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Resident Directors' Understandings of Disability
high institutional priority. All the while, they interacted with individual students with
disabilities in ways that informed their broader understanding of disability identity.
Tensions were created within the RDs, as they came away from individual interactions
with insights they might apply across their communities but in ways that were limited
by the medical model frameworks of the systems within which they function.
LIMITATIONS
Multiple limitations were identified in this study. The RD participants worked at private,
primarily residential, small and medium-sized colleges and universities on the West
Coast of the United States that were rooted in liberal arts traditions. While these institutional
characteristics narrowed the scope of the study, they simultaneously minimized
institutional diversity in certain ways and did not account for it in others. The study did
not include any resident directors from an Historically Black College or University, nor
did it account for institutional religious affiliation. DisCrit literature (e.g., Annamma
et al., 2018) raises critical questions about RD understandings of disability within the
institutional contexts of their employment. Likewise, several RDs spoke about their understanding
of disability as impacted by working at institutions with strong religious
affiliations. These examples highlight the limitations of the institutional criteria of the
study. Additionally, RDs opted into the study, leaving the possibility that those who elected
not to respond to the recruitment emails held different understandings of disability
than what emerged from the participants. Lastly, recruitment and interviews occurred
during the summer and fall of 2020-in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and in
the wake of national response to the murder of George Floyd. These factors may have
provided the RDs a particular lens through which they considered aspects of mental
health and disability and of disability as an element of diversity. It is likely that RD
understandings of these issues might have emerged from the data differently had the
interviews taken place under a different global context.
IMPLICATIONS
The RDs frequently held personal understandings of disability as an element of diversity
and felt they were more inclusion-oriented than were the systems of disability in
the institutions at which they worked. The theory of tension that emerged suggests
that those who supervise RDs need to be aware of how issues of disability appear in
their daily work and how RDs may understand individual student circumstances to
be at odds with institutional or departmental procedures, protocols, or practices. RD
training and supervision, student staff training, and residential programming are three
areas where tangible implications based on these tensions may be identified and supported.
Such an awareness would allow supervisors to provide intentional support and
development opportunities to the RDs related to their understanding of disability and
their positional responsibilities.
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