Revised RA contracts lead to tension, confusion over expected responsibilities

Students socialize at International Game Night in Wyoming Hall (pictured above) on Aug 22. New Resident Assistant contracts include stipulations that suggest a shift in priorities, creating some discontent among RAs (UdeshI Seneviratne/photo editor).

Newly issued Resident Assistant contracts have created some concerns among RAs. This is due to a variety of problems ranging from miscommunication about when RAs are allowed to leave campus for the semester to issues with the contracts themselves.

Two main sentences in the 2018-2019 contracts have garnered criticism. The first is a section in the “Co-curricular Involvement” portion that states that being an RA is to be treated as “the highest priority,” with precedence over all other co-curricular involvement.

Some students feel as though this expectation could lead to RAs putting their jobs before their responsibilities as students. It could also pull them away from the community they are supposed to be facilitating, according to international relations major senior Joshua Espinosa. 

Espinosa, who was an RA from 2016 to 2018, explained that there seemed to be frustration about the language in the contract among RAs. 

Many felt as though Student Life didn’t see things from the student’s perspective, Espinosa said. He went on to say that many were also frustrated by training periods added to staff meetings. Since RAs show up early to campus in order to do training, they felt they could complete all the requisite training then.

Director of Student Life Chip Matthews explained that Student Life did not intend for the language to have been perceived the way it was by some RAs.

“Am I expecting people to be present in their halls to have conversations with residents?” Matthews said. “Absolutely … I think an RA is one of the key people in creating a safe, inclusive and positive community.” 

Matthews further explained that Student Life expects RAs to put their jobs above other co-curriculars, as any employer would expect, but understands that being a student is of the first importance.

“I tell people you’re not here to get a degree in being an RA, you’re here to get a degree in whatever you’re studying,” Matthews said. 

Matthews believes that the GPA requirement RAs must meet demonstrates Student Life’s commitment to their academic success. 

Some students do think these expectations are reasonable, including former RA senior Rachel Choset. 

“This is a job and you’re getting compensated for it,” Choset said. 

Former Assistant Residential Director Christopher Callery ’18 believes that the question of priorities in the contract, along with new responsibilities like so-called “visibility hours,” actually may make it harder for RAs to accomplish their goals. 

“[The contract] reflects movement away from the focus [of the position] as something that you do as part of the community,” Callery said. 

The second contentious part of the contract is under the “Expectations” section.

“Behavior and attitude, both on and off-campus, should reflect these ideals in ways that have a positive effect on the college community, the department of Student Life, and the reputation and credibility of the RA position,” the contract reads.This clause has made some RAs feel as though they cannot criticize the department without the threat of being removed from the position.

Concurring evidence demonstrates RAs’ concerns with criticizing the college, as four people who currently work for Student Life denied The Lamron’s request to comment, many coming from a place of concern for their job. 

One RA specifically cited New York state’s “fire at will” employment policy which states that organizations do not need to provide a reason to fire most employees.

Student Life had no intention to make students feel threatened, according to Matthews. They instead want to emphasize that criticism should be constructive, not blatantly negative.

“If someone has a concern, if they have an issue, if they want some clarification, they should feel free to come by and see me,” Matthews said.

Callery explained that RAs are either very happy with their position or they exhibit problematic behavior which leads to a polarization of information given to Student Life. This information, however, excludes the people in the middle of those two poles.

One change to RA requirements at the end of the Spring 2018 semester required RAs to stay until after commencement, instead of immediately after finals, according to Espinosa. Some RAs felt that the decision to extend their responsibilities for multiple days was poorly communicated, Espinosa said.

This confusion between Student Life and the RA staff caused negative ramifications for many RAs who had to change prior plans due to the altered date, according to Callery.  

Matthews explained that since the contract dates extend past finals, RAs technically committed to staying that long, even though it was different in previous years.

Despite concerns over contractual changes, Espinosa and others still spoke highly of Student Life and the program. 

“Overall I definitely had a really favorable experience for the two years that I did it,” Espinosa said. 

Some students believe that while RAs can be a great resource, sometimes too much pressure is put on them, according to accounting major sophomore Marc Gull 

“They really need to evaluate the strain they put on RAs,” Gull said. “As for [pressuring] RAs out of extra curriculars and kind of isolating them from social activity, I feel like it really does add that pressure to certain RAs. It can really constrict them socially.”