Max Schuster, a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, and alumna Rachel Stalker received the 2023 Betty L. Harrah Journal Manuscript of the Year Award from the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACHUHO-I).
Their award-winning article, “Resident Assistants with Minoritized Identities: The Promise of Identity-Affirming Microclimates in Enhancing RA Experiences,” was recognized for its significant impact within the residence life field.
“It was a genuine honor for us to be selected for this award and represent Pitt’s School of Education on a national stage,” says Schuster, an assistant professor of practice and coordinator of the school’s MEd in Higher Education program. “We were quite excited about receiving this distinction.”
The two began their research process in spring 2018, when Stalker was Schuster’s advisee in the MEd in Higher Education program.
“I felt truly honored that we received this award for our work,” says Stalker, who is a manager of recruitment programming for the University of Pittsburgh’s Dietrich School of Arts and Science. “I started working on this research with Max, and I took a real leap, as I had never done research before. I was grateful at that time that Max took a chance on me.”
Their research aims to fill the gaps in the literature on resident assistants (RAs) experiences on college campuses by looking at student intersectional identities.
“Prior to our work, researchers approached this topic using an identity neutral perspective, while ours considers intersectional identities of students,” says Stalker. “This research helped us to understand how everyone can better support RAs with minoritized identities and create what we coined ‘identity-affirming microclimates.’”
By putting theory into practice, Schuster and Stalker hope that their work ensures that campus leaders feel empowered and protected from identity-based battle fatigue.
“From the narratives that students in the study shared with us, we were able to generate a new student-staff development model,” says Schuster. “This model centralizes minoritized students’ experiences by incorporating identity-affirming practices built upon capacity-building, community development, appreciation, and dignity.”
Although their research focuses mainly on the residence life environment, both Schuster and Stalker agree that their findings can guide many spheres within the scope of higher education.
“This piece was important for us to share because it proposes a practical model that can guide practitioners and educators in creating positive educational spaces for students within their individual spheres of influence,” says Schuster.
Stalker shared that she would not be where she is in her career without working on this research and without the education she received as a graduate student at Pitt Education. She is also grateful to have worked alongside Schuster through this process.
“My time within the MEd program was crucial to my development as a young professional and the foundation upon which I have built my entire career in higher education,” says Stalker. “Over the years, during grad school and beyond, Max has been a great mentor and colleague, so I’m glad we earned this award together. “
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