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. . . social class can impact students' academic and social
transition in the residence halls, where working-class students
often face pressure to assimilate to campus norms.
FINDINGS
Our analysis revealed that participants' perceived tension between their working-class
identities and residential life and the RA role in three key areas. First, RA compensation
was higher than that for many comparable positions, but still limited in what financial
stability it offered participants. Second, RA positions often were more explicitly
connected to issues of equity and social justice, but rarely targeted social class directly.
Third, while residential life often acted as a space to share values such as work ethic,
class distinctions were still highly salient. In the section below, we unpack each of
these themes with evidence from participant interviews.
Financial Assistance from the RA Job Was Crucial, but Limited
The RA role served as a key source of financial support for the participants in this
study. Several participants noted that, without the position (which at both institutions
covered the cost of lodging on campus), they might not have been able to afford to attend
their institution. Lauren remarked on the importance of this income: " I'm an RA,
which definitely . . . allowed me to stay at [MU]. . . I don't know what I would've done if
I didn't get the job because it's housing and then also a bi-weekly stipend. " Leah noted
how " the jobs that I have, they pay for my housing, they pay for my food. . . . if I don't
have a job, I literally will not be able to go to school here. " Though demanding, being
an RA also had positive trade-offs compared to the other jobs available to students. Jane
had previously worked odd hour jobs opening a Starbucks in town and serving as an
Uber driver at night. As she commented, " Parts of the RA job are hard and annoying,
but it's a definitely a lot better than going to work at 5:00 in the morning and also
having to serve college students. "
Yet sometimes the importance of the job's financial assistance meant that participants
felt obligated to pursue the role regardless of their interests or passions. Sam
exemplified this sentiment. His mother worked tirelessly to support him and his older
sister through primary and secondary school, but money was always tight in the family.
Prior to accepting college admission, Sam had examined how he might earn money to
support his attendance.
I knew that finances would be a big thing, and when I committed to [MU], I had already
done my research as to what sort of paid positions I could get to really make it easier
for myself. This was the summer before freshman year. I had a note on my phone. It had
orientation leader, resident assistant . . . how much money they made, what does it entail,
and all those contracts.
The need for work became particularly dire after Sam's family experienced an abrupt
change in their financial circumstances. Overnight, Sam spent his savings to stay in
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