Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 50, No. 2 - 36

Improving Praxis in Residence Life
PROMOTING STAFF WELL-BEING has been a challenge for many residence
life departments long before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in the
mental well-being of the general population as well as in residence life staff.
The stressful work environment and demanding work hours in residence life
have been linked to burnout and intentions to leave the field. This qualitative
study explored the experiences of residence life staff during the pandemic,
which, with its heightened stressors, provided a rich backdrop for studying
ways to improve praxis in residence life by reducing stress and work demands
and improving staff well-being. Based on interviews with 17 residence life staff,
we found that the pandemic exacerbated challenges related to transparent
communication and decision-making and affected professionals' ability to
balance work and personal life, challenges that had existed in departments prior
to the pandemic. Participants responded to these challenges by prioritizing their
well-being, re-evaluating their careers, and leveraging technology to improve
residence life praxis. We discuss implications for altering practice after the
pandemic to increase staff well-being by facilitating start-stop-continue activities
to address issues with workload and connecting staff to mental health services.
Authors' note: This study is endorsed by the ACUHO-I Research Committee. ACUHO-I
is committed to the creation and dissemination of knowledge about campus housing and
the broader issues that impact the postsecondary experience.
Editor's note: The authors have chosen to lowercase the word White, which would normally
be capitalized according to APA guidelines, in an effort to de-center whiteness.
I
n March of 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how
U.S. institutions of higher education operated (ACUHO-I, 2020a; Smalley, 2021)
as they moved their courses online, closed many residence halls, or reduced occupancy
in order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus (ACUHO-I, 2020a). Residence
life staff, as front-line workers, managed move-outs, arranged for students
to pick up their belongings, and created new policies and procedures for quarantining
on campus (Williams, 2020). After a summer that included furloughs and
layoffs for many (Williams, 2020), the majority of institutions opened their halls at
reduced capacity, and residence life staff continued to develop and adjust protocols to
align with frequently changing institutional, state, and national COVID-19 guidelines
(ACUHO-I, 2020b; Chronicle of Higher Education, 2020; Inside Higher Ed, 2020).
Research highlights the overall decrease in mental well-being during the pandemic
(Jewell et al., 2020; Wilke et al., 2021). University staff reported high stress levels and
low mental well-being (Van Der Feltz-Cornelis et al., 2020). Residence life staff struggled
to balance caring for students with protecting their own health and safety-all while
managing frequently changing policies. These challenges likely led to heightened levels
Volume 50, No. 2 * 2024 33

Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 50, No. 2

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