When Your RA is the Problem

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Dec 11, 2022 | 0 Comments

Bullying and harassment are nightmares for anyone who has experienced them. Nowhere is the situation worse than in a school dormitory environment, when a Resident Advisor–the person who's supposed to help you out of difficult personal situations–is either doing the bullying or else not doing anything to stop it.

Sometimes the situation may not be as blatant as bullying. It may be a more subtle matter, where the RA intervenes in disputes but routinely favors the other students' viewpoints over your own. This is not just unfair but also violates the rules RAs are supposed to follow.

The Purpose of Resident Advisors

Resident Advisors (commonly called "RAs") are on-site, college-aged mentors who live inside the dorms. According to the Best Colleges site, their job is to "help create a supportive and safe environment for students living in dorms and other student housing." Their job duties include "setting rules, creating activities, and managing conflicts."

But not all RAs are cut out for the role. Some of them take the job for the wrong reason, perhaps out of a desire to dictate to their peers what they can and cannot do. Others may play clear favorites, always being lenient against certain students–maybe because the students are popular or for other personal reasons. And since RAs are young people themselves, occasionally, their own beliefs and prejudices may influence their reactions to student behavior.

It makes for a tricky situation when the person to whom you're supposed to report personal problems is enabling or tolerating those problems.

U.S. Federal Anti-Bullying Policies

Bullying has become enough of a problem nationwide that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created Stop Bullying, a website devoted to solving the problem. The site defines bullying as "unwanted, aggressive behavior" that involves "a real or perceived power imbalance." In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include (1) an imbalance of power and (2) repetition.

The inherent imbalance of power plays itself out when an RA, who has been placed in a position of authority, learns that one or more students have been harassing another student but fails to respond properly. The RA's inaction allows the perpetrators to believe they can repeat that conduct without facing any consequences.

Harassment includes violence or credible threats of violence against another person that seriously scare, annoy, or harass them.

Repetition is the essence of bullying or harassment: An occasional rude comment does not constitute bullying or harassment. It's a pattern of persistent repetition, causing anxiety and unhappiness to the victim any time they see their harasser, which makes it bullying. According to the Stop Bullying site, "Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose."

If other students are doing any of these things, and your RA refuses to step in, you need expert assistance. Premier school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team are available to help you approach your school administrators about the problem and satisfactorily resolve it.

College and University Policies Designed to Deal with Bullying

U.S. colleges and universities list policies on their websites aimed at helping students who find themselves in such anxiety-producing situations. But these policies may be confusing for a student to follow. That's where student-defense advisor Joseph D. Lento can provide supportive assistance and help the student work their way through the process. The Lento Law Firm has been helping students deal with school administrators for years, in a wide variety of circumstances.

Examples of College and University Policies Dealing with Unfair Treatment by an RA

Although school policies against harassment typically talk about members of a "protected class" such as an ethnic or religious group, such policies are usually interpreted more broadly than that. For example, Indiana University's harassment policies state:

Harassment not based on membership in a protected class that has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with the individual's access to education or work, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment or academic experience, is also prohibited and will be addressed by the appropriate human resources, academic affairs, or student conduct processes.

Thus, a student need not be a member of a protected class in order for the school to help them resolve a difficult RA situation if the circumstances are creating an "intimidating, hostile or offensive" academic experience.

Indiana University's remedial procedures include offering and providing "appropriate and necessary supportive measures, regardless of whether a formal complaint is filed, according to the specific needs and circumstances of the situation." The measures may include counseling and advising services and helping the student change their academic, living, transportation, and/or work situations.