The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 20

Kristen A. Renn

included a lack of training in talking about
academics with residents and a lack of knowledge about tutoring and other help available in
courses outside their own major. Other barriers were ongoing and related to lack of knowledge about residents' majors, the courses that
were common among floor members, and
which residents needed academic support. As
one participant said, "They trained us how to
talk down a drunk guy who's yelling, but they
never trained us on how to talk to the same guy,
sober, about his math class." A returning RA,
who believed she had received ample training
in talking about academic success, said, "It
was hard to get a handle on what courses were
common in the building, and where there were
pockets of students taking the same [courses]
so we could get them together." Ultimately, this
student relied on the popular smartphone app
GroupMe to help students form study groups
in the housing complex.
Another barrier related to prioritization
and time constraints perceived by participants.
"Administration wants us to do all this stuff
for student success, but they haven't taken
away anything we were already doing," said
one third-time RA. Another student reported
on a culture of accountability that left her prioritizing other aspects of her role over student
success:
We do a lot of weekly [administrative activity]
reports on things that aren't about student
success directly, and if we don't do the reports
then we can get in trouble. So I always do
the reports first, which sometimes means I
have to go do something [like inventory floor
lounge furniture] for the report. By the time
all that is done, I may not have time to check
on X or Y student who had a big test that day,
or stop in and see how my friend so-and-so is
20

Student Success Mindset

doing. So yeah, it's hard to fit it in sometimes.
The sense that higher-ups in the administration did not understand the day-to-day lives
of RAs left one participant feeling "kind of over
this success stuff." He continued, "Maybe they
could ask us [RAs] what might work."
Participants reported a number of factors
that made their work on student success easier

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.

or even possible. Resources provided by supervisors or peers were assets. One participant
reported,
My [graduate assistant hall director] gave
us some ideas from her undergrad, things
they did as RAs there to help students
academically, like having a "majors mixer"
where students talked about their majors
and other residents could ask questions,
or organizing trips to the library for study
nights.In one complex, RAs got together
with multicultural assistants and success
coaches to brainstorm ideas for planning
and advertising success-related activities

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

like study groups and workshops on talking
to instructors. One reported of this effort,
"It turns out Pinterest has a lot of ideas for
advertising these things."
Access to knowledge was a critical factor.
Participants often noted the need for information in order to be a good resource and make
referrals. Another common factor, which had
begun systematically on campus, was providing professional hall staff-who then shared it
with graduate staff and peer residential staff-
"heat maps" of common courses taken by students on a floor or in an area. It was easier to
act, one participant said,
when I saw that map and I could tell how
many people had that bad [two-course]
combination, and then we could plan some
stuff to focus on them and getting study tables
and [group] tutoring visits going.
Knowing the intended majors of students
was helpful in the aggregate. "I've got six girls
who want nursing on my floor, and they are
peak stressed. We work on de-stressing and
getting them to think about all of their options
if nursing doesn't work out," said a participant
who knew that only about half of students who
want to be admitted to this selective major ultimately succeed.
Basic aggregated information on success
markers like average number of credits being
taken by residents in an area, the range and
average GPA, academic probation rates, and
number of instructor early academic alerts
helped peer residential staff calibrate their
efforts to provide support. "I was an RA before
they started giving us these things, and it's
really helpful to know just generally what's
going on with my floor and building," said one
participant. Specific information-like when

. . . 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.

900 on-campus students would simultaneously take their organic chemistry midterm-was
additionally helpful as RAs worked to create
environments conducive to success-related behaviors and attitudes: "I'm in [communication
arts and sciences], and I wouldn't know what
it's like in that Chem course, but knowing
when half my floor is doing that midterm is
really useful for planning stress breaks and
cheering people on." Just as institutional
factors such as gaps in training created barriers to enacting their role in student success,
participants reported factors such as access to
information as facilitators.

LIMITATIONS
This is a qualitative study of a single campus.
As such, there are limits to its applicability
to other settings. Of particular note are the
nature of the campus (large, public), its requirement that all first-year students live in
on-campus housing (thus requiring a large
residential peer staff), and its explicit integration of student success strategies into the residential experience (such that student success
is a concept introduced in staff training and reV 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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