what great things we have in store for the residents that will call our campuses home. All too often we think our future is already decided, and we know what is going to happen. Read more

Professional Development…I’m All Ears!

This month I was fortunate enough to participate in GLACUHO’s Professional Development Institute (PDI).  I am serving as a faculty for this two-day program and will be presenting on campus crisis management.  While I am familiar with campus crisis, it’s a rather daunting prospect of talking with professionals with three to five years of experience about this issue. 

Because campus crisis looks different at every place, it’s hard to determine a common ground for our discussion.  What might throw one institution into a tail spin might just be business as usual for another.  I guess that the important part is to have rich discussion and bring up events or perspectives that would help foster our learning together.

As I was thinking about working with GLACUHO professionals, I get reminded why I do what I do.  I really love getting the chance to work with different levels of staff and engaging in conversation that brings meaning to our work.  It’s kind of fun to be able to spend concentrated effort and time around our professional landscape.  The other element that makes this fun is that there will be people from many different kinds of institutions at PDI.  Sometimes, I get in a rut and do things that same way…but seeing different perspectives and approaches can give me some new energy. 

As I post this blog, I would love to learn what kinds of best practices there are for professional development models for your staff.  Do you have something that occurs on a regular basis or is it done as the need arises?  Who does your professional development?  Senior Staff?  Professionals from outside your department?  I think that there are many things that we can be thinking about and having a discussion might help unfreeze our way of doing things.  If you’d like, I’ll be happy to gather what people send in to me or post, and I can send it out to whoever is interested.

All I know is that it’s important to develop.  How we do that and how we get to a common understanding of our institution and students, is what seems left up to us!  I’d encourage you to join the discussion…I’m all ears!

Hey Coach: What’s Your Interview Lineup?

As we begin to go down the path of job placement season I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts around setting up an interview process. And because most of our search season falls in line with the start of the ”America’s pastime” I couldn’t help but put out an analogy for all to ponder.

Working with a bank of questions for an interview is like putting together your batting order for Game 7 of the World Series. (For this analogy please assume that Game 7 will be played in an American League ballpark, and therefore we will be employing the concept of the Designated Hitter (DH). (Editor’s Note & Opinion: The DH is stupid and all players should have to swing the bat.)

There are strategies and rules that coaches employ to ensure the best lineup for the biggest game.  The same can be said for search committees establishing the interview protocols used for candidates.  Read more

Asking RAs to be the Change They Wish to See

As a new resident assistant, I remember coming to my first RA training and being very excited about preparing for my new residents to arrive on my floor. The preparation of bulletin boards, door decorations, RCRs, and key checks were overwhelming. Combined with the hours of information from RA training, it seemed impossible to get everything done. Taking in and remembering all of the important information was a lot to handle. I had so many questions and concerns, but somehow I made it. As a returning RA, I remember dreading RA training. Saying good-bye to summer or winter break a whole week early was not my cup of tea. Sitting through presentations that I had been through before was not appealing since, of course, I thought I knew it all already. As a returner, motivation during RA training was a struggle.

This year at the University of South Florida, we started the Residence Life Mentor (RLM) program. This program was designed to give returning RAs the opportunity to take on a different leadership role with RA training and the Department of Housing and Residential Education. Originally from a program based out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, myself and two other housing staff members started this program from the ground up. The goal was to give returning RAs a way to take ownership of RA training as well as serving as a mentor to new RAs.

We started by creating an outline of what we hoped to accomplish with this new position. The primary role of the position was serving as a mentor to the new RAs. This was a way for the RLMs to reach out to the new RAs over the summer to help alleviate fears and answer questions. This role was especially helpful for those new RAs who did not want to bother their new supervisor or who were not comfortable asking many questions. When new RA training began, some RLMs had goodie bags and notes ready for their mentees. Others held meetings where the new RAs participated in icebreakers and got to know each other. Read more

Helping Student Staff Thrive

While on one of the many airplanes I find myself on each August, I took some time to catch up on professional development reading. One of the articles I read in About Campus, “The ‘Thriving Quotient’: A New Vision for Student Success” by L.A. Schreiner, really made me think about how we work with students – especially our student staff.

In the article, Schreiner describes the findings of her three-year study into college student thriving. She says that thriving students are fully engaged in the learning process, and they feel a greater sense of connection to the university community that helps them get the most from the higher education experience. While Schreiner’s article focuses on the academic pursuits of college students, it made me think of our student staff and how we want them to thrive as CAs/RAs.

Schreiner provides several suggestions to help students thrive:

Help them develop an optimistic outlook: Schreiner is not saying that we need to turn our students into Pollyannas who refuse to acknowledge the problems of the world. Optimistic students are resilient when faced with obstacles and are able to view mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. An optimistic student staff member would be able to:

  • Discuss low program attendance in a constructive manner and develop strategies to increase the next program’s attendance
  • Identify obstacles to completing paperwork on time and work with their supervisor to set appropriate goals
  • Actively reflect on a difficult roommate mediation and come up with possible follow-up strategies

Help them picture success: Being able to envision future success can help staff be resilient when faced with an obstacle. Ask your staff to envision the kind of community they want and then ask them to develop strategies to reach that goal.  If they express concern about managing all of the expectations of the role along with their academic requirements, ask them to describe a situation in which they did balance multiple commitments, and then ask them to describe what they did in that situation that led to their success.

