A Phenomenological Study Examining Resident Assistants' Experiences as Mandated Reporters in Cases of Sexual Violence.

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Administration


Advisor: Michele Welkener


The intersection of federal mandates, legislative efforts, court cases, university policies and resources, and the lived experience of students on campuses creates an environment of competing demands for higher education institutions when trying to resolve instances of sexual violence on campus. The complexity of sexual violence at an institutional and societal level makes developing college and university strategies all the more complicated.While university administrators have oversight over sexual misconduct policies, it is likely that a resident assistant (RA) will be involved in a report of sexual violence. As a result, it is important that institutions of higher education recognize the impact that reports of sexual violence have on the lives of RAs. Administrators in higher education must be aware of and respond to the needs of the RAs both as mandatory reporters (responsible employees) and as students. Thus, this research serves as a starting point to determine what implications exist for RAs, both as paraprofessionals and as students, dealing with sexual violence on a college campus. There is little known about the experiences of RAs in their roles as mandatory reporters addressing sexual violence. Therefore, this study utilized qualitative methods to help readers better understand the complexities of that multifaceted role. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the lived experiences of former RAs charged with addressing sexual violence on a college campus. The researcher employed semi-structured, one-on-one interviews with 12 former resident assistants at a private, Midwestern university. Based on an analysis of interview data, the researcher found that serving as a mandatory reporter had a significant impact on resident assistants. Participants' narratives illuminated inconsistent understandings about their roles as mandatory reporters in instances of sexual violence. Analysis of the findings resulted in an overarching framework with three parts that serves to contextualize the research questions and organize the emergent themes. They are: 1) knowledge and responsibility regarding RA responses to reports of sexual violence, 2) RA preparation and approach to reporting, and 3) dual roles of student and leader for RAs.When it came to understanding and responsibility regarding RA responses to reports of sexual violence, participants pointed to either an extrinsically motivated aim, sense of duty, or an intrinsically motivated aim, moral obligation. When it came to RAs' preparation and approach, participants indicated a sense of confidence and self-reliance, or lack of confidence and reliance on others. Lastly, when it came to balancing the dual roles of student and leader, RAs experienced difficulty. The conditions of being both a student and an employee at the school at which they were studying exacerbated their daily struggles. Not only did the participants indicate difficulty managing time, they shared that their RA role caused them anxiety and stress as they attempted to navigate their authoritative position with peers and friends. Based on these findings, higher education professionals, specifically those in residence, life must find ways to better support student RAs. Staff must provide educational opportunities that assist student RAs with considering the responsibilities of serving as an RA as more complex than a transactional approach. Further, campus leaders can help create environments where RAs build their confidence when it comes to fulfilling job responsibilities, specifically serving as a mandatory reporter in instances of sexual violence. Lastly, university administrators should continually refine the training and support structures provided to RAs because they are students first and foremost. The enormity of matters RAs are being asked to manage continues to escalate. Therefore, the impact these types of issues have on RAs effects their overall wellbeing. If RAs are to serve such an important role in building community for residential colleges, far more attention should be paid to the consequences that responding to critical incidents may have on students in this position.


Educational Leadership, Higher Education, Higher Education Administration, Resident assistant, resident advisor, sexual violence, mandated reporter, sexual misconduct

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