After the recent “Hall Crawl” incident, in which resident assistants (RAs) in Newing College were caught drinking and hosting parties in their rooms immediately before the start of the semester, Residential Life set up a mandatory meeting for all student employees. But instead of professionally addressing the incident, RAs were berated and reprimanded by Residential Life during an assembly that some described as upsetting and unwarranted.
Multiple anonymous RAs said the meeting meant to address the “Hall Crawl” quickly devolved into nothing more than an opportunity to call RAs “sheep,” and suggest that they could be easily replaced, as other people were “waiting” for their jobs. It didn’t end there. In that same meeting, RAs were told that they would have been fired on the spot following the “Hall Crawl” if they had worked for another organization, that the meeting alone cost Residential Life thousands of dollars and that no form of “retaliation” would be tolerated. When RAs at the meeting spoke out about how they felt regarding the situation, they were firmly shut down and devalued, prioritizing “action” over their feelings.
These are not the words one chooses when trying to combat a perceived culture of fear. According to Paola Mignone, interim director of Residential Life, the bulk of the comments mentioned by Pipe Dream’s sources came from “other community members that participated in the conversation” who “spoke from their own perspectives openly.” Mignone wrote in an email that everybody “had the best interests of students at heart.”
But this isn’t the first time Residential Life has overstepped with their comments to RAs during private, mandatory meetings. During an RA training meeting in fall 2018, RAs were implicitly blamed by a staff member for having not intervened in the tragic death of Joao Souza during the previous semester. Although an apology was issued thereafter, it doesn’t remove Residential Life’s culpability in allowing such an egregious statement to be made in the first place, and given this incident, it’s astounding that Residential Life felt it was appropriate to again allow staff members outside of the central Residential Life office to speak and berate RAs.
But the problems with Residential Life’s approach to controversial situations also extend to their public image. With Pipe Dream’s coverage of events such as spring 2019’s forced triple occupant rooms, Residential Life has reportedly told RAs that they are to redirect questions to the upper echelon rather than answer themselves, according to several anonymous sources. RAs are never quite explicitly told that they cannot speak to the media, but that they must emphasize their comments do not reflect on Residential Life as a whole. This policy has led to a culture of fear in the hallways of Binghamton University residential halls, as RAs are afraid to speak about issues that pertain to them, both as students and as RAs.
In Residential Life’s most recent meeting, they were warned that they would face consequences for “retaliation” — a comment many interpreted to mean that they needed to stay completely silent about the meeting and the “Hall Crawl” incident. Mignone said the “retaliation” comment as one meant to protect the RAs that were involved in the hospitalization that took place the night of the “Hall Crawl,” and assured the Editorial Board that RAs had never been sanctioned for speaking on their behalf. Even if this is the case and Residential Life staff members expressly regret any miscommunication, the remainder of their verbal berating goes unexplained and inexcusable.
Many RAs are not RAs by choice. They are forced to sacrifice an otherwise typical college experience so that they can afford to have any college experience at all. Many of those who become RAs need the benefit of free housing if they are to continue attending the University, and so Residential Life’s recent behavior is both dangerous and worrisome. By instilling a culture of fear among arguably their most vulnerable staff, they have damaged any ability to build a trusting and open workplace. The unnecessary weight put on the RAs undoubtedly impacts their ability to do their job, having an impact opposite to what Residential Life may intend on. As an important organ in BU’s campus life, it’s imperative that RAs are treated with dignity and respect instead of the contempt they seem to continually receive from Residential Life staff.
Residential Life may have serious transparency and management issues, but that is not say that all of them are part of the problem. Many anonymous RAs said that those who work in close proximity with them, such as residential directors, have always been exceptionally supportive to them. They should serve as an example of how Residential Life could change for the better if they wish to rid themselves of the toxic culture they claim to work against.
No professional organization would permit so many occurrences of blatant disrespect for their employees, and yet here we are. The harmful language and ire directed at the RAs cannot continue if there is any hope of working toward a better relationship between staff and their leadership. Residential Life, it’s time to stop intimidating your resident assistants and start treating them like the valuable employees and students they are.