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values (Bettencourt, 2020a; Hurst, 2010; Martin, 2015), they often contributed to
the erasure of working-class identities and the centering of middle- and upper-class
students (Barratt, 2011). Thus, the burden often fell to RAs to speak up about class
equity even as they were experiencing classism.
For higher education institutions, working-class RAs provide an asset as they
help push institutions to (re)consider their social class allyships and engagement
with classism (Bettencourt, 2020b). Moreover, having student staff with marginalized
identities in leadership roles can be valuable for residential students as role models to
promote leadership and sense of belonging (Williams et al., 2021). However, there are
tremendous limitations to placing the onus of such advocacy on working-class RAs.
Such risks include furthering the burnout associated with the RA role (Stoner, 2017)
and perpetuating the racism, heterosexism, and classism already present in residential
life (Harper et al., 2011; Harwood et al., 2012; Strayhorn & Mullins, 2012).
Working-class students benefit when colleges and universities proactively engage
with the issues of social class and classism. One important step for practitioners in
residential life might be to conduct an audit of areas such as RA training, programming,
and the residential curriculum to examine the explicit and implicit messages
about class contained therein. Alternatively, bolstering ways to discuss social justice,
including conversations about social class and classism, might show working-class
students that their social class identities are valued while also reducing the onus on
them to bring up issues reactively (for possible approaches, see Martin & Ardoin,
2021). Creating spaces to discuss social class in residential life, such as RA training,
could proactively allow working-class RAs to find community, discuss concerns, and
perceive commitment from institutional leaders to addressing classism. Moreover,
such endeavors could also lead to broader dialogue and inclusion in the residence
halls for all working-class residents.
While these changes represent affirmative support that acts in favor of current
working-class students, additional work is needed to re-examine the foundations of
classism and transform current systems of inequality in higher education institutions
(Bettencourt, 2020b). Residence life has the ability to disrupt systemic oppression
and internalized messages of classism, racism, and sexism (Means & Pyne, 2017)
and support students' sense of belonging on campus (Soria & Roberts, 2021). In this
study, we looked at the experiences of seven resident advisors and how they navigated
social class and classism in residential life. Due to their unique blend of involvement
. . . there are tremendous limitations to placing
the onus of such advocacy on working-class RAs.
Such risks include furthering the burnout associated
with the role and perpetuating the racism, heterosexism,
and classism already present in residential life.
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