Skip to content

Should RAs listen to Machiavelli?

April 10, 2011

In this argument I pose the question: should RAs take the advice of Machiavelli?  When rulers need to decide whether to be loved or ruled, Machiavelli advises that “The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both” (Machiavelli).  Although an RA is technically not a ruler, an RA is the ruler of their respective hallway.

In my opinion, RAs should not listen to Machiavelli in this situation.  It is important for RAs and students to have a strong relationship in which there is a sense of trust and friendship.  While it is necessary for RAs to uphold the rules of the dorm, it is possible to do this in a manner without coming off as feared.  If an RA is feared, students would not feel comfortable in their own homes and that can create a traumatizing situation for the students.  I think if an RA is feared it would turn to the point of hatred, which Machiavelli warns rulers to avoid.

My advice to RAs is be caring, welcoming, and embracing in the hallways.  Remember that you are the one in charge and it is your job to enforce the rules, so you are not at fault if you get a student in your hall in trouble.  However, develop a friendship with the occupants in your hallway and be there as an advisor and a friend.


Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1998. Print.

  1. Aaron Brzozowski permalink
    April 10, 2011 5:08 PM

    It’s an interesting question to pose because it really highlights a potential fallibility in Machiavelli’s reasoning; the practical effects of resentment. One might ask whether this truly shortsightedness on Machiavelli’s part, or simply the difference between the rulership of a principality versus a much more intimate, personal domain.

  2. Stephan Sakhai permalink
    April 10, 2011 7:36 PM

    Although i mostly agree with your assessment of feelings towards an RA, i question whether its in the best interest for the RA to be loved. Considering they are responsible for the safety, health, etc. of the student in their hall, they really are given lots of responsibility. They must deal with students drinking, smoking, and engaging in behavior that is not allowed in college dorms. If a student is caught by an RA, but they have a “love” relationship, it puts the RA in a very difficult position. Do they do their job and betray the friendship with the student? Or, do they hold strong to the friendship and not tattle-tale.
    For this reason, i feel like in the case of an RA, fear, at least from an RA’s perspective, will leave them better off in situations where they are actually put to work.

  3. Anna Gwiazdowski permalink
    April 10, 2011 10:46 PM

    I also agree with Stephan. I understand your assessment of regarding your RA as someone who is nice and approachable vs. ruling the hallway with an Iron Fist, but what about students who take advantage of that? Whether it be smoking pot in the dorm room or drinking, if an RA catches a student, its their duty to report them. Forming a friendship with the students may not be the smartest decision because it can put an RA in an awkward position. Furthermore, for anyone who feels like RAs need to be cool and not report students, what happens when an RA doesn’t do anything and the student gets hurt? The RA can get in serious trouble. I think trust and friendship are important, but only when the RA is not going to be taken advantage of. When that happens, all bets are off and the RA has every right to crackdown on his or her hallway.

  4. jamescimina permalink
    April 11, 2011 12:43 AM

    This is an interesting topic, I think you are correct in stating that Machiavelli would side with love rather than fear. Most likely the only basis for this would be that fear and intimidation could lead to hatred in which Machiavelli does not approve of in terms of the relationship between a ruler and the people. I don’t know however if he would want a relationship of love, rather as you explain meaning trust and guidance. I think he would see this as bettering not only the individual’s relationship but instead the overall atmosphere of the hall and the relations amongst other hall mates. Overall a very simple but effective post.

  5. jasonkraman permalink
    April 11, 2011 12:46 AM

    The problem I see with analyzing the role of an RA through Machiavelli is that the RA is not a true ruler and even though they posses jurisdiction of sort over their hallway, the dynamic between ruler and ruled in Machivaelli’s time is very different. For instance, the RA is similar to the student in many ways. They attend the university, are students, and go through some of the same things students do. Unlike a ruler, they interact with almost every student under their jurisdiction on a weekly basis even if its just seeing them in the hallway. I think for an RA its impossible and not the best move to be “feared”. The RA is not supposed to be some forceful ruler who rules with an iron hand. Rather, they are meant to ease the transition into college while at the same time enforcing some basic rules in dorm life. I see the RA as more of an older brother who wants to make sure you are safe and do the right thing but at the same time wants you to enjoy life. Therefore, I think the RA can ignore Machiavelli’s theory on how to rule.

  6. mstranseth permalink
    April 11, 2011 11:24 PM

    jasonkraman makes the same point that I would make in that an RA is at the same time an authority figure and a student. More likely than not they have broken dorm rules in the past so they have a few qualms about reporting students for the same actions that they used to partake in.

    A fair compromise that I have had with my RA’s is “don’t get caught”. It’s save to say that if you develop a good relationship with your RA and tend to do things that aren’t quite “legal” in the dorms, you’re RA will know about it even without catching you. They act as a ruler who wants to be loved by pleading ignorance but they should definitely employ the fear tactic if they catch them as that is their job. Machiavelli definitely would not approve of an RA trying to play both roles, but then again, and RA doesn’t fit the mold that Machiavelli would describe as a prince.

    Still, an interesting topic.

  7. nehajain permalink
    April 12, 2011 3:31 PM

    This is a great post. I completely believe that RAs should be people that students, especially freshmen, respect and feel comfortable around. For younger students, RAs are some of the first upperclassmen they encounter. It is important that these “rulers” make the students feel welcome and give them a good impression of the school, while still maintaining and enforcing vital rules. I am going to be an orientation leader this summer and I think this is something I will have to keep in mind, as well. I want freshmen to like me and feel that they can talk to me about anything/any concerns, but at the same time I need them to know that I am still a leader and have to enforce rules. I personally believe, however, that when it comes to enforcing rules, one should not be petty, should keep an open mind, and understand the other person’s perspective and reasons for perhaps “breaking the rules”. It is not beneficial as a leader of any sort to be SO particular about following rules because then, instead of being “feared”, as Machiavelli believes, the rulers would just be thought of as annoying and would not be respected.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: