The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 23

Kristen A. Renn

peated throughout the year). RAs on campuses
with different strategies and vocabularies for
student success might have different definitions and perceptions of their roles.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
AND RESEARCH
The findings of this study suggest a number
of recommendations for the profession. First
and foremost, they suggest that the role of RAs
can and, at the research site, do extend beyond
the definitions provided by Blimling (2003,
2010) and Boone et al. (2016) to include explicit focus on promoting academic success.
RAs can contribute to creating the kinds of
environments that Kuh et al. (2011) and Tinto
(2010) outlined for promoting student success.
The findings speak to the silence in extant RA
literature (Taub et al., 2016) about how RAs
see themselves as proactive agents for holistic
student success.
The findings also suggest that it is important to talk with RAs about student success,
what it means at a given institution, and
where it should lie in their job priorities. It
was not clear whether or not these students'
definitions aligned with an institutional definition, but the ways participants articulated
holistic ("not just academics") definitions in
contrast to what they believed supervisors
conveyed suggests that exploring shared definitions across professional and student staff
would be a good first step in activating peer
residential staff to accomplish institutional
goals. Forming partnerships with campuswide academic units such as First-Year Experience programs, academic advising, and
orientation to discuss common understandings of student success definitions, goals,
22

Student Success Mindset

and strategies is one way to bring RAs into
campus-wide discussions and to enable them
to contribute their understanding from a
student perspective. Findings support the
idea that students embrace a holistic and inclusive definition of student success and that
promoting academic success is a reasonable
expectation for RAs.
Findings also indicate that RAs are not
always sure where to prioritize student success-related activities in their jobs, leaving
them feeling that the higher-ups have unreasonable expectations about their time. Helping
RAs understand where student success fits
in their priorities could alleviate some of the
stress emanating from this felt ambiguity. And
just as it is important to help RAs see where
enacting institutional definitions of success
(e.g., organizing study tables, responding to
academic early alerts) should fall in priorities,
it is also important for institutional actors to
consider the many ways that RAs see student
success and their informal-yet no less intentional-ways of promoting it (e.g., acting as a
role model, friend, or older sibling).
A second area for practice relates to the
number of findings about training and supervising RAs. As Blimling (2014) noted, "Highly
skilled and well-trained residence life professionals and resident assistants make the
difference between educationally engaging residence halls that help students learn and ones
in which students languish and grow restless
and bored" (p. xvi). RA participants in this
study reported that they did not feel confident
with the training they received in talking with
residents about academic matters. Participants
said they left training more prepared to deal
with occasional conduct issues than with the

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

everyday work of supporting student success or
the less common work of directly intervening
with a student in academic distress. Training
full-time staff to support peer residential staff
in these conversations may also be necessary,
as many student affairs professionals did not
get this kind of training themselves and may
be new to academic conversations with students (Kuh et al., 2011). Training could include
exposing peer residential staff to the array of
academic resources available (e.g., tutoring,
help rooms, learning centers) and strategies to
engage their residents in using these resources (e.g., group visits to help rooms, setting up
study tables).
The third area of implications for practice involved providing academic information
to peer residential staff that can enable them
to activate their perceived roles as resource
providers, role models, and friends. Local
interpretations of FERPA differ, but even
under very stringent interpretations, providing aggregated information to RAs facilitates
their ability to understand trends affecting
their floors and buildings and then to act on
that knowledge. Providing a list of residents'
courses-or the 10 most common courses-
allows peer residential staff to organize study
tables and encourage students to use coursespecific resources such as campus tutoring or
instructor office hours. With this information,
RAs might follow the examples given by participants and collect syllabi for these courses,
make a bulletin board with key dates in the
courses for exams and paper deadlines, and
plan programming like study breaks or study
tables around them. Providing aggregated
data on the floor or building majors (or "no
major selected yet"), GPA, academic probation

rates, or instructor early alerts can help peer
residential staff develop milieu programming
and role modeling to normalize the use of academic advisors and help rooms. To be proactive facilitators of success, for example, RAs
who know that there are instructor early alerts
on 15 of the 20 students on the floor taking
Economics 101 might organize study tables or
encourage a group to attend the next pre-exam
answer session sponsored by the economics
department. Peer residential staff who have
this kind of information can develop proactive
environmental interventions and talk generally with students about the academic climate
in their area. On campuses where FERPA is
interpreted more broadly, peer residential staff
might provide specific resources and referrals
to students with an identified academic need.
Whether in the aggregate or specific, information on student academic performance can
enhance the ability of peer residential staff to
address student success.
This study also holds implications for research. By including only the peer residential
staff perspective the study provides a deep
understanding of students in these roles, but
a case-study approach could illuminate the
alignment of their perspective with the institutional environment to understand more
about how they come to have these ideas about
student success. It would also be valuable to
extend a study like this to understand how
residents perceive peer residential staff roles
in promoting student success. Developing a
deeper understanding of the mechanisms of
and motivations for how residents engage with
peer residential staff could lead to improved
practice.

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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