August 14, 2017
By Ericka Roland and Vonzell Agosto
Intrigued by how the visibility of racial problems on college and university campuses was confronted by positive social movements led by and for Black women, we sought to understand how Black women resident assistants made meaning of their experiences as women of color in their undergraduate leadership role. We are surrounded by Black women students who take on leadership roles at the university who encounter gendered racial microaggressions yet continue to serve these communities with dedication, out of obligation, and toward excellence. In conversations, we discussed universities and colleges’ commitment to creating inclusive residential communities through the recruitment of diverse student staff and social justice training. Although the commitment to inclusion is commendable, we pondered questions of what is the experience of student staff members with marginalized identities who experience institutional oppression with the responsibility of creating such a community. As a residence life professional and a faculty member, we became interested in the voices and experiences of Black women undergraduates who served as residence assistants because there were limited literature on these women within this student leadership role. In our phenomenographic study, we found that Black women RAs navigated the resident assistant leadership role and their social identities by engaging in relational service, tentatively negotiating the expression of their social identities and related oppressions, and seeking support responsive to their multiple intersecting social identities. Our aim is to provide opportunities for Black women RAs to share how they navigate their professional role given their social identities within a PWI. No matter your role with student leaders on campus, these stories of Black women RAs should prompt critical reflection on the role student identities play in peer to peer leadership, institutional context and support, and student leaders’ social justice training and development.
This article reports on a phenomenographic study of Black women undergraduates who were resident assistants in a predominantly White institution (PWI) of higher education. Critical race feminism, namely intersectionality, was used to explore how they navigated the responsibilities of their position and social identities. Findings are that participants navigated the resident assistant leadership role and their social identities by (a) engaging in relational service, (b) tentatively negotiating the expression of their social identities and related oppressions, and (c) seeking support responsive to their multiply intersecting social identities. How they navigated their status identities and social identities varied according to their sense of obligation to serve residents and sense of risk in expressing (some) social identities and related experiences. Recommendations for continued professional leadership development of resident assistants are provided.
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