One of the most difficult aspects of a resident assistant’s job is handling student conduct violations. RAs deal with a host of difficult situations ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to sexual assault and physical violence. RAs need to be fully trained and prepared to deal with the conduct violations that arise in today’s residence halls. This article presents a simple model for handling conduct violations in a professional, efficient, and empathetic manner.
The acronym “ROSE” can be easily memorized to help a resident assistant remember a few helpful pointers when handling difficult situations. “ROSE” stands for:
Carl Rogers coined the phrase “unconditional positive regard” to describe the basis behind his Person-Centered therapy. The therapist gives the patient/client unconditional positive regard, or respect, during a counseling session despite any challenges that the patient/client creates.
The same should hold true for the resident assistants who must confront negative behaviors of students in the residence halls. As the policy enforcer, you disapprove of the behavior, not the person. The RA needs to display the utmost respect for the resident(s) when dealing with a situation. An RA can be assertive without being sarcastic, insulting, or harsh.
Yes, this sounds easier said than done, but always maintaining a professional and respectful rapport will always be remembered in the eyes of your residents and your colleagues. Maintaining a respectful attitude takes practice, especially when confronted with anxious residents that know that they are “in trouble,” but the resident assistant is a role model and should always display the behavior that they want in return.
An RA needs to be cognizant of WHY they are dealing with a particular situation. Many of these situations are very “cut and dry” such as the evidence of drug and alcohol abuse or physical violence. But there are many times when an RA walks into a situation where it may take some time to figure out exactly what IS going on there. That is why objectivity is so important.
Being able to filter out biases and opinions is crucial when dealing with conduct violations. An RA must concentrate on what is concrete: What was heard? What was seen? What are the concrete facts and how does that apply to the Code of Conduct?
It is always helpful, and in most cases crucial, to have another staff member on hand when dealing with a situation. Your colleague can step into help if you should become frustrated or angry or just don’t know how to continue.
Your physical and verbal stance conveys everything to a resident. This includes your posture, your tone of voice, your hand gestures, and even your expressions. You do not want to display an aggressive stance when approaching residents. Shouting and backing a resident up against a wall is obviously not the way to communicate that you disapprove of their behavior. Not only will you totally lose respect and trust, but you may also lose your job.
Of course this is an exaggeration that we rarely see from a staff member, but being extra mindful of how you verbally and physically present yourself is the key to handling situations assertively. Rolling your eyes, sighing, and abruptly expressing your concern is less effective than maintaining eye contact, remaining calm, and thoughtfully expressing your disapproval of the unwanted behavior.
Check your own feelings and, again, if you feel that you cannot deal with the situation in the right frame of mind, call upon the help of a fellow staff member.
Get in, get out. Confront the unwanted behavior, get the information that you need, respond in the manner according to your policies, and then get out. This does not suggest that you should not be thorough or not follow the standards set by your department, but it suggests that being efficient makes everyone’s life easier.
When you confront something that a resident shouldn’t be doing, they, for the most part, think automatic, irrational thoughts and can become instantly anxious, scared, and sometimes downright mean. This isn’t the time to give a half-an-hour lecture when they are thinking that their housing is on the line or that parents are going to be contacted.
Your “timeline” should be as follows: Address the behavior; what compliance you need from them; collect any personal information that you need for your incident report; advise them as to what to expect as a follow up; and then graciously leave.
Example: “Hey Jim. As you know, the code of conduct states that there is no smoking within the building. Please don’t smoke in your room. I know it’s easier to smoke in your room, but you have to go outside. I have to document what happened here so you should expect a call from the resident director within the week.”
Remaining respectful, objective, consistent, and efficient is the key to handling difficult discipline situations. Even the most seasoned resident assistant can make mistakes, but with practice and support from your colleagues, the process of handling difficult situations will become much easier, and you will feel more comfortable handling any kind of situation.
Submitted by Scott Helfrich, Area Coordinator, Bloomsburg University