Residence Life Survey asks about Student Advisor name change

Residence Hall Director Jamie Van Boxel heard about the double meaning of the term SA about a year ago in conversations with student staff members. The conversation became prevalent once again in January 2023 during training of new student advisors. Van Boxel remembers some students expressing dissatisfaction with the term in a training survey. 


This October, the annual resident satisfaction survey added questions about the term student advisor and the abbreviation SA. One question asked if the term caused stress where another term would not and the other question asked residents how important changing the name was to them. The survey closed Nov. 7, and Van Boxel and other residence life leaders plan to analyze the results. 


If the results are significant, the residence life team would make a recommendation to Tyana Lange, the vice president for student engagement, enrollment and marketing. From there, Truman’s administrative leaders would discuss and decide on the matter.


President of RHA Alex Peterson says she is ready for a change from SA to RA. She says the term RA is universally used and it would feel more comfortable to people coming to campus for the first time.


Peterson said RHA is working on a proposal to change the name and she hopes to garner support from student government. The proposal would be presented to Van Boxel and other leaders of residence life.


Peterson has had several SA’s come to RHA voicing their concerns about the name, she said. Peterson said, changing the title would not change the job duties of the position.


“RHA’s position is to be the advocates for residents on campus and SA’s are residents. We have an obligation to make sure their voices are heard and we are going to do everything we can to make sure that this name can be changed so they are more comfortable in that position” Peterson said. “It’s not just a resident issue, it’s the people holding this job and if your own title is making you uncomfortable, then you should be able to change that.”


Van Boxel said the term student advisor first arrived on campus during the 1970’s but it is not the only term ever used for student workers in the residence halls. He said for over 20 years student advisor was the only term used on Truman’s campus and it could be considered a distinct part of Truman’s history. 


Alumni Katherine Fraser was an SA for one and a half years and during her senior year she was a Community Coordinator supervising SA’s.


“I remember not necessarily any controversy around it but maybe just some confusion on the part of residents or parents or even people who were interested in applying for the job,” Fraser said. “Just because it is more commonly called RA at other schools, so that’s kind of the cultural terminology everyone is familiar with.”


During her career in higher education and working as a hall director, Fraser said she hasn’t encountered any other school using the term SA. She said the uniqueness of the terminology helped her articulate to others how she was a resource for all students, not just residents.


Fraser said the term changing would not negatively affect her. Even now she says that she will use RA when talking about her time as a student advisor because people who aren’t familiar with Truman wouldn’t know what that term means. 


“I understand that change happens and sometimes it’s necessary,” Fraser said. “It changes because the student body changes, the student body is very different now then it was 15 years ago when I was a student.”


First-year student Annabelle Devoto says the abbreviation had no effect on her choice to attend Truman, but can see how the title could make certain students uncomfortable. 


“I think if the name causes problems, there’s no harm in changing it. I’m pretty sure the job would still be the same even though they’re called something different,” Devoto said.