This study focuses on the mechanisms that allow peer tutors to exert authority over fellow peers in academic resource centers at Forest College, a liberal arts college located in Upstate New York. The relationship between a peer tutor and their student is a site of authority negotiation, with peers lacking typical authority present in higher education, like formal credentials. This study draws upon previous research indicating that race, gender, and certain tutoring strategies can be seen as potential mechanisms for exerting authority. Moreover, the study uses an ethnography and survey, utilizing mixed-methods research to identify and classify other variables that may impact a peer tutor’s authority. The findings indicate that counter to previous studies, a tutor being male may negatively impact a student’s perception of their authority; furthermore, male students were far more likely to view their tutor as less authoritative, regardless of the tutor’s gender. While gender is a salient factor in authority negotiation, race is = not as relevant at Forest College, with the exception of non-white students trusting their tutor’s advice more. Furthermore, tutoring strategies like information exchange and non-directive questioning do contribute to higher perceptions of authority, with tutors frequently balancing the two strategies across an interaction to establish an authoritative role. Finally, this study finds that tutors derive some relational authority from professors. Tutors are perceived by students as navigators of the educational bureaucracy led by professors, meaning tutors can present themselves as guides to content-based knowledge, rather than experts. This study demonstrates how these multiple mechanisms help establish and shape authority negotiation among peers.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Matthew Grace, Stephen Ellingson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.