At Whitman College, there are a few common experiences that nearly every graduate has. One of these is the college’s residence life program. By giving incoming students a community, educating residents outside of the classroom, and upholding community standards, Residence Life aspires to provide an environment in which students are able to succeed in academics and are able to grow as individuals.
Yet, all of this has the trappings of hegemony. Take the following image:
In this image, you can see the current staff of Anderson Hall* making derp faces while publicizing an upcoming hall program. The use of the derp face on Facebook often indicates coolness. Those who post pictures of their derp faces are those who are confident with themselves and unafraid of ridicule. The use of derp faces in this image points to the fact that the Residence Life staff members in this photo are both confident and cool. Through their coolness, they demonstrate that they are part of a social group that “exercise[s] ‘leadership'” a trait that the viewer presumes the staff possessed “before winning governmental power”–or in this example a position in Residence Life (Gramsci 75).
During the hiring process, RAs are chosen because they possess the ability to lead a community “through the exercise of intellectual and moral leadership” (Storey 79-80). Applicants are asked scenario questions in which the applicant is put in the role of the RA and must show how they would lead. The scenario reveals the morality of the RA as well as their intellectual knowledge of college policy.
As leaders, RAs act in service of the college’s residence life goals, the academic excellence of the students and the engagement of students within the college’s community. These goals serve to maintain retention which leads to a strong alumni base of individuals who remember Whitman fondly and have the means to generously donate to their alma mater.
These goals are met in every program and every round of duty that an RA does. By creating a sense of community and both producing and reinforcing norms for that community, an RA’s life becomes easier as residents mold their behaviors to the norms of their community. Often, these norms go against the resident’s desires. For $54,050** a year, students should be given the license to do what they want: whether that’s lighting a candle in their room, being loud late at night, or drinking alcohol in a communal space. However, for $54,050 a year, residents pay to live by the College’s doctrine.
*Nathan: I would have used a Prentiss staff photo, but this was too good. Photo credit to Cory Kiesz and Nate Higby.
**Though living on campus is only a percentage of this figure and most students do not pay the full sum, Whitman College requires that students remain on campus for the first two years that they attend Whitman. Figure found: http://www.whitman.edu/academics/catalog/whitman-at-a-glance