Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 50, No. 2 - 66

Resident Directors' Understandings of Disability
There were numerous instances when the RDs described disagreeing with certain disability-related
decisions, though in most of these instances they reported following
instructions or advocating for students, but only to certain degrees. While they may
have found themselves in situations where they disagreed with the decisions of DS
offices or departmental leadership, recognizing that their knowledge of the legal landscape
of disability was limited allowed them to take a deferential stance and carry out
the decisions made by others.
Navigating Active Tensions Between Individuals and Systems
Across all the themes in this study, the RDs discussed navigating a number of disability-related
issues when tensions emerged as they found themselves in the middle of
individuals and systems that had competing interests, definitions, or values regarding
disability. The RDs connected students with disabilities to DS administrators,
while they simultaneously managed their own desires to support students beyond the
bounds of those very processes. They also navigated their own understandings of how
best to think about or respond to disability, demonstrating multi-layered understandings
of disability as both a legally protected category and an important facet of diversity
and student identity.
The RDs frequently spoke about the importance of making hall events more accessible,
noting that this was important because they were not always aware of who
might attend a program or what specific supports might be needed. These community-focused
descriptions involved proactive consideration of potential disability, but
tensions were visible when this approach was contrasted with the RDs' discussions
and understandings of disability accommodations. Many of the RDs noted an absence
of training or knowledge in this area. They often found themselves in the middle of
legalistic individualized accommodations processes, for which they had received little
training and for which they were quick to cede responsibility. They appeared to be
more prepared to understand disability as an element of diversity at a community level
but were limited-by their training and the systems within which they operate-in
applying those principles to their support of specific students with disabilities.
Tension also appeared to be driven by the nature of the RD role and responsibilities.
As part of their jobs, the resident directors were tasked to approach disability in
rigid, individualized, and legalistic ways while also being mindful of the principles of
social justice. The RDs valued a social model approach to disability but perceived themselves
as limited in the extent to which they could make decisions that would extend
inclusion to all of their residents. They did not perceive that disability inclusion was a
As part of their jobs, the resident directors were tasked to approach
disability in rigid, individualized, and legalistic ways while also
being mindful of the principles of social justice. . . . They did not
perceive that disability inclusion was a high institutional priority.
Volume 50, No. 2 * 2024 63

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