Residence Staff as a Political Institution

Most people that have attended college have a clear memory of how they felt about their residential advisers. As one of the first people they meet in the college dorms, they can either make or break the initial impression of college for freshmen. Residence staff (Resstaff) is an important institution at the University of Michigan dedicated to the well-being and safety of students living in the residence halls. As a Resstaff member myself, I try to keep these things in mind when I interact with the students that I look after. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that new students are safe and feel welcomed and cared for. In this blog post, I will establish correlations between what we have learned in our Political Science 101 course and Resstaff as an institution.

Picture inside of Stockwell residence hall at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (credit to Wikimedia).

Picture of North Quadrangle residence hall at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (credit to Wikimedia).

Resstaff, like any other institution or organization, has rules that it sternly upholds. In our Political Science 101 class, we read a couple key chapters in “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes that mention the logic of these rules. For instance, Hobbes argues that it is possible to preserve a certain level of peace ONLY when all men lay down some of their rights. He claims that the renouncing of certain rights transfers benefits to other individuals and the group as a whole. For example, Resstaff’s primary contract is called Community Living At Michigan (CLAM) and its policies state that all residents must respect quiet hours (specific times starting at night and ending in the morning). Although all of my residents have the right to listen to loud music and talk among each other, they must compromise this right, to a certain degree, at assigned times in the day. It is to ensure that everyone can get proper rest in a serene environment. Hobbes coins this mutual transferring of right as a “contract”. Another right that residents must lay down, according to the CLAM contract, is their right to privacy (under special circumstances). Hall Directors and Housing Security officers are authorized to enter and search dorm rooms if and when there is a potential emergency. These and many other rules and regulations that Resstaff enforces are detailed in the CLAM.

Another important value that Resstaff holds is respect for authority. We as residential advisers need to stand firm in our positions and enforce rules laid out in the CLAM. In our course reading of “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli, similarly held ideals are brought to light. Machiavelli suggests in his writing that being feared is better than being loved (for an authoritative figure). The reason behind this is because being feared preserves authority through consequences and punishments while being loved does not necessarily do so. University Housing, the branch that Resstaff is affiliated, emphasizes strictness and professionalism over praise and popularity. Even though our natural tendency as residential advisers is to want to be liked by our residents, we sometimes have to make decisions that compromise that. If we allow residents to violate the rules for the sake of being liked, then we are not properly executing our job.

In summary, Resstaff is an essential institution at the University of Michigan. Its goals are to promote community building, social justice and a safe environment for all. Its values of transferred rights and respect for authority directly correlate to our Political Science course readings of “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes and “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli, respectively. As a current residential adviser, I would highly advise you to apply for Resstaff if any of you have a passion for building community, promoting inclusiveness, and supporting safer college environments.

Photo credits to Tony Bae.

Photo credits to Tony Bae.

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3 thoughts on “Residence Staff as a Political Institution

  1. I think you did a really nice job connecting the ideas that we’ve learned in class to the Residential Staff concept. This really helped paint the idea Machiavelli was trying to get across when he said a ruler is better off being feared than loved. Like you said, both would be nice, but if a ruler is loved rather than feared, it is more likely that his subjects will push their boundaries and try to take advantage of the ruler due to the apparent friendship. Connecting this to Resstaff, if all the hall mates felt like they were the staff’s best friends, they would be more likely to not abide by the rules set in place.

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  2. Great job at displaying your ideas and making them clear and concise. It makes sense for Residential Staff to want to be loved by the people they’re responsible for but would they really be effective leaders if they let residents break the rules just to be liked.

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  3. I think your entry really highlights the importance of residential staff in freshman dorms. I feel like a lot of students simply see their RA’s as people who are trying to ruin their fun in the dorms, when in reality, a contract exists between students and their RA’s. By signing over some of their basic rights, they also get the privilege of being protected by the building and by the RA’s. The RA’s are there to ensure student’s well being and safety, and in return expect the students’ respect and cooperation to the rules.

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