This year, Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS) implemented changes to the department based on feedback from previous residential advisors (RAs) about their employment benefits and duties. RAs now have fewer program planning requirements, fewer duty hours and less administrative work. While changes have been made, some RAs still have concerns about whether or not they are being fairly compensated for their work.
RAs work within their residence hall as a part of the “Culture of Care” network, an initiative under the Dean of Students office to provide support for struggling students. As part of their job requirements, RAs put on programs that help foster community development within their residence halls.
According to Erin Ball (sophomore), a first-time RA in Berkus Hall, RAs used to be required to plan two events per month. Now they plan one event and co-sponsor an event in another dorm. Their responsibilities include making a monthly bulletin board, offering weekly office hours for residents, attending weekly two-hour staff meetings and a weekly 30-minute meeting with their supervisor. They also take shifts at the front desk of the REHS office, answering incoming calls directed to REHS. Laura McNaughton, associate director of REHS, said via email that these changes constitute a more efficient community development model in REHS.
RAs are also no longer required to sign up for duty over breaks, according to Spencer Szabo ’14, a current graduate hall coordinator (GHC) living in Newcomb Hall and former RA. GHCs work as liaisons between RAs and REHS staff. He said that the job requirements and administrative work of RAs have changed because of RAs’ feedback.
“RAs seem comfortable giving feedback now more than they ever have, since I have been here,” Szabo said.
Lani Cupo (senior), in her third year as an RA, now works in Berkus House, the all-femme themed living community on campus. She said that her time as an RA has been marked by change.
“I think there was a ton of mistrust, a ton of fear for your job or always feeling like you could never do enough. Not feeling supported and not feeling heard,” Cupo said.
At the beginning of this year’s summer training, Cupo said that the staff was more receptive to RAs’ feedback about the past year.
One RA granted anonymity* by The Occidental Weekly said that RAs fear that complaining might lead to REHS refusing to rehire them, perpetuating a culture of silence within the RA community. For students who rely on their employment as an RA to afford attending Occidental, asking for more benefits poses a high risk, the anonymous RA said.
According to the anonymous RA, while REHS staff seem to have RAs’ best interests in mind, there are still a number of problems that need to be addressed, namely whether or not the training and compensation that RAs receive are adequate.
In addition to a free single dorm room in their hall, RAs receive meal plan D and a stipend based on how many years they have worked as an RA. They also receive free counseling at Emmons for anything RA related, according to the anonymous RA.
The anonymous RA said that RAs do not receive enough credit for their work. They would like to see more resources provided for RAs to deal with the emotional distress that arises from helping residents.
Sara Packer (senior) is a third-year RA currently working in Erdman. She said that the stipend — which begins at $800 per academic year for a first-time RA and increases to $900 and $1,000 per year for second- and third-year RAs, respectively — seems low to her considering the large amount of emotional labor that RAs take on. RAs are paid every two weeks, meaning Packer earns $50 twice a month.
Packer said that since there is an unavoidable overlap between work and home life as an RA, she feels that she is always on duty while on campus. According to Packer, there have been times when residents have come up to her while she was off duty, which led her to work without pay beyond her designated hours.
Packer also said that meal plan D for RAs does not seem logical since it is intended for students living off campus and RAs are required to live in the dorms. She said that she would prefer if RAs received meal plan C and a higher stipend. She also said that the college is not giving REHS enough money to keep up with increases in minimum wage.
The budget for RA accommodations and pay is part of the REHS operations budget and managed by Human Resources, according to McNaughton. She said that REHS budgets have remained constant over the past few years. This means that there has been no additional funding to raise RAs’ pay. This year, REHS also reduced the number of GHCs from seven to four, which has increased the workload for GHCs overall, according to Szabo.
“We are now managing more RAs than we were before, have more office hours and are on duty more often as well. We also oversee more buildings, so we are fielding more residents’ concerns and other building related issues,” Szabo said.
The anonymous RA said that the reduction in GHCs has contributed to an information gap that prevents RAs from performing their duties effectively.
Not all RAs have voiced critiques about the changes this year. Alison Hunter (sophomore), a first-time RA in Stewart-Cleland Hall (Stewie), said that the changes in REHS are working well for her and that everyone on staff is doing a great job so far.
“This year [is] a little different than other years,” Hunter said. “So I think for this year and the amount we have to do, it’s great benefits.”
Ball said that she would be comfortable talking to her supervisor if she had any concerns to address.
Cupo said that the experiences veteran RAs had with REHS administration are different than the experiences of those who have just started the position. She tries to keep her personal opinions from affecting the new RAs.
“I’m trying to be conscious of how to support and how to make sure that all of these same mistakes that we’ve experienced aren’t experienced again in the future,” Cupo said.
*The Occidental Weekly granted this RA anonymity out of concern for their employment.