Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 50, No. 2 - 62

Resident Directors' Understandings of Disability
Isa's example highlights how RDs identified their entry-level position as a factor that
limited their impact on institution-level decisions. Their perceived limited institutional
authority served as an inhibiting factor, which led them to respond to disability in
reactive ways, dictated by the existing resources at their disposal.
Understanding Incongruities Between Stated Needs
and Documentation Requirements
Throughout the interviews, RDs discussed the role they often play as first points of
contact for students with questions about disability-related housing accommodations.
Tension appeared across RD discussions of these interactions. A particularly salient
tension that they expressed was rooted in their concern regarding student access to
accommodations.
Expressions of frustration emerged from RDs' inability to provide accommodations
based on students' self-reported needs. These frustrations were not voiced by all
of the RDs; for some, like Joshua and Perry, relying on the expertise of the DS office
appeared to alleviate this concern. Many of the RDs, however, were concerned that
systems for accommodations approval were further marginalizing due to the time,
energy, and access to resources that they require. Darren described this frustration
relative to the additional steps that he observed in the accommodations process.
The person who is experiencing the sense of disrespect for their identity or their needs has
to be the one who's the loudest advocate for themselves. That's quite unfortunate. I wish
that wasn't the case. I wish we could just accept students at their word.
Across this and similar responses, RDs articulated their attempts to focus less on formal
disability diagnoses and more on what students said that they needed.
The tensions that appeared to surround RD notions of student needs and documentation
requirements were also framed by limited understanding of legal compliance
and liability. Many RDs noted that they had only a cursory familiarity with the
legal aspects of disabilities and that this lack of expertise led them to defer to others'
instruction. As Carmen explained, " Because of the legal components, it's kind of like,
well, we do what they say. " These references to legal requirements often began with
a focus on maintaining compliance or not running afoul of the law. The majority of
RDs described their role as one in which they carried out the administrative decisions
of others, even when they did not agree with those decisions. Megan discussed this
tension, explaining, " I have to really balance that I am representing the institution, and
I can't be like, 'well the institution was wrong.' That's never good. So that is very tricky. "
Megan's statement was representative of how many RDs felt: experiencing moments
of disagreement with others at their institution but frequently finding themselves implementing
decisions with which they may have disagreed, in part out of concerns for
legal compliance.
Lastly, RDs described tension in supporting students through the disability accommodation
process. Many of the resident directors acknowledged having limited
positional agency with which to engage in advocating for students in these processes.
Volume 50, No. 2 * 2024 59

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