The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 18

Kristen A. Renn

RAs were aware of their unique place in the
overall campus system of support for student
success. One participant noted, "Professors
don't know all the things we know because
they're about academics. And [hall directors]
and [academic] advisors don't know all the
things we know because they're not students.
So we can put it together for residents." These
four ways of thinking about their role-older
sibling, role model, friend, resource provider-translated their personal understanding
of the meaning of student success into their
view of how someone in a peer residential staff
position could understand their role in campus
efforts to promote student success.

RAs were aware of their unique
place in the overall campus system
of support for student success.

How RAs Enact Their Role in
Student Success
Three themes of how RAs enact their role in
student success emerged: They were proactive, holistic, and active facilitators. First, they
are proactive and try to engage with residents
about academic and other issues before students develop patterns that do not support
academic success. One of the participants described an activity he designed to help new students adjust to college expectations related to
success behaviors:
At the start of the semester I'll do a "how

18

Student Success Mindset

to read a syllabus" study break, invite my
[graduate assistant hall director] to run it.
. . . Same for "how to talk to a professor" or
"how to email a professor," but usually I do
those myself. . . . Lots of kids don't know how
to do some of this stuff. I didn't know it all
when I got here either.
Another participant took a proactive approach to introducing residents to habits, behaviors, and resources that successful students
use. "I talk to my floor and find out when
the big exams [in large gateway courses] are,
then we make a schedule of study tables and
stress breaks." Helping students learn to use
resources and peers at the institutions was
part of being proactive and to "normalize that
that's what successful Spartans do. They use
resources and don't try to go it alone." Another
participant said, "I try to get them using their
planners and thinking ahead, to know that
some college classes work in chunks, not everyday little stuff like high school. If you don't
keep up you're basically screwed."
The second theme that emerged was that
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. Holistic peer advising
extended to all students, and RAs saw it as especially important for minoritized students in
their transition to college. One participant said,
Kids of color, like me, we have to find our
place, which can be harder than for majority
students. Maybe it's Black Caucus in the
[residential cluster], or rec sports, or a club.
I think once we find our place it's easier to

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

. . . RAs also understood that
they were critical eyes and ears
in an overall system of staff and
faculty who also focused on student
success.

make everything else come together. So I help
everyone do that, but especially the kids of
color.
Many RAs took to heart the idea that
their role in holistic student success involved
helping residents see that their hall was not
just a building, but a community and a home.
The concern peer staff took for residents extended beyond basic ice breakers and community building. One RA empathized,
It's really important for residents to feel like
this is their home. That they can find food
that tastes like home-if that's grandma in
[our state] or mom back in China. That they
can feel comfortable to ask for help, or be
homesick, or not know all the answers. That's
okay. I try to let them know that I think that's
all okay. I've been there, too.
Holistic approaches involved spirit, mind, and
body, and participants in the study expressed
an understanding of their role extending
across a range of human needs.
Finally, peer residential staff saw themselves as active facilitators of student success;
they saw it as part of their job. Every RA in the
study could clearly articulate an understanding
that part of their role was to facilitate student
success. They knew they could not make residents successful but could create an environ-

ment that supports success and interact with
students in ways that show that they care about
their residents' all-around, personal definitions
of success. As one participant said, "I can't
make them successful. But I can show them
how I did it and how others do it." Another
noted, "It's my job to get them there, to where
they want to be as successful students, whatever that means to them."
RAs also understood that they were critical
eyes and ears in an overall system of staff and
faculty who also focused on student success.
One participant noted,
I think [RAs] are part of a system-a safety
net-that provides support. We're right where
students live, so we can see things that
professors and advisors don't see. We can let
higher-ups know if we see a problem starting,
and we can help students connect to the
enormous amount of support that is here for
them.
This observation about location and the
opportunity to spot potential issues before the
higher-ups can see them demonstrates a sense
of agency in facilitating the process of getting
support for students in need, before anyone
else might notice. Taken together, these three
themes add up to peer residential staff seeing
themselves as proactive, holistic, active facilitators of student success, a fundamentally different role from one focused, in recent years, on
health and safety (Boone et al., 2016).

Barriers to and Facilitators of Enacting
the Student Success Role
Participants identified a number of factors that
obstructed or promoted their ability to enact
their role as proactive, holistic, active facilitators of student success. Depending on an individual RA's experience and training, barriers
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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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