Help them apply their strengths: It’s very easy to focus on our staff’s deficiencies. But, Schreiner says that students who thrive are aware o f their strengths and are able to leverage those strengths in new or difficult situations. During 1:1s, talk with your staff about what they do well and how they can use that skill in areas where they struggle. Most of us are familiar with StrengthsQuest and Strengths Based Leadership.  These assessments provide an excellent framework for discussing your staff’s strengths. If your department does not offer the assessment to the student staff, check with your career center or your student leadership office – they may have some good resources for you.

What ways do you help your staff thrive? Post your ideas in the comment section!

Advising Student Groups

Amanda Wallace, of  the University of Alabama, and Anne Stark, from Purdue University, are researching the challenges of advising student groups and the ways a professional advisor can help make the relationship work. If you’ve had experience in this area, please help your colleagues by completing their short, 16-item survey.

Please pass this on to anyone who can assist. There’s always a need for more research in student housing, and this is an easy way to help!

You Were Asking

Happy Thursday, folks!

I’ve been getting a flurry of questions about RA hiring, evaluation and supervision lately. It’s RA-recruitment season, after all. Unfortunately, there’s no single resource that covers this topic thoroughly. (Hint, hint, if you’re in the mood to research and write a book or paper.) If you’re not up for that, post your tips and resources here!

One member asked about RA qualifications.  I looked at what others are doing. I searched for institutions who specified RA qualifications on their websites beyond the usual good-GPA-and-good-disciplinary-record stipulation.

Here are a few of them:

Brigham Young
Carnegie Mellon

Kent State University

Carleton College
University of Oregon
University of Montevallo
University of Central Florida
Towson University

I also found some scholarly articles on the topic. Here’s a a sample list of citations:

  • Wu, M.B. & Stemler, S.E. (2008) Resident Advisor General Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Personality Dimensions, and Internal Belief Characteristics as Predictors of Rated Performance; NASPA Journal (Online). 45 (4); 528-59.
  • Servaty-Seib, H. L. & Taub, D. J. (2008) Training Faculty Members and Resident Assistants to Respond to Bereaved Students; New Directions for Student Services 121; 51-62.
  • Healea, C.D. (2005) Character Education with Resident Assistants: A model for developing character on college campuses. Journal of Education, 186(1); 65-77.
  • Elleven, R. K.; Allen, J. & Wircenski, M. (2001) Resident Assistant Training: A southwestern perspective. College Student Journal, 35 (4); 609-15.

The New Social Disease

…that is, the wrong person viewing your Facebook profile (or your profile on another social network).

Faculty, administrators and staff usually try to keep their private and professional lives separate, though that’s very hard when you are, say, a live-in area coordinator.

A faculty member at East Stroudsberg University recently got into hot water for her Facebook postings about her students and class frustrations. The commentary on Inside HigherEd largely derides her comments and the fact that she has a Facebook profile at all. A few pointed out that Facebook sometimes suddenly and quietly changes users’ privacy settings, so users must re-set their limits on who can see their profiles and status. Several commenters on Inside HigherEd display disgust towards social media; one declares Facebook is only for the friendless and exhibitionist. However, for younger faculty and staff, giving up social media entirely might seem somewhere between burdensome and completely unrealistic.

How do you strike a balance? Abandon Facebook? Self-edit your postings? Double-check your privacy settings weekly?

The Forgotten Holiday

International Hall Staff Appreciation Day does not, for reasons unbeknown to me, come pre-printed on the blotter calendars that are delivered to my office each year by the local furniture vendor representatives. Each year it sneaks up on me in the midst of staff selection and room lottery seasons, a seemingly innocuous Wednesday in mid-February.

There are traditions for this day in my world. They involve rallying the Community Council, oversize signs on staff member’s doors, a Dairy Queen ice cream cake at staff meeting just when the staff has reached their threshold with my full agenda. They are small things, to be certain, but they are things that highlight my appreciation of these undergraduate students who step up and demonstrate leadership in their community. We know from our own experiences that it can be a thankless job, and while we do our best to demonstrate continued appreciation to student staff, it falls off the to do list amidst all of the other responsibilities we have.

I am reminded of celebrating the same day a decade ago when I was a resident assistant. Having the dining hall’s premiere and rarely served dessert at a staff meeting seemed indulgent for a Wednesday night; the decorations on my door reminded all of my residents that even if they were mad at me that week for enforcing policies, I was appreciated by someone on campus for doing my job.

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You Were Asking: Benefits for Live-In/Live-On Pros

I regularly get queries from folks who are assessing the benefits and perks for their Hall Directors and similar live-in/live-on positions. Usually these folks are wondering about the ancillary benefits: Do other institutions allow pets? Which ones? Is a meal plan included? Fortunately, there’s a great answer for this: Rich Horowitz’s Live-in/Live-on Report, an annual compilation of this data. But don’t just use the report, contribute to it too, and help keep this resource vital! Horowitz is an associate director of residential life at Vassar College.