Jaden Hawkinson, a beloved Mathias Residential Advisor, quit his job just before winter break, illuminating frustrations with residential life that started amongst RAs long before his resignation.
Although Residential Life prides itself on creating an open space for RAs to express their thoughts about the program, a few instances within the last couple of years indicate that some RAs feel that their voices and feedback are not being heard or used effectively.
The conflicting testimonies of frustrated RAs and members of the higher-up residential staff indicate that there is at least some fissure in communication and the translation of complaints into actions within the current system.
Hawkinson started his career in Residential Life as a sophomore. After building a meaningful relationship with his freshman year RA, he felt inspired to become one himself. Hawkinson was an RA his sophomore year, and as a result of some unusually fast turnover within the RLC community (there have been four RLCs in the past three years in Mathias), he did not have an RLC. “The building ran well without an RLC, and that was actually one of the least stressful times to be an RA,” said Hawkinson.
Although Hawkinson described predominately positive experiences with residential life his sophomore year, first semester of this year, he began to encounter frustrations. There were two events that prompted Hawkinson’s resignation. “The first issue had to do with a weird flooding problem in my room,” he said. “I notified them about the problem as soon as I could, and the maintenance staff took care of everything no problem.”
However, issues arose when Hawkinson sought reimbursement for his ruined items. “When it came to getting money for doing all my laundry and replacing the speakers and rug, they were saying they would reimburse me,” said Hawkinson. “I told my RLC that this had happened, and they were going to look into it. I got really busy with school, but when I checked back in with them, they said that they couldn’t do anything and they hadn’t realized what a serious issue it was. I think that they meant well, but I didn’t see the words backed up with actions.” Hawkinson was eventually reimbursed, but not until after winter break. This was the first frustration for Hawkinson.
The second came while he was planning an event to Denver for his Living Learning Community, Spirit of Nonviolence. “I needed to change the budget, and they got very hesitant. I emailed them again, saying that I needed an answer so that I could get the proper forms in, and Sara Rotunno (Assistant Director for Residential Life) never responded to my emails, and the trip didn’t happen,” said Hawkinson. “It seems to me that from a customer service standpoint, that’s just not how it should work.”
Issues amongst RAs with the level of communication in Residential Life did not start with Hawkinson. Jorge Rivera, a senior who quit his job as an RA about a year ago. “I decided not to continue being an RA because of the way Residential Life and Housing operates in terms of policies towards student and staff,” said Rivera.
For Rivera, frustrations started when he disagreed with some of the policies created by higher-ups in residential life. “There was now supposed to be substance-free programming on Friday nights, and there were some other new requirements,” said Rivera. “I sought venues to express my discontent, but they were unsuccessful. In my experience, Residential Life has a tendency to talk a lot and use the phrase ‘I know where you’re coming from’ as a means of deflecting the problem.”
The next big concern had to do with the terminating of the Bemis desk and how hours, pay, and work would be redistributed amongst the OTLH RAs. “There was a big concern about the number of hours the RAs were supposed to work and how much it matched their pay, as work from the removal of the Bemis desk was absorbed,” said Rivera. “I led the negotiations for the staff and was in contact with some other RAs. We were arguing that there needed to be a fair distribution of house and monetary compensation needed to reflect time working.” Rivera was told to talk to Sara Rotunno.
Zak Kruger, RLC in Loomis hall, mentioned that the closing of the Bemis desk was helpful but problematic. He said in an email, “This [the Bemis desk closing] fixed some issues, but has created others. We are working on fixing some of those, and will hopefully have a much smoother system next year.”
“We would have meetings with her [Rotunno], but essentially nothing changed,” said Rivera. “She would take notes at the meetings, and there was an evaluation of the staff, but the results were never released.”
Rivera also mentioned that he got the impression that Residential Life felt as though money was no incentive for being an RA, and that at times RAs were asked to work for Summer Conferences in some instances, which was not mentioned anywhere in the RA contracts.
“There was also a lot of frustration amongst RLCs, who tended to blame their discontent on the higher up,” he said.
Rivera also mentioned that he believes that RA salaries and raises should be tied to increases in tuition. “RA salaries haven’t been touched in years, and many RAs don’t even see the money because it goes straight into their tuition,” said Rivera. Kroger mentioned in his email that he believed that RA salaries at CC are on par with those of other colleges.
Although Rivera certainly has his qualms with Residential Life, he said he wouldn’t necessarily discourage anyone from taking the job. “The RA community itself is great, and it can be a crucial form of income,” said Rivera. “But every possible positive aspect of the job is unrelated to the bureaucratic system.”
Although Hawkinson and Rivera have certainly found frustration in the residential life system, many RLCs and Rotunno herself express that there is room for RAs to communicate and express their thoughts throughout the system.
Rotunno said in an email, “We love to hear feedback from RAs and RLCs. I am always open to thoughts and ideas and seeing if there are ways that we can incorporate those into what we do!” Although Rivera and Hawkinson express their frustration at the department’s communication, Rotunno says that the department’s three priorities are “building relationships, being influential, and being intentional.”
Kroger also cites blockly meetings between RAs and Rotunno as a method for increasing communication. “Things that we can change, we try to,” he said in an email. “My job here is to help students, and I try to do that any way I can.”
Mathias RLC Taja Werner has been happy with the communication between members of residential life staff. “We invest a lot of time in our RAs because we know how essential they are,” she wrote in an email. “The RLC and RA relationship is developed constantly through training, one-on-one meetings, programming, staff meetings, and team building.”
Kroger also mentioned that Residential Life tries to pay attention to how other schools run their residential life departments. “Often, we are just the same [as other schools],” he wrote. “Granted, that doesn’t mean its right, but it does seem to suggest that everyone is on the same page.”
Kroger feels as though CC Res Life recognizes his opinions. “My ideas are listened to here, and then often followed through on, which is one of the reasons I like CC so much.”
Werner also says that Residential Life is very interested in feedback from RAs and residents. “The RAs are provided opportunities to provide feedback and insight through their weekly reports, annual evaluations, blockly assessments, and regular meetings with their RLC,” she wrote. “All members of Res Life are open to feedback, and we all try to work together to provide the best experience for every student.”