The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 15

Kristen A. Renn

job categories for diversity in sex, race/ethnicity/nationality, and class year (see Table 1 for
a summary of RA participant demographics).
Participants received a $10 gift card for taking
part in the interview.
Following good practice in qualitative interviewing (Seidman, 2013), the interview
protocol was open-ended and covered questions related to personal definitions of student
success, perceptions about their institution's
definitions of student success, and perceptions
of how peer staff in their current roles might
contribute to student success for others. Interviews with RAs lasted 48 to 126 minutes, with
the average being 65 minutes. We recorded
and transcribed all interviews and then sent
transcripts to participants to check content and
clarify any points they would like to extend;
three RAs responded with clarifications and/
or corrections.

Data Analysis
Working alone to answer the research questions, I used open, axial, and selective coding to
identify themes in responses to research questions (Miles, Huberman, & SaldaƱa, 2013).
Using the Dedoose online qualitative analysis platform, I conducted an initial round of
open coding on 15 manuscripts to yield major
codes and subcodes related to each research
question. Using these codes and subcodes I
conducted additional coding on the remaining 55 manuscripts. I identified 12 additional
codes during this process and then applied
them to the original 15 manuscripts as well. I
then clustered codes into categories. I enlisted
two peer debriefers who work in residence life
offices outside Michigan State University to
discuss codes, categories, and findings, which
I present in the next section.
14

Student Success Mindset

Trustworthiness
Denzin and Lincoln (2008) identified "trustworthiness, credibility, transferability, [and]
confirmability" as appropriate criteria for
quality in a constructivist study such as this
one (p. 32). I established trustworthiness at
the level of data collection through selection
of a sample that represented the population of
peer residential staff across roles and years of
service, use of a consistent interview protocol,
and member-checking transcripts. Use of a
relatively large sample for an interview study
enhances credibility as does the presentation
of data in the findings. Use of peer debriefers
from outside the research site enhances transferability and confirmability (Spall, 1998) as
researchers and professionals consider if and
how to use findings in their own practice.

FINDINGS
I divided the findings into four parts. First,
a major finding emerged in how residential
peer staff understand the concept of student
success. Then I addressed the three research
questions, beginning with how residential
peer staff understand their role in promoting student success, then how they enact that
role, and then the barriers to and facilitators of
their enacting this role in promoting student
success for residential peers.

How RAs Understand Student Success
Though student success is now a central
theme in higher education policy, practice, and
research, I wondered how residential peer staff
would define student success for themselves
and their peers at Michigan State University.
Although definitions of student success commonly connect to a set of measurable academic
markers such as GPA, credits completed by

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

	 Table 1
	 Participant Demographics
			
	

n	

	Sex	
	Female	
	Male	
	

	

23
17

19
12
9

First time or repeating in role

	 First-year RA	
	 Repeating RA	

n	

	Race/ethnicity/nationality*	

Class year

	Sophomore	
	Junior	
	 Senior (4th, 5th, or 6th year)	

		

24
16

	 African American / Black	
	 Asian American	
	 Latinx 	
	Multiracial**	
	 Native American / American Indian	
	 Pacific Islander	
	White	
	 International student	
	

9
4
12
6
1
1
19
2

Note. *Total is more than 40 because students could identify with more than one race.
**Students who identified as multiracial, biracial, or mixed race. Some students selected this category only and did not indicate component heritages.

time milestones, staying in good academic
standing, graduating, and time to degree (Kuh
et al., 2011), peer residential staff had more
expansive definitions that were more aligned
with the holistic definitions of student development common amongst student affairs scholars and practitioners (see the range of theories
in Patton, Renn, Guido, & Quaye, 2016). Put
simply, as one RA said, "Student success is academics, but also social, personal, leadership.
It's making the most of your time at MSU."
Another stated, "We come here for the total
package-classes and sports and student orgs
and friends. Success is all of that tied up in a
green and white ribbon!"
Participants were clear about the individuality and diversity of definitions of student
success. They did not subscribe to one definition and did not believe that the university's
academically focused metrics (e.g., academic
standing, GPA, credits earned) covered the
range of student success. Expanding the defi-

nition of success beyond academics, one said,
Success isn't the same for every student, and
it's not the same for every RA. I think the
school needs to think about how they talk
about "success" and understand it's not just
grades and passing classes. It's friends, and
making memories for a lifetime.
This emphasis on social success and making
friends was a common theme and an area in
which residential peer staff in particular felt they
could have an impact, given the amount of time
they share with residents in physical spaces like
lounges, study rooms, and shared bathrooms.
"Helping you find your crew, your squad, if you
will," one participant reported, "is the most important thing I do 'cause I won't always be there
with you as you keep going [in school], but your
crew will." Social success might involve friendships on the floor, in the building, or elsewhere
on campus, but where it was found, it was a key
part of the Michigan State University undergraduate experience.
V O L U M E 4 6 , NO. 2 * 2 0 2 0

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The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2

Contents
The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - Intro
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