By Elisabeth D. TurnerColumnist
The process used to determine the best candidates for the Resident Assistant position here at Hofstra is – in part – flawed because the discussions generated during group process are merely rhetorical sophistry. Applicants are divided up into mock scenario groups that are meant to help staff evaluate leadership, teamwork and other such skills. Yet, the qualities that constitute a good long-term employee – like honesty or integrity – aren’t accurately considered.
And, in fact, they can’t be when all the selection process involves is an initial interview, a few pieces of paper and a few small sessions that are in reality, nothing more than a shallow analysis of each individual's ability to answer questions efficiently - and raise their hand more quickly than the next person. Aggression, not virtue if character, is what’s really being evaluated here.
Undoubtedly, the staff that contributes to the decision-making process should look for assertive candidates that are able to take charge in any situation. They should seek out candidates that are confident enough to speak up without being called on. Yet, the staff should also develop an understanding of which applicants would be most respectful of the diversities represented on campus and which ones would do their best to make students of all backgrounds, religions, orientations and other feel comfortable. The staff should also place some value on a student’s moral framework and reasoning – or lack thereof.
Notes and judgements however, of who would make the best RAs are contributed by other students our same age – based solely it seems, on how many times we speak, how assertive we are, and in general how much we 'contribute' to the 'discussion,' and perhaps the substance of our argument. It’s not really a discussion though - not a single one of the group process sessions are. They consist only of chatter, tidal-pool depth talk.
At one point for example, we were divided into even smaller groups and sat in a circle and passed Legos around, while one of our team members stood at the front and had to direct us to connect the disparate Lego pieces – while keeping her back turned – into a specific shape. We were expected to connect the Lego pieces together simply by listening to her voice. Already hired RAs were observing each applicant’s strengths and weaknesses and their ability to work together as a team. Afterwards, we sat in a circle and were asked what we learned from the experience and what role we played in the effort. There was no hand raising; we were expected to lead the discussion on our own, to jump in when we had something to say and explain what it felt like working together to connect the plastic elements. A number of students talked five or six times, while some only spoke once or twice.
It didn’t matter who had good ideas or serious things to say – it only mattered who could present a response to the exercise most efficiently. “Oh, sorry!” someone said when they had started to speak, but I had already starting speaking before them. “Oh sorry!” I gestured when I spoke out, albeit ignoring the girl beside me who had been trying to speak for quite some time.
Sure, some students mentioned how they had to hone their listening skills to complete the exercise correctly. Sure, some students noted that it developed their patience level. But hardly anyone penetrated the metaphor of the exercise. Hardly anyone correlated the exercise to the principles that really should be considered when determining the most qualified candidate for a Resident Assistant position; we were more concerned with performance than accuracy, or simply, truth.
This fallacious method of judgement used in determining the most qualified candidates for residential assistant programs isn’t a university or isolated problem. It happens on a daily basis in the corporate world – candidates are always assessed on a surface-level by how well they are able to present themselves to employers.
If we are however, going to be something more than hollow constructs, we should keep these experiences in mind and use them so that when we become the administration, we can consider individuals in a way that presents a fuller scope of their character, rather than in a way that misses out on some of the better candidates because it values assertion over substance.
We should endeavor to seek out the truth of a person’s whole character. Even if we can’t do this now, we can at least take the first step by recognizing the fallacy of our arguments. If we can do that, we’ll be once step closer prioritizing the principles that matter.