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History of Resident Hall Advisors

(Also known as Counselors, RAs, and Resident Assistants)

From SMU’s first days until the early 1960s, university administrators tightly controlled students in their habits, dress, dorm hours, dorm life, and visitation with each other. 

Counselors (introduced in the 1950s) were always upperclassmen or upperclasswomen.  In 1960, a highly selective 3% of “mature, fellow students” were appointed as Counselors. Selection was based on leadership, scholarship, and desire.  Male Counselors were expected to administer a set of rules for dormitory living including enforcing quiet hours, weekly room inspections, and holding floor meetings.  In addition counselors encouraged men to participate in dorm athletic programs as well as co-ed dance groups, hayrides, and swimming parties. During this era, Dormitory Directors and their wives chaperoned when college women interacted with college men.

In 1965, women counselors were selected and paid by the University to work at the dorm reception desks and to help handle any problems that might arise in the residence halls. A Counselor could be a friend, advisor, a substitute mother or a sounding board.  In 1968, the dorms began experimenting with visitation.  By then, men had not had any curfews for five years, and women’s curfew rules had been liberalized.

By the fall semester of 1971, the separate positions of Dean of Men and Dean of Women were changed to two positions—one staff member became responsible for student programs and the other responsible for residential living. Graduate student hall directors (one per dorm) replaced live-in House Mothers and Dormitory Directors. Counselors were renamed Resident Hall Advisors.

In 1972, visitation policies varied by dorm, and some dorms were co-ed. SMU’s philosophy was to develop a sense of community and concern for individual students.  Resident Assistants were required to take a specially designed psychology course as a part of RA training. Rules had become de-emphasized. 

In 1979, Resident Assistants were seen as instrumental in helping each floor establish a sense of community—and is responsible for communicating university regulations.  An RA was not a policeman.

In addition to paid positions, SMU also sponsored volunteer programs in the resident halls. Sophomore women in 1957 were recruited to be “Wranglers” for the incoming freshmen “Colts.” This volunteer program was designed to help new students adjust to college life.  Later, the “Wranglers” evolved into “Sophomore Sponsors.”  Sophomore advisors were non-salaried sophomores willing to live in freshman floors to aid students to adjusting to university life.