March 10, 2023 | NEWS | By Michael Braithwaite, Co-Editor-In-Chief
Housing at Colorado College has long been a contentious and stress ridden process for some CC students.
For underclassmen, trying to navigate the ‘housing lottery’ can be difficult, and leave many confused and concerned about their ability to choose where they live next year. For upperclassmen, the desire to find affordable housing near campus can lead to many roommates living in horrid conditions, with landlords who couldn’t care less about the plights of their tenants.
However, for Resident Advisors at CC, the housing process looks vastly different. Compared to other students, RAs don’t have as much authority over where they will live in a given year. They can list which areas on campus they would prefer to be placed in, but it is ultimately up to the Residential Life Coordinators to decide.
While RAs are students who live and work in the building which they are placed, RLCs are full-time staff members who oversee housing in different areas of campus. The student RAs answer to the staff RLCs, who not only decide where RAs get placed every year, but also create and maintain housing rules and regulations for each building.
Up until last year, the RLCs’ process for placing upperclassmen RAs was largely based on seniority. Rising senior RAs could count on being placed in more ‘desirable’ locations such as the Western Ridge and East Campus apartments, due in large part to their class status.
However, last year, leadership changes led to current RLCs Gil Vaught and Angela Lowe assuming the position of deciding RA placements. As they took on their new roles, Vaught and Lowe decided to make some changes to the RA placement system.
In that process of altering the system, Vaught and Lowe decided that instead of giving rising senior RAs more preferable housing based solely on their class, they would begin placing more emphasis on developing more cohesive ‘teams’ of RAs that featured ranges in experience and ability to deal with different situations. This way, upperclassmen RAs would be placed in buildings and within teams that would highlight their strengths, rather than just the buildings that they wanted to be placed in.
“Speaking as a whole, the committee approach has been really about intentionality and finding a way to find an RA that fits the community, but also an RA, as an individual in a collective, [who] fits within a team dynamic,” said Vaught.
However, when the placements came out last year, the rising senior RAs were unaware of this change in placement philosophy.
“Some senior RAs were placed in Mathias last year because they were supposedly good at their jobs, and that’s why [Vaught and Lowe] wanted them to return to the freshman dorms,” said a junior RA, who preferred to stay anonymous for fear of administrative backlash. “It’s been a whole mess because everyone thought it was based on seniority and then it wasn’t, and then they felt screwed over on their housing.”
Despite how some students felt, this change was far from random. When Lowe and Vaught assumed their positions, they analyzed the current process and found it to be ineffective at producing the cohesive teams they desired and led to rising senior RAs becoming complacent in their positions. Senior RAs had a “holier than now” mindset, and expected to be placed in a prime housing location regardless of how well they could actually work in that area.
Students have observed this trend as well.
“I’ve heard it put that people look at the East Campus Apartments, for instance, as like ‘mean girl retirement community,’” said Jeremy Cashion ‘24. “Obviously, you don’t want that to be how the role is received. You don’t just want to send all the seniors to RA retirement homes on East Campus.”
The shift from the seniority system has resulted in far less clarity for upperclassmen RAs as to where they may be living for their last year of college. Like numerous other RAs, Cashion’s future in the program has been impacted by this change – he has already found affordable housing off-campus and admitted that he will likely decline his placement for next year.
“There’s both pros and cons to being a senior and being an RA,” said Cashion. “This is a big reason that I’m leaning towards stepping out of the role – I want to pursue other leadership opportunities, I want to experience having roommates in college. That kind of thing makes being an RA in fourth year hard.”
As the process to decide where senior RAs get placed has become more ambiguous with the change in placement philosophy, Cashion has become less enthusiastic about the potential reality of living in the first-year dorms as a senior student. Points of concern included sharing common areas, providing constant emotional support, and being the go-to person for as many as 40 first-year students.
“I was in South [Hall], my first year as an RA, and it was hell,” said Cashion. “This year I’m in Bemis [Hall] … it’s mostly juniors. Nobody needs me, maybe besides like ‘hey, I hear a beeping outside my room – what do I do about it?’”
According to Lowe and Vaught, having upperclassmen in underclassmen dorms is vital to the functionality of these teams.
“When I’m thinking of selecting a team for first-year students, I think there’s a lot of value in having a junior, a senior in a first-year hall because of the mentorship,” said Vaught. “The institutional knowledge and social capital that they can bring to first-year students, they could likewise relate to upper divisional students.”
However, on a campus where a student’s graduation year is so closely intertwined with where they live, it can be difficult for RAs to come to terms with the fact that their placements follow a completely different philosophy.
“It’s a weird dynamic cause I really do understand how they do it, and I understand that they just want to build the most effective team possible,” said the junior RA. “But then it’s also hard as the student who’s saying ‘okay, this is my housing and my financial aid up in your hands.’ For someone like me where housing is my safe space and if I don’t have that safe space, I don’t feel comfortable… I need that.”
“I get it. If they’re trying to build a team, they’re trying to get stuff set, you know, established as part of ‘this is how the role is done,” said Cashion. “But yeah, it sucks.”
Moreover, some students feel as if their housing preferences are no longer heard by leadership, and that the RLCs are now more concerned with building compatible teams than placing the RAs where they want to live. Additionally, concerns remain that the new system has the potential drawback of “rewarding” good a upperclassmen RA’s performance with a placement in a first-year dorm. According to current RAs, there were multiple examples this year of underclassmen RAs receiving placements in apartment housing and upperclassmen RAs being placed in first-year dorms.
“They talk all about the well-being of RAs all the time, like [how] we are people first and then RAs second,” said the junior RA. “Sometimes, the placement process makes it feel like, okay, we’re giving you all these opinions and then you’re not taking them. That’s not putting the person first, that’s putting the RA first.”
Lowe and Vaught understand the desire for many upperclassmen RAs to live in apartment housing, but also point out that there simply just is not enough space in those areas for all the RAs who would like to live in them.
“It becomes very much just a number game,” said Lowe. “I have five apartments in my area, East Campus has, I believe, six: a total of 11, this year out of 60-ish RA positions. This year, we had 35 returner applicants, which is phenomenal, and we love to see it. But, just looking at the numbers, not all 35 are going to fit in 11 apartments.”
While some RAs could turn down placements that they would prefer not to live in, others, who are reliant on the position for financial reasons, simply do not have the flexibility to have a say in where they live.
The lack of on-campus housing options for senior students has had major ramifications on the placement of upperclassmen RAs. According to Cashion, numerous seniors early in the year expressed interest in becoming RAs simply for having a secure, on-campus living option for their senior year.
However, for existing upperclassmen RAs, the lack of other on-campus living options has put far more importance on their placements for senior year. While some RAs may have the financial flexibility to turn down an unpreferred placement, others who rely on the position for the financial benefits it provides do not have the same luxury.
“As a rising senior, it’s really stressful because I don’t have any other housing options,” said the anonymous junior RA. “I cannot say no to the position that they offer.”
Placements for the 2023-2024 school year come out today: Friday, March 10. For many RAs, it will be an exciting time where they will begin to connect with the other members of their team that they will be working with next year.
However, for some upperclassmen, it will be a time filled with anxiety, stress, and frustration, where one’s performance as an RA, as well as the connections they’ve made with RLCs, will be put to the ultimate test.
“You’re kind of forced into this position where, like, wherever they place you, you’re at their mercy,” said the junior RA. “They have conversations with us about like where do you want to be placed… at the end of the day, you don’t really have a ton of control over it.”