Forgetting the RA in ERAU

Joshua Rosado / The Avion Newspaper

An Opinion and Response About the Leadership of Housing & Residence Life

Anonymous/Resident Advisor

There is a significant amount of tension between the resident advisors and the Department of Housing and Residence Life. A majority of resident advisors want change to happen in the department but are fearful if they voice their opinions, they will lose their jobs. I am not without fear, and as I write this, it is with anonymity. Speaking to the press as a resident advisor is against policy, and has the potential to result in job action, which encompasses suspension, termination, or any other kind of reprimand. “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” – Gandhi

The tension originated from Fall 2017 resident advisor training when a mandatory, new program was introduced called community builders. The Housing and Residence Life staff created this program to gain quantitative data about the interactions that take place between resident advisors and their residents. A community builder is a record of a resident advisor intentionally interacting with his/her resident. The resident advisor can go out to dinner with their residents, offer to walk them to an event, or just initiate a conversation. The bottom line is that after this interaction, the resident advisors were required to log onto a Housing and Residence Life website and enter information about it, which included: the eagle card numbers of the students they interacted with, a summary of what was said, and the amount of time spent with the residents. When the department introduced the program, there was significant pushback from the resident advisors. Some arguments against it were the additional time requirements, and the artificial environment community builders would create. Resident advisors were required to do a certain number of community builders each month. Training ended, and community builders went forward and continued throughout the Fall semester.

At the beginning of the Spring 2018 semester, Housing and Residence Life staff stated that due to feedback from resident advisors, they planned on discontinuing community builders. The Housing and Residence Life staff declared that for the spring semester, contact hours would be replacing community builders. Contact hours were to be five hours each week that an RA must hold, similar to office hours of a professor. The resident advisors have been told to record the interactions they have with their residents during this time in the community builder form, on the website. The amount of pushback and uproar from the resident advisors was drastically more than that of the pushback from last semester. Contact hours were announced only a few days before the start of classes, and many resident advisors already had their schedules set. The Associate Director of Housing who was explaining contact hours stated they thought resident advisors should have had to do seven hours a week, but five was chosen by the Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life as a start. They made it seem like we got off easy. The department met all arguments with a response analogous to “RA’s at other universities don’t have the benefits you do, consider yourselves lucky this is all you have to do.”

“The university recognizes the resident advisor position as a 15 hour per week commitment” – Department of Housing and Residence Life Resident Advisor Employment Contract 2017-2018 Academic Year. The contract stipulates that we are eligible to work 10 hours a week in another on-campus job, for a maximum of 25 hours a week. Resident advisors do not fill out a time card. They assume that we only work 15 hours each week, which is not the case since the requirements and duties force us to exceed 15 hours. All of the time resident advisors spend handling situations with residents throughout the day and night is not taken into account as part of the 15 hours a week in the contract. Resident advisors must have one duty night each week from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning. Additionally, resident advisors work up to nine extra duty days on weekends and holidays. Weekend/holiday duty requires the resident advisor to be on call for 24 hours, and this is just the beginning. Resident advisors are also obligated to: create three to five bulletin boards, plan four programs (increased from three last semester), and create two sets of door decorations. They are also obligated to submit weekly reports and attend weekly RA meetings, bi-weekly 1:1 supervisor meetings, resident 1:1 sessions, room inspections, occupancy checks, spring preview, fire drills, building-wide programs, house calls and more. They are required to assist with events like the Halloween Carnival and Midnight Breakfasts, RA interviews, and now five more scheduled contact hours each week.

The resident advisors have brought their concerns to Housing and Residence Life through various means. One resident advisor organized a survey with alternatives to the most prominent gripe the resident advisors have: contact hours. The choices were less time-consuming options with the feedback from the majority of resident advisors. Housing and Residence Life was unfazed by the proposal and stated the earliest they would even consider a change would be next semester.

The addition of contact hours is only the tip of the iceberg. The resident advisor’s central concerns are with the way changes are being implemented, the fact that HRL ignores our feedback, the inadequate timeliness, and the refusal to adjust anything regardless of the pushback. The responsibilities of an RA are not well communicated before being hired. The time commitment is vastly understated. There was no mention of the dozens of meetings that require attendance, contact hours, community builders, or the number of additional duty days you are required to have. The resident advisor contract is vague and misleading. The resident advisors are overworked and given requirements that well exceed 15 hours per week of work. 

A survey was sent out to all resident advisors with questions to gauge how the changes this semester are affecting them. There were ten questions on the poll. This survey allowed RAs to have their voices heard. Approximately 50% of the resident advisors, knowing the risks, made their voice heard.

 

Of those who took the survey: 64.28% of resident advisors either agree or strongly agree with the statement: ‘I feel overworked.’ 67.86% of resident advisors feel Housing and Residence Life do not consider their feedback. 75% of resident advisors believe that they work more than 15 hours each week. 64.29% of resident advisors think their residence life coordinator does not have the power, or authority to effect change. 85.72% of resident advisors feel Housing and Residence Life does not work to obtain input from resident advisors before making changes. 71.43% of resident advisors believe that if they speak up about issues they have, Housing and Residence Life will not rehire them. Lastly, 67.86% of resident advisors stated that the increase in obligations this
semester has affected their schoolwork.

