RAs rebuke Residence Life over required course

Samuel Casey

Editor in Chief

 

Shortly after the spring semester commenced, Residence Life received applications from both new and returning resident assistants (RAs) which they reviewed and assessed by Feb. 10, according to the timeline on their webpage. However, this year’s process has included concerns from numerous RAs regarding a new course that will be required for those who accept the position. The Residence Life Staff Practicum, or RA Class, is a 0.25 credit course that will meet for 90 minutes per week, conducted half synchronously and half asynchronously to accommodate the schedule of RAs, some of whom are not on campus.

Myrna Hernández, the newly permanent dean of students, explained the practicality behind this new course. “The RA Class is designed to study and learn [important] skills over time to allow for appropriate reflection that isn’t possible in the current training model, which often leaves RAs feeling rushed and exhausted before the semester even begins,” Hernández said. “It also addresses one of the critiques that valuable career preparation opportunities are not available to students because of the time commitment of the RA position.”

Director of Residence Life Nathan Fein described that the current model of RA training takes place over two weeks in which the RAs “are given an abundance of information, but do not have the time to process and absorb it before working directly with residents.” He said the RA Class is not meant to add an “extra burden, but [is] rather something we all look forward to as both a support and professional development opportunity.” 

“By spreading out the material, it allows the staff to better absorb the information and have a stronger foundation to work from when we do training in the fall,” Fein said. “Also, it will allow us to reduce the number of hours we spend in training in the fall so that staff can be well-rested when residents arrive and they begin their semester, which has been a concern presented to us over the last few years.” 

Numerous RAs, however, have raised points of contention. According to an anonymous Viewpoint being published concurrently by the Voice and signed by 25 RAs, it would only diminish the two-week training by two days, a minimal change and one that is still less than the time taken up by the RA Class. These student workers were also concerned with the lack of input they could provide before it was instituted. One RA, granted anonymity for fear of reprisal during the hiring process, stated, “The RA Class was constructed and implemented with no input from the RAs and no consideration for the additional barrier this places upon first-generation, limited income (FGLI) students in maintaining their role … Residence Life is deeply out of touch with their RAs; they want us to be forced to engage with a course about community, while not being able to foster community with their own staff.”

These allegations were refuted by Fein, who noted ample opportunity to provide input. “The RA staff has been involved in providing feedback on the [RA Class]. The idea for a spring class for the RAs as part of the hiring process was presented to RA Council, a group of RAs I meet with regularly to share ideas and hear concerns from RAs. They were made aware of the course in late October 2020 and it was presented to all the current staff in November 2020 before the application for the 2021-22 academic year was posted.” He added that there was a form created by Residence Life to collect concerns and questions from RAs, which were then addressed and sent back. 

Many RA sources have described the course as redundant, teaching skills current RAs already know, thus making it a waste of time for those students who have already-busy schedules. Some RAs have also expressed that ResLife seems to think RAs are not doing a good enough job despite receiving positive evaluations, which the assistants think is disrespectful.

Hernández highlighted some of the benefits. “The RA role is one that is of utmost importance in Student Affairs and absolutely critical to the building of community on a residential campus,” she said. “It has the potential for learning and skill building, not only while in college, but as professional development and preparation for a career in many professions.” Hernández added that the 0.25 credit that comes with the course “is a way to recognize the work that RAs are already doing.”

Multiple RA sources claim that this is not sufficient, instead pointing to how they are only allowed to be paid for up to ten hours a week despite being in the role essentially 24/7. RAs stated that this is not a fight for a higher wage, but a disagreement on how the RA class was communicated. Several RAs came to the Scot Council meeting on Feb. 8 to further clarify their frustrations. The discussion centered around inequities for FGLI RAs, who often cannot add anything else to their schedule nor can they quit because of the financial assistance that comes with the position. They also addressed the hesitancy of many RAs to speak about their concerns freely, including in the Voice, for fear of retaliation during the hiring process.

Fein countered this narrative, stating, “While we are aware of staff concerns and questions, no one has been released from the position or not offered the position if they reapplied for voicing their feedback.” 

Hernández described some of the RA experiences as “deeply troubling” and offered herself as a resource. “It is very important that RAs have a positive and well-supported experience, and I am committed to make that happen,” she said. “I will continue to make myself available to the RA Council and to individual RAs during open office hours and by appointment. I want to create space for and have the open dialogue that is necessary for us to move forward and make progress toward a more sustainable situation and rewarding experience for the RAs.”