Sometimes, the elephant in the room is a glass of orange juice. Or more likely, a glass with something added to the juice.

And standing in the door is a housing resident advisor (RA) caught in a tricky situation as the person in charge of both building community and enforcing alcohol regulations.

Alyssa Stephens (Comm, Wgst’18), who worked on campus as an RA for three years, explored the ways RAs navigate conversations with their residents about drinking in her senior honors thesis, titled, “So You Were Drinking ‘Orange Juice’: Resident Advisors’ Negotiation of Resident Drinking Norms.”

Stephens interviewed nine CU Boulder RAs and found they often tailor and shift roles depending on the individual resident they are speaking with. One female RA started using the phrase, “So, you were drinking ‘orange juice,’” as a way to discuss drinking.

RAs want to talk to residents about drinking to help students make good decisions, she says, but struggle with not wanting to hear about behavior that violates a rule.

“One of the most interesting findings from my project was the ways RAs use the idea of safety when talking about drinking,” she says. “Most resident advisors take a ‘safety first’ perspective and frame their conversations about drinking primarily around advice and concern for resident safety.”

Stephens recommends future studies to explore training models to prepare RAs for the realities they face.

In June, Stephens accepted a job as an academic advisor at the University of Alabama.

“Working as an RA on campus and in other campus leadership roles has definitely changed my life and is the main reason I want to pursue higher education as a career,” she says.