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Social class is rarely discussed within higher education
even as it is omnipresent.
When successful, residential living can be a transformative experience. Research
has long shown the benefits of living on campus for all students (Mayhew et al.,
2016); working-class students in particular gained greater resilience and a sense of
belonging (Soria & Roberts, 2021). In this study, we argue that addressing social class
inequities and classism is of critical importance within higher education as a whole
and within residence life specifically. This study examines working-class RAs as individuals
who may be overrepresented in the RA role due to financial need and who
are navigating classism simultaneously as individuals and professionals. Specifically,
we examine the research question, how do working-class resident advisors experience
social class and classism within residential life?
METHODS AND DATA
This research was part of a larger narrative inquiry study into the experiences of
working-class students. The larger study was used to understand how working-class
students access, experience, and persist within higher education; during the data collection
and analysis of the primary research questions, it emerged that several participants
were RAs and spoke of their work in the residence halls as a salient part of
their experiences. Across the study, we used narrative inquiry to understand the lived
experiences of participants (Clandinin & Rosiek, 2007; Josselson, 2011).
Data collection took place at two flagship public research institutions in the northeastern
United States, given the pseudonyms Mountain University (MU) and Coastal
University (CU). The lead author recruited participants by emailing a variety of student
organizations, instructors, and programs on both campuses as well as posting flyers
on campus. Interested students completed a brief screening survey to ensure that they
met study criteria, which included being over age 18 and at least a sophomore at the
time of the interview. Working-class status was ascertained using a modified version
of Hurst's (2010) criteria focusing on parental education (less than a four-year college
degree) and parental employment (hourly wages, involving manual labor, no oversight
or supervision of others' work, no significant training or education, not considered
prestigious). Eligible students were invited to participate in two interviews focusing
on their experiences choosing, transitioning to, and navigating through college (see
Bettencourt, 2019).
Twenty-four students agreed to participate. During data collection, seven participants
identified as being RAs at the time of the study and spoke at length about their
involvement in residential life. Thus, a sub-focus of the study emerged related to how
working-class students approached the RA role and navigated social class within residential
life. The seven participants generated more than 16 hours of interview data and
235 pages of transcription (see Table 1, page 74).
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