On Aug. 15, Ruth Boehling, ‘22, a two-year Hinman College residential assistant (RA), published an open letter to Residential Life. The letter begins by reminding readers that it is not the first of its kind, stating “there have been many letters sent to Residential Life and public complaints about the treatment of RAs by professional residential life staff.”
Boehling attributes most of the negative experiences she had as an RA to “the institution and the people in charge,” and shares anecdotes of being made to feel like a burden by her supervisor because of her ADHD, and being dismissed when she voiced concerns about RA staff and building placement. The letter also touched upon grievances that have been voiced by many RAs, such as a lack of mental health resources for RAs, frequent turnover and disorganization within the Professional Staff (ProStaff) and a lack of responsiveness to RA complaints.
In the process of writing this editorial, Pipe Dream spoke with another Hinman College RA, who wished to remain anonymous, who condemned unprofessionalism from ProStaff, including the sharing of personal employment and sensitive information with other RAs and the exclusion of RAs important decisions, and supported Boehling’s account of a high turnaround rate for ProStaff — eight changes in one year. Other RAs that Pipe Dream has been in conversation with, who also wished to remain anonymous, have complained about experiencing and witnessing the verbal harassment of RAs by residents and the lack of support that RAs are offered by ProStaff.
An Instagram account, @binghamton.ras, has recently been created to share Boehling’s open letter and other RA complaints. In a post, the account’s owners identify themselves as “a group of Resident Assistants supporting each other and creating solutions to the problems we experience within Residential Life.” The account has recently focused on the University’s hands-off COVID-19 policy this semester and its harmful implications for RAs. Amid an ongoing spike in on-campus COVID-19 cases this semester and little support from the University, RAs with COVID-19 and RAs trying to help residents with COVID-19 are left hanging.
On the account, RAs reported that they have been told by Residential Life that if they or their residents have COVID-19, they must find a way to get meals themselves, and were recommended to ask their friends to deliver food or to download the food delivery app DoorDash. Leaving sick residents and RAs hungry without a reliable, university-run meal delivery service is egregious — many are not able to afford the extra fees involved in a DoorDash delivery or may not have friends that are regularly able to deliver meals. RAs associated with @binghamton.ras have taken it upon themselves to create a meal delivery service where students can either request a meal delivery service or volunteer to deliver meals. The Editorial Board applauds this mutual aid mechanism but firmly believes that providing food to ill students is the responsibility of the University.
According to @binghamton.ras, due to the limited isolation housing at BU this semester, RAs have reported residents sleeping in building hallways, putting themselves and others at risk. The University’s fall 2022 guidance plan mentions that, should students be unable to find room in isolation housing, they should consider staying home or remaining in their dorms. We encourage the University to support students who are only able to choose the latter. We condemn the University for not being better prepared and failing to properly support residents and RAs with COVID-19 this late into the pandemic, especially in providing vital resources like housing and food.
We also condemn the lack of mental health resources for RAs, and recognize it as part of a larger egregious lack of mental health resources for students at BU. In her open letter, Boehling recounts handling a traumatic incident involving her residents and feeling isolated and unsupported afterward, as RAs are not permitted to discuss resident affairs with others. Boehling writes, “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.”
We call on the University and ProStaff to be more receptive to the complaints of RAs, and to work with them to create and implement solutions to the issues that they have voiced. Paola Mignone, Ph.D.’ 21, the assistant vice president for residential experiences, has said that “[Residential Life] welcomes and receives input from all levels of staff through a variety of means” and that “the information gathered from staff is systematically considered.” However, it seems that there is a lack of communication between RAs and upper-level residential staff. During 2020 and 2021, an RA Council consisting of nominated RAs was in place to communicate with upper Residential Life staff. However, according to a change.org petition, when RAs inquired about whether the RA Council would be reinstated this semester, they received word that it will be terminated, and that RA representatives would only meet with upper-level Residential Life staff on an “area-by-area basis.”
@binghamton.ras did voice concerns over the way that the council was previously run, including a lack of RA input in the nomination process and discouraging complaints during meetings. However, reinstating a new RA Council, and taking these complaints into consideration, should be a priority. A space for communication between RAs and upper-level Residential Life staff can begin to foster conversation surrounding the aforementioned grievances that RAs have been voicing, and would ideally be an efficient and effective mechanism for responding to any Residential Life issues affecting staff or students. The Editorial Board voices its support for the petition to reinstate the RA Council. Better COVID-19 policy and accommodations, as well as mental health resources for RA staff and students, are also necessary.
Solidifying rumors that have recently been circulating, an email sent on Sept. 15 announced that the current RA position will be restructured into several new student roles starting in August of 2023. Although this restructuring may relieve some of the stress that RAs face in juggling their many responsibilities, many RAs feel that their positions are now in jeopardy. Although those currently employed as RAs are promised to receive the same compensation until graduation if they continue, some worry that they may not be hired, as the email revealed little about the new selection process. Many RAs rely on the free housing and mealplan to attend BU, so this ambiguity is very concerning. We hope that ProStaff will give RAs more clarity about the new selection process and its implications for their positions as soon as possible, and that they will support current RAs who rely on the position’s financial benefits.
The email announcing the change claims the process will be an “iterative” one, seeking feedback throughout. Yet, as shown in Pipe Dream’s news coverage, RA’s were left out of the decision-making process behind the recent announcement. How can we trust that their voices will be heard now?