By Erica Noble
On Monday, March 5, 2018, I received an email saying that I was accepted as a Resident Advisor (RA) for a third year. However, I have decided not to accept the position for reasons that I cannot keep quiet about. After working as an RA for two years, I have seen many problematic behaviors, but I felt obligated not to speak out of fear of losing my job and out of some small hope that things would get better. The issues that I include in here may not reflect every RAs experience, but too many RAs have experienced these things and anyone who wants to become an RA should be aware of them.
While I do hope that Housing will change, I am writing this to inform the WU community of the enormous pressure that their RAs are under and I encourage residents to support their RAs as much as possible. I would further like to emphasize that I write this not out of retaliation, but in the interest of transparency and to fully inform anyone who is currently considering this position.This comes out of extensive conversations with fellow RAs over my two years working in the Housing Department. I have chosen not to include quotes from any other RAs for the sole reason that I would not want to put them in jeopardy of losing their current or future positions.
The Director of Housing, Scott Etherton, does not have a good reputation among RAs. In Fall 2016, two RAs stepped down, so naturally Housing needed to hire new people. Rather than training students from the alternates list, Etherton gave the Housing Interns an ultimatum: become RAs or lose your scholarship and move off campus in less than a week. For clarification, Housing used to hire former RAs as special interns to work in the office and they were provided housing and a meal plan. Only one intern was able to successfully move off campus, but the other two interns were forced to become RAs because they did not have the resources nor the time to find housing elsewhere. Etherton claimed that he was “doing what was best for the residents.” However, residents deserve RAs who actually want the position and the interns deserved more respect. These interns did a fantastic job as RAs again because they are good people, but they never should have been put in that position in the first place. Etherton should hire (or rehire) student leaders who actually want the position and know what they are doing because that is what is best for residents.
During RA training as well as multiple staff meetings over the last two years, Etherton has often emphasized how sought after the RA position is and implied that RAs are replaceable. Many RAs do not feel comfortable expressing their concerns or taking a stance because they are worried about losing their jobs. RAs have to sign a contract that limits their activity outside of the position to 10 hours per week. This burdens and discriminates against RAs who need to work in order to pay off tuition because it favors students without the financial burden. Furthermore, an RA’s outside activity does not necessarily reflect their ability to be a good RA as long as the position is prioritized.
Last fall, when RAs arrived for training, we received the news that we would be required to do additional On-Duty hours during the day on the weekend. Many RAs felt that they should have been informed of this change before arriving to campus. Even more RAs felt that we should be compensated for the extra work that we would have to do especially since this would take away regular work hours that people do on Saturdays and Sundays. When an RA expressed their concern that RAs deserved more compensation, Etherton launched into a heated lecture where he belittled us for wanting more compensation, said that we should be grateful for the leadership experience that is offered, and implied that if we truly cared about our peers then we would not worry about compensation. RAs should not be treated this way for simply wanting economic stability and deserve more respect.
In addition to the lack of respect, Housing fundamentally has a trust issue. Good RAs have been fired over mere rumors over conflicts of interest and yet just this past week Housing has knowingly rehired RAs who have not reported sexual assaults, have gone to parties with their residents and have not reported alcohol poisoning, among other problematic behaviors. This lack of trust is further emphasized in the lack of consistency across campus. RAs are held to various different standards depending on who they report to and how long they have been in the position.
Housing has pressured RAs to write more incident reports if they think that they do not have enough. This essentially puts a quota on the number of incident reports that RAs submit and actively forces RAs to focus on policing their communities rather than on maintaining the health and wellness of the community. Yes, RAs are obligated to confront residents who violate housing policies, but pressuring RAs to write more reports just reinforces the stereotype that RAs are snitches, a stereotype that RAs have to fight every year to gain the trust of their community.
I have loved working as an RA. Supporting and advocating for my peers has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but there is no denying the mental and emotional toll that RAs go through due to Housing’s actions.
I would like to commend any student who decides to take this position because it is not an easy one and I hope that all current and future RAs will continue to support their communities as well as their fellow RAs. Thank you for your work.