- Measuring Critical Aspects of the Resident Assistant Role
Over time, university housing complexes have evolved into learning communities designed to foster students' learning, development, and overall well-being (Blimling, 2010; Stassen, 2003). Moreover, the role of the resident assistant (RA) has evolved in a similar manner. Specifically, although achieving physical and security-oriented goals was once necessary and sufficient for completing the RA role (Blimling & Miltenberger, 1990; Greenleaf, 1967), RAs must now play an important role in socializing residents as well. Today, RAs manage conflict between residents (Herdlein, Riefler, & Mrowka, 2013; Murray, Snider, & Midkiff, 1999), counsel and connect residents to university resources (Servaty-Seib & Taub, 2010), act as role models (Winston & Anchors, 1993), and foster an environment wherein it is safe for residents to express themselves (i.e., psychological safety; Edmondson, 1999; Evans, Reason, & Broido, 2001). Thus, in addition to fulfilling the more traditional aspects of the RA role (e.g., student safety), contemporary RAs are expected to help residents assimilate into the broader community (Blimling, 2010).
These new RA responsibilities may foster a number of positive student outcomes. For instance, establishing friendships and developing a sense of residence hall community may benefit residents' personal development (e.g., Arboleda, Wang, Shelley, & Whalen, 2003) and academic performance (e.g., Stassen, 2003). Moreover, community-oriented residences appear to facilitate social integration and involvement (e.g., Astin, 1999). Ultimately, such positive outcomes may explain why residence life professionals have become increasingly concerned with ensuring that RAs incorporate community-oriented practices alongside some of the more traditional RA practices (M. Adams & K. Carter, personal communication, January 5, 2015).
It is important to note, however, that a lack of comprehensive measurement tools often impedes residence life professionals' ability to assess critical components of the contemporary RA role and performance. For instance, although Kuh and Schuh (1983) measured aspects of academic encouragement, they did not measure contemporary aspects of the RA role mentioned above (e.g., role modeling; Winston & Anchors, 1993); moreover, other measurement attempts (e.g., Forsyth, 1983; Harshman & Harshman, 1974; Knouse & Rodgers, 1981) suffer from similar shortcomings, where contemporary aspects of the RA role are missing (e.g., psychological safety—Evans et al., 2001; conflict management—Murray et al., 1999). [End Page 618] (It is also worth mentioning that these measurement tools were not subjected to strict tests of validity, e.g., confirmatory factor analysis, which potentially limit their utility.) As noted previously, this is highly problematic: if residence life professionals are unable to measure critical aspects of today's RA role, then their ability to assess RA training effectiveness, RA competency, and RA performance is limited.
Given the general paucity of adequate measures, identifying critical aspects of the contemporary RA role in a single inventory may enable residence life professionals to conduct more comprehensive assessments of RA training, competency, and performance. As such, we conducted a two-phase study in which we developed and tested a comprehensive measurement tool designed to capture critical aspects of the contemporary RA role in a single inventory.
METHOD AND RESULTS
Phase 1: Identification of RA Responsibilities
Our team of four researchers reviewed and discussed a sample of the literature on undergraduate residential life and housing services to identify prominent responsibilities associated with the position of a RA. Specifically, we analyzed research articles from the student leadership (e.g., Ganser & Kennedy, 2012), student development (e.g., Murray et al., 1999), and residential assistance in university housing (e.g., Schaller & Wagner, 2007) literatures. In addition, we cross-referenced a syllabus from an RA training program at a large Midwestern university (cf. Blimling, 2010). The underlying goal of our review and subsequent discussion process was to identify common themes and critical features that define the duties and responsibilities associated with the contemporary RA role.
Our discussion concluded when all four researchers reached a consensus regarding a list of focal RA role responsibilities. We categorized the resulting RA responsibilities into 11 competency domains that compose focal components of the RA position (see Table 1). Furthermore, two existing RAs and two residence life professionals confirmed the face validity and completeness of the 11 competency domains.