Staff Editorial: Proposed class for resident advisers points to broader issues

Media Credit: Cartoon by Daniel Kim

Recently, GW heard from a group of students on campus that doesn’t normally make much noise: resident advisers.

After proposing a class for RAs last month, the Center for Student Engagement received enough pushback to delay the plan. Now, the class isn’t expected to come to fruition until the spring of 2017, giving both students and officials time to decide how to make a class for RAs valuable.

GW’s sudden impulse to change RAs’ responsibilities leaves us wondering whether RAs are being adequately compensated and valued for the amount of work on their plates. Already, they’re required to attend weekly meetings, host programming for their residents and act as an on-call resource for students on their floor. RAs are meant to be the first line of defense – the first ones students turn to when they have a problem. And since the University has shifted its focus to mental health and sexual assault prevention in recent years, an RA’s job has become increasingly important.

Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller, who oversees RAs, said that RAs take part in two orientations in the spring after they’re hired, two weeks of training in August, four residential forums, three all-staff forums and two days of training in January.

That’s a lot of training on top of RAs’ weekly obligations. If the CSE wants to add yet another responsibility to every RA’s checklist, officials need to reevaluate how much work these students do – and how that compares to the benefits they receive in return. Sure, they’re given free housing and a stipend, but how much an RA makes should be dependent on what residence hall they’re assigned.

Contractually, RAs’ responsibilities are likely standardized across the board. But the day-to-day tasks and challenges each RA faces are extremely different. Those working in Thurston Hall, for example, deal with rowdy freshmen who are away from home for the first time and may have to lean more heavily on their RAs for support. RAs in upperclassmen residence halls like Shenkman or South halls oversee experienced students who are likely more stable and less of a handful than freshmen.

University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt did not return request for comment on how the pay scale for RAs is currently set up. But because of their larger workload, it would make sense if RAs who work with freshmen and sophomores were paid more than those who work with juniors or seniors.

Miller said that RAs work an average of 20 hours per week, and how that “time is used varies per community, time of year and RA.”

While 20 hours may be “the average,” it’s a deceptive number. Since an RA is responsible for the students on his or her floor, he or she has to be almost constantly available to help them – especially if those students are freshmen. That 20 hours doesn’t account for unexpected situations on top of daily duties: waking up in the middle of the night to break up a party or spending a few extra hours solving a roommate conflict. Giving an average also hides the fact that some RAs may spend much less time dealing with their residents.

A new type of training, like a formal class, may very well be necessary to make sure that RAs are equipped to do their job, especially since they’re interacting directly with students who need their help. But it seems like GW proposed the class without warning and without asking RAs for their input, which was a bad way to begin the conversation.

Given the importance of an RA’s job, changes to the position’s requirements shouldn’t be made haphazardly. It’s strange that GW would propose this class without being able to disclose any details about what material it would cover, or how the credits of the class would fit within the average student’s credit maximum. The University needs to recognize that while RAs are employees, they’re also students. And that should come first.

Because there aren’t any details about the course, it’s difficult to say whether it would be useful. But for now, it seems that since RAs’ daily tasks vary so much, it doesn’t make sense to place them all in a standardized class, either – especially if that class were to focus on training.

In a hall like Thurston, RAs probably need more hands on training on how to break up parties, deal with homesickness and coordinate with the University Police Department. However, an RA in South Hall may spend less time doling out punishments and more time offering career or study-abroad advice to their upperclassmen residents. Because no two RA experiences are the same, there’s no way to standardize a class for an ever-changing position.

The University needs to recognize that every RA has a different job with different needs. It’s good that officials realized their error in suddenly adding a mandatory class to the RA job description, but the CSE needs to get a better grasp on how much RAs do before it moves ahead any further.

It’s time for GW to seriously reconsider how much it really knows about the daily life of an RA, along with how hard it’s willing to push some of its hardest-working students.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with managing director Rachel Smilan-Goldstein, design editor Samantha LaFrance and copy editor Brandon Lee.

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