The final question on the resident advisor survey was a text box where the resident advisors were encouraged to make their voices heard and allowed them to comment on the current situation. All responses are anonymous and from separate resident advisors:

“I feel like no matter how much we try to voice our opinions and make changes; our opinions always get dismissed. I feel like Housing forgets that we are human beings sometimes.”

“What I am upset about is the lack of notification and consideration of RA feedback that the HRL department gives to their RA’s. It feels like they are taking advantage of us, and no working
environment should feel that way.”

“They don’t care about us, we are just numbers, and a means to an end to get the results they want and numbers they are told to collect.”

“The RA position entails a lot of hours of commitment that is not considered or mentioned as part of the position officially.”

“Adding more and more work to gather data for research and budget determination will not achieve any of the goals of having more resident interactions or higher retention rates because RA’s will avoid unintentional/unplanned interactions to meet the planned interaction requirements so that they can fulfill their other responsibilities as students.”

“Exploitative and coercive leadership leads to employees scared to lose their jobs and convinced that if they don’t put in 110% that they will be homeless.”

“This department would be nowhere and nonexistent without the hard work, dedication, and care all the RAs have for their residents and the pride they have for this school. I believe that HRL constantly takes us for granted, and our voices go unheard without fear of negative counselings. I believe the professional staff in charge of the Resident Advisors care more about the income the department can generate and save rather than the experience and memories we can give residents; the department has forgotten their purpose.”

“What is not fair for Housing and Residence Life is that they do not ask for our feedback when they try to implement new things. I don’t think it’s fair to change our course of work mid-semester when we have already made our schedules for the following semester. Our RLCs do not have the power to do anything neither do our senior resident advisors.”

“My issue with this position is that they treat it like this is a full-time job, with no consideration for the fact that I am a full-time student as well. It was stated a multitude of times throughout the training that they would be “flexible,” yet some of us see job action punishments for things that they expect of someone that works for HRL 9-5 every day.”

The end-goal is to bring attention to the fact that the resident advisors at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL are mistreated, overworked, and want change. Multiple attempts to solve these issues within the department have occurred, but with no success. The majority of resident advisors feel that Housing and Resident Life will not rehire them if they voice their opinions, and that is a problem that needs addressing. The amount of work resident advisors are asked to do is contrary to the contract they signed and needs discussing as well. The way change occurs, without input from the ones who it affects most, needs to be addressed. Offers to consider change next semester is unacceptable. It is noteworthy to mention that most resident advisors do not believe their residence life coordinators have the power to affect changes and therefore are not a part of the problem. Unsurprisingly, residence life coordinators have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the sudden increase in work they are required to do. 

The path forward requires for more active communication between the Department of Housing and Residence Life and the resident advisors. It is apparent resident advisors feel they put their jobs at risk when speaking out against unfair practices. A solution to this problem would be to implement a system where the Department of Housing and Residence Life must provide documentation detailing why a resident advisor was not re-hired. Additionally, a resident advisor that is not re-hired should be able to appeal the decision with an independent arbitrator. Most resident advisors feel they work more than 15 hours a week. Contact hours is a massive change in the time requirements resident advisors must meet and need to be eliminated immediately. Resident advisors should have access to a timecard, and the on-call duty system currently in place needs restructuring. Finally, resident advisors should have a voice. A resident advisor advocacy committee should be created with representatives elected by the resident advisors.

I like the residents in my hall. My fellow resident advisors have become some of the best friends I have. I feel lucky that I have such a caring and understanding residence life coordinator. I even admire the passion I’ve seen from the Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life. I wrote this article not because I aim to disparage anyone, but because I owe it to my fellow resident advisors, and because when diplomacy has failed, only action remains.

***The Avion Newspaper has independently verified the authenticity of the Resident
Advisor Survey results.***

Housing & Residence Life Response

Steve Logan/Executive Director of Housing

The Department of Housing and Residence Life is committed to supporting students’ personal and professional growth as part of their residential experience. Resident Advisors and other student staff members play an integral role in supporting the mission of our department. We appreciate the feedback and insight from members of our student staff who took the time to meet with several of our professional staff regarding a modification to the spring job expectation. A more structured approach to the community development model was introduced during the January training period and was designed to assist the resident advisors in getting to know residents more personally and intentionally. The conversations we had with those RAs who met with us enabled the professional staff in the residence life area and the Executive Director to meet and provide alternatives to this modified job expectation with an ultimate goal of encouraging RAs to focus on the phrase “Every Student, Every Story.” Additionally, these productive conversations provided us with valuable information to use moving forward that will enable us to provide the best experience for RAs as well as all students who reside in ERAU housing. While we understand from our conversations that there are RAs who are having a good experience in that role, we met with nearly every RA before their interview shifts during RA interview weekend on Jan. 27 and 28. The purpose of these discussions was to communicate that changes were occurring as a result of the productive feedback from those RAs who met with members of the professional staff.

We welcome feedback, both positive and constructive, from any of our student staff or other members of the campus community and being receptive to this feedback is an expectation our Executive Director has for the entire professional staff team in Housing and Residence Life. It is through the hard work and dedication of our student staff that our department can accomplish its mission of providing students with positive, safe, and inclusive residence hall communities. The resident advisors are the front-line staff in the residence halls, and we highly value their contributions to our department as well as the impact they have on student life at Embry-Riddle.