Revamping the HA Position: Are Second Year Students Going to Go Rogue?

Kristen Borgdorff | Reporter

Imagine having to be responsible to encourage and facilitate a community within your residence as well as having to hold your friends accountable for their actions. This is the curent reality of being a Housing Advisor (HA).

The current HA position is a challenge of balancing friendships, leadership, and community living, while trying to maintain classes and extra-curricular activities. Many HAs struggle to find a balance, and for this reason, we can expect to see change next year.

Student Life has recently announced that they are modifying the HA position with the hopes to better accommodate second-year housing. Hennie Schoon, Dean of Students, was adamant on ensuring that the current second-year housing advisors are doing a great job, and that this change is not on a comment on their job performance.

Student Life wants the upcoming changes to create an environment that continues to support community living and learning with the integration of faith. For the new HA position, Student Life has decided to have third- or fourth-year students serve in this capacity, being mentors and facilitators of devotional and community life for second-year residences. 

This means that there will not be any Student Life staff members living with second-year students; rather, the vision is that two HAs will be living with two Residence Life Facilitators (RLFs) in each of the corner dorms (located at the end of the townhouse rows). HAs will be available for second-year students to seek out, and they will also be integrated in their lives, largely through activities such as facilitating weekly devotions.

Second year can be a time when students are working through a lot of big questions. What do they want their major to be? Who do they want to be friends with? How do they feel about God, and what does their relationship with Him look like? Over the years, Student Life has noticed that many second-year students seek out their Residence Advisor (RA) from first year for advice, and for this reason Student Life is hoping that the new HA position will continue that mentorship relationship and encourage the deepening of that discipleship. Where possible, previous RAs who are taking on the HA role will be assigned to dorms with which relationships have already been established.

This change in Residence Life recognizes that second-year students do not need to have an RA living with them to assist them in transitioning from high school to university; rather, this role allows the HA to be in a close proximity to offer support, while simultaneously recognizing the independence of second-year students. The motivation behind this new role is to offer greater and more fitting support to second years.

While Student Life is optimistic about the planned modifications to the current system, there seem to be several major concerns with this new position that have been brought up and that the Student Life staff are aware of.

The first is that, without having someone who lives in the dorm that is responsible for holding the other dorm members accountable, there is an impending question regarding how policies will continue to be enforced.

Schoon stated, “The goal of this idea is to encourage continued internalization of motivations, rather than relying as heavily on external enforcement.

“That’s part of the progression of residence life too. You can see this in first year — there is more accountability, there’s more direct relationship. In the second year — it is intended to increase independence, self-accountability, and peer-accountability. And then in third and fourth year, if you are on campus, there is no Residence Life staff with you anymore; there’s one or two in the building. The hope is that students, as they mature, will increase their ability to self-govern their decisions.”

All that said, Student Life is hoping to operate from a standpoint of trust. Their hope is that students will recognize the community that they have agreed to be a part of, and that abiding by policy is part of that recognition.

A second concern regards the new setup for dorm devotions. Student Life recognizes that this is an important part of community life at Redeemer. The HA will be responsible for investing into the spiritual lives of the second-year students. There will still be facilitated devotions together in the residence, and the expectation is that the dorm members would get together with the HA. The HA would do more facilitating at the beginning of the year, and then as the year progressed, the goal is that the second years would be taking initiative to lead devotions themselves.

A third concern that Student Life has recognized is a potential for a high risk of burnout among HAs. For this reason, Student Life is being intentional in ensuring that they will be attentive and aware to the needs of the people that take on this new role.

HAs will not be carrying everyone’s personal struggles on their own shoulders. Rather, when someone comes to an HA with their challenges, the HA is likely to work through things with them to a point, then encouraging the second year to seek out further support from the Residence Director (RD).

One of the hopes of this new position is that it will bridge the gap between RDs and second-year students. The RDs are a wonderful group of people that are fully equipped to assist students in many areas of life; in the past they have worked more directly with the Residence Life staff. The hope is that they will now work with students more directly as well.

The final concern that Student Life is battling is how to ensure that second years still have an opportunity for leadership within Student Life. The current HA position was a position that was a stepping stone into working with the Residence Life staff. Many students would start as a HA in second year, then become a RA, and then some would go on to be a RLF. Now that the HA position is only open to third- and fourth-year students, the second years are at a lack of opportunity for leadership roles in this area of our community. Student Life is discussing the possibility of allowing second-year students to RA, as well as looking at other ways to get second years involved.

A final clarification that is important to note is that the HA role is not being changed because of financial reasons. HAs will be making significantly more money next year than they are making this year; this is because they will be responsible for more students. The RA role will still be paid more than the HA role.

Ever since Schoon has been working at Redeemer, she has been eager to see a change in the HA position. She quickly recognized the difficulties and the challenges that come with peer-leadership. The process of changing this position has been in the works for quite some time now, and much thought has been put into it. Student Life staff are excited to encourage independence while continuing to offer support to second-year students with the new HA role that will be implemented next fall.

Students are always welcome to contact anyone from Student Life if they have any questions or just want to talk.