Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Having Been a Resident Assistant

Below is a response to a friend of mine about my experience and opinion on having been a Resident Assistant.

The year I became a resident assistant I actually volunteered to be part of a study with Dr. Robert Longwell-Grice of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Dr. Longwell-Grice was working on a project that at its core to me was about why a student wants to become a Resident Assistant, and then at the end of the year, what the thoughts of that Resident Assistant are about the job.

I have to say now that I am still so glad about volunteering myself to answer questions and hopefully help Dr. Longwell-Grice because by doing so I realized that my idea of the job did in fact actually change.

In my opinion, the student body has to deal with the perception, and more importantly, the preconceived notions of what school is. Unfortunately, to deal with the preconceived notions entails a philosophical debate that could take days, or an entire book, to simply come to an “agree to disagree” viewpoint.

So, the logical step to investigate? I say, lets look at a schools mission statement. Let us try the University of Delaware since I went there:

The central mission of the University of Delaware is to cultivate both learning and the free exchange of ideas. To this end, the University provides excellent undergraduate and graduate courses of study in a variety of disciplines. Our graduates should know how to reason critically and independently yet collaborate productively. They should understand the cultural and physical world, communicate clearly in writing and speech, and develop into informed citizens and leaders.

That was not the entire mission statement, but trust me that the rest is simply a garbled reiteration of the school’s history.

Now, please, I dare you to name me five students whom you knew - other than me - who cared about a mission statement like the one from the University of Delaware. Students, or applicants, pre-conceived notions of college have less to do with a college’s mission statement than they do with MTV and what happened on the last season of Laguna Beach. By the way, if you’re looking for someone who is going to be a new student at a college who actually does care about a mission statement, then look no further than Ben Casnocha. But Ben is the exception, hardly the consensus.

Naturally, Resident Assistants being employed by the school are (and in my opinion, should be) there to facilitate the mission statement of the school. The problem is that they are trying to facilitate a mission that only a minority of the students subscribes to.

However, the job doesn’t become a facilitation of the mission statement. And by the way, the supervisors (hall directors and the bloody like) will evaluate on that observed merit, but that is not what the job becomes. The University becomes a nanny state, and the RAs its officers. On top, we end up having a bureaucratic regime that tries to achieve goals that can never be achieved because they don’t involve alcohol.

In fact, that bureaucratic regime known as ResLife emboldens and enables itself to think it can do anything. Let me put it to you this way, if I were running a private university, my policy on catching residents with alcohol, I report it the local police and let them handle it. Of course, the problem with that is they reside on University property, BUT what if they are 18 and older? They are adults and the University does not and should not employ people to be nannies, but that is what RAs all end up becoming. In the end, ResLife in all its inherent wisdom decides to take this process internally, and I’ll tell you why.

The reason why the University has an internal judicial system and forces, and I’ll repeat that, forces the Resident Assistants to “write up” for “alcohol violations” by making it part of the job duties is because by doing so, you’re putting many regular students in a position to enforce law, which is not what we’re all cut out to be. So, because of the reluctance of students to (1) get others in trouble and (2) Have fear of retaliation from people who live next to you, you end up having a system that lets people off the hook, or is so taxing on the Resident Assistant, that they only choose to “write up” perpetrators every so often. When we realize that the situation I just described is, in fact, what is going on, it is only then we realize why ResLife keeps it internal. There is no way to properly police all the violations going on. And if all the violations were caught, scores more students would be suspended, or expelled, which is not the proper image to garner favor with parents for their child’s attendance, hence, you lose money.

On being a Resident Assistant, I will always say that the job is only a small part a way to enrich students’ lives, but rather moreover about trying to make sure they don’t kill themselves. I’ll give you an economic analogy to work with here. The University of Delaware works by its mission statement; of the wonderful professors I have met, I have no doubt that the University of Delaware takes that mission statement seriously. However, every college in the nation needs attendance, and it seems that many school provosts choose to the path of least resistance in order for prospective students to attend their schools. That is to say, they let the preconceived notions reign high, let the expulsion rate be as it is, and let the money keep coming in.

And like a true market, the product (school) is what we want it to be. And obviously, education is not the only product on the table at a college or university. I think it might be a downfall, but you may see another opinion. And if you do, then it seems you’re getting exactly what you want, and pay for, out of school. Maybe I just placed a different value on my money, and its purpose, than you did.
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