Student Behavior: The RA Crash Course
By Tim Shaal, Residence Director, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
Why do students get angry, resist authority, break rules, become destructive, stop going to class?
Scholars in psychology, psychiatry, and counseling have many theories that help to answer these questions. Often times as a paraprofessional staff member your training is limited to a one hour training session on the topic of confrontation. However, you probably want to better understand why people engage in certain behaviors in our residence halls.
Think about a time when you were angry and exploded at a person who had nothing to do with what caused your anger. Why was it that this person received the brunt of our anger? You weren’t truly angry with them but they were the spark that ignited your anger. This is the case with many of our students.
Often times you will be put in a situation were you deal with a student’s behavior that you won’t understand. It may frustrate you, scare you, or make you unhappy in general. You may lose your patience with this person and lose the desire to help them.
The first thing you should do when this happens is take a step back from the situation. The second thing you should do is think. Think about why this person might be reacting the way they are. Is it possible that something in their life is causing them to behave this way? If so, what is it that is causing them to react in a way that may be inappropriate? Think next about what you can do in your role as a resident assistant to help this person.
Our students experience many different emotions. They also experience many different personal crises throughout their time at college. As a resident assistant it is important that you realize this if you wish to help them.
Some students may struggle with their racial or cultural identity, some people may be introverts and lack appropriate social skills, some students may be doing poorly academically, there may be relationship issues, family issues, or simply adjustment issues. Some of these problems can cause many students to do things that they may not do otherwise.
It is also important to remember that college students are often attempting to develop their own set of morals, beliefs, and values. They are making decisions about whether they believe this because they believe it, or because parental or authority figures have said it is right. This can make it easy to be influenced by the actions of others. While they may not agree with the action, they assume that it is acceptable because others are partaking in the behavior. Therefore, they partake in the behavior. It is important to understand what a student believes and why they believe it. Do they believe it due to some rational logic, or do they believe it because it’s what others are doing?
Student behavior is complex, but it is important that we try to understand it rather than judge it. Think back to your early days in college. What were you trying to figure out? How did you figure it out? Who and what messages were being given to you and how did you make sense of these messages? Who helped you make sense of these messages? How did you behave or how did your behavior change as you experienced making meaning of these messages? Consider some of these things as you approach students who may make life difficult in some way. It will help you better understand them and know how to approach or help them.
While your intent is most likely a good one, it is important to remember to always follow your protocol and duty procedures and attempt to assure the physical and mental safety of all parties involved in any situation. Trust your training and when you are in doubt about a student’s behavior or have concerns make sure to consult with your supervisor.
About The Author
Tim Shaal is currently at Graduate Student and Residence Director at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. He is pursuing a Masters of Science Degree in Counseling / College Student Personnel. Tim started in Residence Life as a Resident assistant. He worked as an Area Coordinator at a small liberal arts college before entering Shippensburg University to continue his education.