Journal of College & University Student Housing Vol 49, No. 1 - 81

Working-Class Resident Advisors
Here, the value of work provided important common ground amongst RA peer
groups. For example, participants perceived that many of their peer RAs did not
necessarily share the same burden of financial obligations as working-class students
did. Yet even without the same firsthand knowledge of the working-class experience,
participants noted that fellow RAs could relate to the importance of work. For example,
Jane often took early morning shifts at other jobs to help supplement her RA
income. She relied on her peer RAs who did not need to work other jobs to help her
navigate her schedule.
Last semester when I was working at [dining hall], I would have to work early in the
morning and then I would be like " I can't be on duty tonight because I have to wake up
super early, could someone take my shift? " And they'd be like, " oh sure, I feel so bad,
you're such a hard worker " . . . I don't think any of them have other jobs, but at the time
I had [the RA job] and then two other things that I was doing for money. They could
see that, they respected that.
While the shared focus on and understanding of work provided important common
ground for participants and their RA peers, the experiences were still nuanced by
social class background. Working-class participants in this study identified as outliers
in important ways, particularly regarding the degree to which work was central to their
lives. In one case, Bugsy's work ethic and commitment were key parts of her sense of
self that she didn't necessarily see in her peers who were not working-class.
I feel like I have more of a drive than others. I don't know if it is just laziness, but
sometimes it feels like [other RAs are] just doing it for the money. Which is a component
of why I'm doing it, but it's also an outlet for me, like I was talking about. I can utilize
my skills. I don't think everyone necessarily has the same drive for that.
Sometimes the sense of social class distinctions was aided by the fact that class was
very visible through the lens of campus housing, both in and outside of the RA job.
Residence halls were full of subtle demarcations of social class ranging from clothing
and cars to technology and even the furnishing of one's room. Guillame shared this
tension, noting, " I literally live with 350 people. A lot of them are rich. I can't get
away from that. "
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Our findings here emphasize the contradictory ways that RAs from working-class
backgrounds experience social class and classism within their leadership roles in
residential life. The RA position provided participants with access to a prestigious,
relatively high-paying position on campus. However, due to income constraints tied
to their working-class backgrounds, participants often felt they had no other choice
but to serve as an RA regardless of their ultimate goals or interests. Moreover, while
these positions focused on social justice and aligned with participants' working-class
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