The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 16

Kristen A. Renn

In addition to resisting what they
perceived as narrow, academicsonly institutional definitions of
student success for their work with
residents, RAs repeatedly pointed
out the necessity of students having
their own goals.

Allowing students to define success for
themselves was a third thread within this
theme. In addition to resisting what they perceived as narrow, academics-only institutional
definitions of student success for their work
with residents, RAs repeatedly pointed out the
necessity of students having their own goals.
One participant said,
To me a resident is successful when they are
happy, making friends, doing as well as they
want in their classes. They're successful when
they meet their own goals, not some goal I
may have for them or [residence life] may
have for them.
When pressed for examples of individual
goals that might not show up in institutional
student success goals, participants referred to
residents developing career interests, finding
work on or near campus, locating faith communities (bible study or a mosque, temple,
or church in the community), and "making
friends, being happy, making those memories
you're supposed to have from college." While
these goals do not necessarily conflict with institutional goals, they are less likely to show up
in the university's metrics and student success

16

Student Success Mindset

dashboards than they are to be present in the
immediate lives of peer residential staff who
work with students on a day-to-day basis. Participants framed their understanding of their
own role in student success through the lenses
of what student success meant to them.

Other participants described their own
academic and other success-related behaviors,
such as "I make a point to say I'm going to the
Writing Center or Econ tutoring. They know I
do it, and I want them to do it, because I know
it works."

How RAs Understand Their Role in
Student Success

Not all role modeling was explicit or verbal:
"They see me in the study lounge and they
see me with my books and they see how hard
I work. So hopefully they pick up on that."
Another student talked about their habit of
doing yoga with a regular group in the residence
hall lounge. "And I hope they see me there and
understand that I don't always study, but sometimes I take care of myself in other ways."

Residential peer staff recognized four distinct
but related roles that defined their contributions to student success: acting as an older
sibling, a role model, a friend, or a resource
provider. First, several described themselves
like an older sibling. One said,
I feel like I'm a big brother. Like they look up
to me to see what to do. And when they see
me do something that works, like going to
tutoring, they know it's cool. Like you always
wanted to be like your big brother and do
what he does.
Multiple participants talked about the idea
that they could "show [other students] the
ropes" and "take some of the fear out of [it] for
them, like my older sister did for me before I
came to MSU."
They also felt that they acted as a role model
for other students. In this role, they often
drew from their own experiences, such as the
student who said,
I set an example, a role model, whether it's
in doing something right-like getting up and
going to my 8 a.m. [class]-or in showing them
how to fix a mistake, like when I got behind
with problem sets and had to figure out how
to get back on track. That thing about fixing
mistakes is hard, because no one wants to
say they f***ed up but everyone does, and
knowing how to fix it is what matters.

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

Being a friend was the third common way of
understanding the RA role in student success.
One participant said, "I know we're supposed
to not like be their best friend or show favoritism, but I do want them to know I'm their

RAs were holistic in their approach,
reflecting their understanding of
student success as multifaceted.
They paid attention to residents'
sense of belonging, talked about
success in ways that are not
restricted to academics, and
introduced students to a range of
cultural, intellectual, recreational,
social, and spiritual activities and
resources.

friend, that I care about them as people not just
as residents." Another spoke of how she draws
on her own experiences to be a friend to students for whom she has responsibility:
I try to let them know that I'm here for them
no matter what's going on for them. If they
"F" a quiz or miss a problem set . . . they can
talk to me and I won't judge. Then I tell them
how I've been there, too, and it's okay and
it doesn't mean they're not going to pass the
class, they just have to make sure to get back
on track. Same as I do with my friends who
don't live on the hall.
Michigan State University is a large campus,
and being a friend to residents is part of how
peer support staff see their role in enacting holistic student success. Though themes of being
an older sibling and being a friend are similar,
being a sibling did not always entail liking or
enjoying being with residents the way being a
friend did; one chooses friends, but one does
not choose siblings.
Finally, residential peer staff saw themselves as resource providers for their peers.
Students I interviewed were aware that they
had access to knowledge and networks that
most students did not have. One said, "I'm a
returner [RA]. I know all the resources from
last year, plus now I'm in a different [part of
campus] and we have additional options for
class tutoring, help rooms, and the health
clinic is in our building." Another student said,
RAs, we get all the training and know all the
people who are here to help students with
anything-counseling, classes, finding a job,
whatever. [My second year as an RA] they
included more resources about advising,
tutors, help rooms, stuff that I didn't know
about outside my major. And I tell my
residents about that.
V O L U M E 4 6 , NO. 2 * 2 0 2 0

17



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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