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Resident Directors' Understandings of Disability
design. In the meantime, they described the importance of taking it upon themselves
to know the available spaces within their buildings, as well as the students who reside
there, so that they could provide support and advocacy for students when individualized
issues arose.
Operating as Generalists Between Silos of Expertise
When discussing how they interacted with issues of disability, RDs identified themselves
as generalists who lacked specific expertise in disability or disability services.
They also described how they perceived disability support as operating separately
from their residence life departments. Understanding the RD position as a generalist
role appeared to have a relationship with how the RDs perceived their levels of disability-specific
knowledge. They acknowledged having foundational understandings
of disability and indicated that their referral of students to disability services was in
part due to a specialized knowledge of disability, held by DS administrators, which
they did not have as generalists. Carmen shared an example of how she has described
this to students.
I'll say, " You can go to the accessibility office, and you can talk to them about that and get
an accommodation. " And then I usually say, " I don't know a lot, but they are the experts
and they know. They can talk to you about your options that maybe will help you manage
both your depression and the impact that your depression is having on your schoolwork. "
The RDs appeared to understand their referrals to disability services as being consistent
with their role as generalists. They acknowledged that they may be well positioned
to triage student issues related to disability but that they do not have the specific expertise
to make decisions related to the provision of accommodations.
The frustration that many of the RDs articulated regarding the limits of their general
knowledge and authority also appeared connected to the separate, siloed nature
of the campus housing and DS offices. Not all participants shared this frustration.
Frankie, for example, articulated a stronger sense of collaboration with the DS office
and an ability to follow up with them as needed in order to support students. Unlike
the majority of the RDs, she explained that the DS office and her office were in the
same suite, which naturally reduced the siloed nature of their operations.
The RDs also discussed their role as generalists with respect to their perceptions of
the legal liability involved in matters of disability. These perceptions are useful in understanding
the RDs' deferral of disability-related matters to others on campus. Gwen
described this tendency as she talked about areas of her role over which she asserts
little control.
I think that there is a legitimate legal standing [associated with disability]. It is sometimes
state level, sometimes federal level. And I don't have an understanding of all of that
intimately. So, I think it's less that I don't have autonomy and more just " there be
dragons. " I don't know how to navigate that part so I don't.
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