Mar 12, 2021 | NEWS | By Will Funk | Photo by Anil Jergens
At colleges and universities across the country, Resident Advisors (RAs) are speaking out against COVID-19 protocols that have put working students in an especially vulnerable position during the pandemic — and Colorado College is no exception.
67 current and former RAs wrote and signed a letter addressed to Acting Co-Presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert Moore, along with the Acting Dean of Students, Rochelle Dickey, expressing grievances over the school’s treatment of RA staff during COVID-19.
All RAs interviewed for this article have been granted anonymity out of concern for their future employment status.
“RAs have been especially disrespected and taken advantage of throughout this past school year,” said one RA who wished to remain anonymous. “Having to deal with unclear guidelines, panicked students, impromptu quarantines … all with no additional pay.”
In articles published in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and Tufts Daily, RAs at The University of Maryland, Boston University and Tufts University have all drafted letters expressing grievances to school administrations over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
As essential workers who help to ensure the financial success of these institutions, RAs express that they have received neither ample recognition nor compensation for their unique struggle this school year. According to an anonymous source, CC has yet to indicate that the Residential Experience staff will receive COVID-19 vaccinations in the near future.
Only two out of the six Residential Life Coordinators (RLCs) who started the 2020-2021 school year at CC remain at their positions, said another anonymous RA. Even the current Director of the Residential Experience, Bethany Grubbs, has taken a leave of absence since first semester and has yet to rejoin the Residential Experience staff.
In place of Grubbs, Edwin Hamada, the current Assistant Vice President for the Residential Experience, has stepped up to take charge of the RA and RLC staff. With a limited amount of time to adjust to the position, however, the same anonymous source told The Catalyst that in certain situations, Hamada “hasn’t known how to respond.”
One of the first challenges Hamada tackled at the director position was an overhaul of the previous payment method for the RA staff. According to an anonymous source, the school has typically paid RAs with a stipend; however, after a recent state policy alteration, the school was required to shift to direct deposit. The result of this switch initially underpaid RA staff a significant margin, “around $1,200” per person, during the height of the Big Three (South, Loomis, Mathias) lockdowns, students alleged.
According to the same anonymous source, the conditions during a full-dorm lockdown have been less than desirable. On top of the typical obligations, RAs locked down in one of the Big Three were required to facilitate outdoor time for their hall, keep students masked and distanced in common areas and provide vital mental health support. As for dining, one source has reported: “Bon Appetit tried the whole bag thing — it was gross. Just soggy food with no options.”
In addition to expressing grievances with the school’s response to COVID-19, the RA community’s main intention for the letter was to shed light on former RLC, James Ebben. The letter called out the blatant disregard for the safety and vulnerability of the RA staff this year by hiring James Ebben (they/them/theirs) to be the RLC of Old Town.
According to the letter, “five out of seven of the members of the hiring committee expressed concern regarding Ebben’s answers to interview questions and perceived Ebben to lack the qualifications necessary for the position.” The letter pointed to diversity, equity and inclusion questions as the main point of contention for the hiring committee. However, the school proceeded to hire Ebben for the 2020-2021 school year.
The allegations brought forth against Ebben in the letter are described as “sexist, racist and discriminatory in nature” — in line with the portents offered by the hiring process.
In a statement made to The Catalyst and signed by Rochelle Dickey, Edwin Hamada, Associate Vice President of Administrative Services Barbara Wilson, and Human Resources employee Laurie Mozingo, the administration affirmed their commitment to protect the RA community. The statement indicated that James Ebben has been removed from the school and the investigations brought forth against them are under way.
As for the future of our essential student workers, the administration has indicated that they are willing to “talk about structural changes moving forward, including a re-examination of the RA compensation plan.”
March 8 marked the beginning of RA appreciation week.
One of our anonymous RAs indicated that “In the end, I think it is important to remember that RAs are still just students trying to navigate the online college environment during a pandemic. We are just doing the best we can to lead, build community, and take care of one another.” James Ebben did not respond to multiple requests for comment.