We would like to share our perspective on the opinion article “RA Interviews: Unfair, Biased” that appeared in the last issue of the St. Norbert Times.
Why are we qualified to write this article? Well, we both actually applied to be RAs and therefore experienced the process first-hand. We are also both a part of RHA and serve on our hall’s community council. So, didn’t we just contradict ourselves and reaffirm that there was bias in the RA selection process because of involvement in RHA? Actually, we didn’t, because we know four other people, some of whom did not get the position, who are also a part of RHA and applied to be RAs. We also know of several people who received positions as RAs who have no affiliation with RHA whatsoever. Thus, we are qualified to write this article and have reason to believe that the RA interview process is not biased. In fact, it is more than fair and is proactive in eliminating any chance of bias along the way. As for this year specifically, we were told that this was one of the hardest hiring processes because there were so many strong candidates and very few positions to fill.
We respect the opinion stated in the article, but do disagree with the opinion and how it was presented. There was a lack of factual information and a lack of sources to support the information given. This article not only degrades the RA interview process but misrepresents the entire RHA organization. The purpose of RHA is “to provide social, intellectual, and culturally driven programming for all students.” Though it plays a role in the residence halls, the RA position is offered through the Residential Education and Housing department, not through RHA. Therefore, RHA would not have any say in the hiring process. This was one of the many problems we noticed upon initially reading the article.
We wanted to talk to someone to find out exactly how the RA application and selection process worked. We talked to Lexie Huston and Emily Groves, two Hall Directors who are involved in RHA and were a part of the RA hiring process. From our meeting with them, we learned that the process is much more complex than the article portrayed it. The 2015-2016 RA selection process began long before the written application was due on December 19. The housing department reached out to hall directors, current RAs, FYE mentors and others who interact with first-year students and gave them the opportunity to “shoulder tap” individuals whom they thought would make good RAs. Students who received this “shoulder tap” were sent an email encouraging them to apply. This is similar to a personal recommendation because it was based on what people saw in the individual’s daily character. This addresses the point in the article that insists the process must include a “personal” recommendation. It is true that the applicant was required to have two recommendations (one of which had to be a St. Norbert faculty member), but the recommendations had to be on a professional level in accordance with the legal hiring process. After all, being an RA is a job that hires its candidates professionally, just like any other job. The process is complex and strategic, not random and simple. Along with the two references, the written application consisted of a Google Docs portion and the submission of a résumé and cover letter. The written applications were then reviewed by two different Hall Directors. Then, a group process was conducted on Saturday, Feb. 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The group process consisted of four 30-minute activities that evaluated each candidate’s leadership abilities, personalities and team values. The activities included creating a program for a hall, looking at situations an RA would encounter and how to handle them, prioritizing a list of seven activities and putting together an abstract puzzle with a small group. All of these activities had different-sized groups (large, small and individual) to help the people observing see how each applicant worked in a different group dynamic. Each room had one Hall Director and several RAs and Associate Hall Directors observing the students, so each Hall Director got to see each candidate. The RAs in the back of the room were assigned one or two students whom they did not know and observed them during the activities. The observers did not look at whether or not each group finished the activity “correctly” but at how they worked together to finish the activity. After the group process portion was done, everyone was released and individual interviews were conducted from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Each interview was fifteen minutes long, with a five-minute period between each interview. These interviews were not one-on-one as stated in the article, but were three-on-one. Each applicant was interviewed by two professional staff members and a current RA. They tried to make sure that the Hall Director did not know the applicant unless they were a strong candidate for their residence halls. After the interviews were finished, the hiring staff took two days of six-hour meetings to decide whom they were going to hire. To help eliminate possible bias in who was hired, each observer rated the applicants’ performances at each activity during the group process. These numbers were eventually tallied and each applicant received a composite score that was used to help reduce the amount of bias in the selection process. The RA application and selection process here is very similar, if not the same, as hiring processes at other schools all over the state.
Again, we want to state that we respect the author’s opinion and this letter is not meant to offend anyone. The purpose of our letter is to make sure that the other side of the issue is known and that the facts are stated.
Emily Hacker and Sarah Jensen