A former resident assistant (RA) recently published an open letter to Residential Life (ResLife), detailing her experiences.
On Aug. 15, Ruth Boehling, ’22, who served for two years as an RA in the Hinman College residential community, sent a letter to all current ResLife staff and RAs. In it, Boehling highlighted certain negative experiences and critiques concerning ResLife’s operations from her perspective as a former RA.
Boehling explained her motivations behind speaking out about her experiences.
“I think it was a culmination of everything,” Boehling said. “ResLife seems to have this mindset, or at least as an RA I perceived it as this, of like, ‘These RAs aren’t going to be here forever so we don’t have to keep them in mind when doing things,’ or like, ‘We can make changes because the longest an RA is going to be working there is like three years, unless they go on to be an [assistant residential coordinator] or continue to be [professional staff (ProStaff)].’ And I honestly had a terrible experience as an RA and there were things not in the letter that happened over the last couple of weeks of being an RA that were kind of the nail in the coffin.”
One primary event Boehling focuses on is a meeting with one of her supervisors. While the meeting initially started with a discussion on shift times, Boehling described how the discussion turned to her attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“I told her I was fine with it, saying that, since I have ADHD, my room is not any more conducive to my studying than the RA office,” Boehling wrote in the letter. “She responded to this by saying she ‘wasn’t trained to work with people with ADHD.’ She should have known I had ADHD because it was in the transition papers my previous supervisor had left only [three] months prior, but even if she didn’t know, that was still an unacceptable and hurtful thing to say. I felt like an inconvenience and like people needed extra training to work with me just because I wasn’t neurotypical.”
Boehling went on to discuss how her supervisor proceeded to ask her for her thoughts on staff placements. Boehling claimed that when she did give feedback on the matter, the supervisor dismissed her suggestions under the presumption that the “ProStaff (who were new to Hinman [College] and the RAs) knew best.”
The idea of interactions like this occurring was countered by Paola Mignone, Ph.D. ’21, the assistant vice president for residential experiences. Mignone said all feedback is properly considered by staff.
“Like any complex and challenging work environment, there will sometimes be tension and disagreements about how various matters should be handled,” Mignone wrote. “[ResLife] welcomes and receives input from all levels of staff through a variety of means, from regular meetings to exit interviews of departing staff, including student staff. Feedback is varied and sometimes comes from a place where all of the considerations that inform decision-making aren’t available to the person providing the feedback. Nonetheless, the information gathered from staff is systematically considered.”
Another topic that Boehling focused on in the letter is the mental health resources and support provided to RAs.
Boehling discussed a “traumatic” event she witnessed involving her residents. Boehling described how, after the event, she felt like ResLife put her into an emotional “fishbowl.”
“But it was traumatic for me, too,” Boehling wrote. “They were allowed to talk to people — to me, their friends, other people outside the situation — but I wasn’t. I barely slept for weeks until the situation was completely resolved and I couldn’t even cry about it because I convinced myself that if I cried, at that exact moment someone would need me. How fucked up is that? In my own room, I felt like I couldn’t even feel my own emotions because ResLife shoves down our throats the fact that we live in a fishbowl.”
Mignone said that ResLife is working to reexamine their obligations and requirements for staff.
“[ResLife] further understands that student and professional staff become involved in difficult and challenging situations,” Mignone wrote. “There is an active and ongoing process to evaluate and adjust expectations of all levels of staff, including RA’s, to match the level of experience and training that can reasonably be provided to those staff, and we have been deeply engaged in reexamining staff service obligations for the past two years.”
In the conclusion of her letter, Boehling said she hopes that what she wrote will cause change.
“I am in the not-at-all-unique position now to be able to speak out about some of the systemic problems I have experienced within ResLife without the threat of being fired looming over me,” Boehling wrote. “I hope that this letter can incite change and bring some sort of resolution and closure for me and any other former RA who has had a negative experience with ResLife. I hope that, in the future, RAs can experience all the good that I loved about the position without the bad.”