Rutgers has frail student leader recruitment system
The Rutgers Student Affairs and Residence Life offices play a key role in the development of leadership skills among both undergraduate and graduate students. They assist in the cultivation of unique leadership styles and provide insight on knowing when to lead and when to be led.
Many talented leaders find themselves within the numerous student life opportunities that exist on campus. Unfortunately, there is a quiet understanding among the student body that a significant amount of student leaders who are elected for positions do not rise to the occasion.
There are notable benefits that come with working for the University in specific capacities. One of high esteem is Residence Life’s free housing compensation for resident and apartment assistants. This “prize” brings many students to the application battlefield who otherwise, in all honesty, would not be there.
This is a natural aspect of the working world, and many dubious starters become outstanding leaders in the long run. What leaves a bitter taste in my mouth are the numerous overheard comments from students on buses, in dining halls and one-on-one conversations who confirm that they could “care less” about the programs they host or their residence’s issues. They were and remain in it for the perks.
Student and Residence Life positions, especially leadership roles within the departments, are known for differing from the typical college jobs. They require an added zest and a foundation of genuine interest to fall back on when the job gets rough. They demand not only professionalism, but an authentic love for the school, the student body and a desire to ensure that our peers are getting the most from their undergraduate experience as possible.
All of which cannot easily be detected by the current recruitment processes in place.
Anyone who has attempted at one of the University's prestigious positions knows exactly the kind of hoops one must jump through during the extensive NFL Draft that is the resident/apartment assistant application process. They are familiar with the questionable “games” that test one’s “leadership style.” Games that test whether one is the type to take charge when the group’s task of building an exact Lego replica of a dog with one leg without verbally being able to talk to each other goes awry, or if one will or will not give fake on-point yet not-too-harsh constructive criticism to the other group interview contestant who they have only known for a rough 45 minutes, all the while pretending to ignore the Residence Life administrators sitting in the back with clipboards as you try not to sweat out your suit pants, button-up shirt and high heels that you are currently feeling are a bit much given the play-date-esque evaluation tasks you were given. And in the back of your head you are asking how and why is your performance relevant to your ability to adequately supervise and be a role model to your future residents, and if the only thing being tested is your patience.
Could the expectations that these types of evaluations assume be a tad idealistic given the competitive context the interviewees are placed in? Could it be that all it takes to be a resident assistant is not the tenacity, dedication to the students or passion the territory necessitates, but rather just knowing how to play the game, or in this case, games?
I personally understand the challenge of curating a group interview and it is no small feat. But what I did notice was how fast my colleagues and I started to lean toward familiar methods that only obscured and abstracted our evaluations. And so the cycle continues.
After a year or two of applying to these positions, the methods of getting in become dangerously formulaic to a point where students with know-how can forego the aforementioned character traits and rely merely on interview intuitions, whereas students who have the traits but lack the intuition fall to the wayside.
In an effort to combat this inequality, one of the prominent Student Affairs figures at Rutgers, Assistant Director Keywuan Caulk of the Centers of Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, introduced the “Ace the Interview” seminars during the 2014-2015 school year for students who had difficulties maneuvering their interview intuition, but believed in their leadership merit.
This is still a reactionary method to a recruitment process that awards professionalism disproportionately more than the potential to carry out a job well-done. At the end of the day, the people who receive the short end of the stick are not the students who failed to proceed nor those with the wrong motives, but the students who are bereft of the experience of having a peer that is fully engaged in increasing the quality of their time at Rutgers. It is the difference between a resident assistant who creates a welcoming atmosphere and goes out of their way for a resident, and the resident assistant who may be an excellent planner, but simply comes and goes.
Michael Anderson is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in Africana studies.
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