Officials overhaul resident adviser agreement

Media Credit: File Photo by Graeme Sloan | Contributing Photo Editor

Thurston Hall will receive one additional RA next year as officials prepare to renovate the residence hall, but administrators plan to increase the number of RAs in the building once the upgrades are complete.

Updated: March 28, 2019 at 6:46 p.m.

The University plans to implement a series of changes to its resident adviser program next year, adding dozens of new RAs, offering students GWorld funds instead of stipends and assigning roommates to some advisers.

Under a new resident adviser agreement dispersed last week, RAs will also take on added responsibilities, like serving “on-call” shifts overnight about once every two months, conducting community rounds and completing an eight-week online training over the summer. Officials said the updates will align GW more closely with peer institutions that integrate RAs’ roles more directly in student life and help them relate to their residents.

“When you’re trying to be a role model and peer leader, the more fundamental things that are similar between you and those who you’re trying to be leading, the more you’re going to be able to relate to them,” Stewart Robinette, the assistant dean of residential engagement, said.

The new agreement pays RAs in dining dollars, giving $3,050 for students with an in-unit kitchen and $4,750 for those without a kitchen in their room or on their floor. Currently, RAs receive a biweekly stipend totaling $2,500 for RAs with an in-unit kitchen and $3,000 for RAs without one over the academic year.

Robinette said placing RAs on GWorld will ensure that students do not have to worry about paying for meals and will enable them to help their residents budget because they also understand the meal plan. Unlike their current paychecks, RAs’ pay on GWorld is also non-taxable, officials said.

“This is a position where you’re going to be able to build a community with your classmates, with things that you should find fun, experiences and other stuff, and that you should be doing anyhow, but also put you in a position where you don’t have to worry about your housing and you know where your meals are coming from,” he said.

Robinette said officials plan to hire 27 additional RAs, bringing down the ratio of residents to RAs from about one to 50 in first-year halls and one to 70 in upperclassman halls to about one to 35 across first-year buildings and one to 56 in upperclassman halls. The increase will help bring GW up to par with its peer institutions, he said.

All resident advisers will also have a maximum of two floors that they are responsible for, he said.

He added that Thurston Hall will only receive one additional RA next year as officials prepare to renovate GW’s largest freshman residence hall, but administrators plan to increase the number of RAs in the building once the upgrades are complete.

Under the new agreement, RAs will also be required to complete “on-call” shifts, meaning the advisers will be available between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. for residents in need of late-night assistance. During their on-call period, which will occur about once every eight weeks depending on the number of RAs in a building, advisers will be required to complete “community rounds” twice, checking on facilities and ensuring residents are safe.

Robinette said the new responsibilities could help residents forge personal relationships with their peers, who would turn to them in times of need instead of an unknown GW Police Department officer or other officials.

“When you’re on your floor, you’re probably going to knock on some of your resident’s doors you haven’t heard from lately just to check in and make sure they’re doing OK, but the rest of the building, it’s really to make sure nothing is out of sorts,” he said.

The revisions come after years of changes to the RA position. After a group of RAs pushed forward a failed attempt to unionize in 2016, officials revisited the RA agreement, deciding to call the students “leaders” instead of “employees” and softening some work requirements.

Seth Weinshel, the assistant dean of housing and financial services, said RAs living in Shenkman and Amsterdam halls will also be assigned roommates as part of a pilot program next academic year. Officials said the change responds to some RAs’ requests to pick their roommates and will help RAs relate to their residents.

RAs with roommates will develop more “robust” roommate agreements than other residents and will rely on their area coordinator for additional support, Weinshel said.

“It’s a pilot,” Weinshel said. “Like most things, we’re going to be reviewing it on a regular basis.”

But RAs, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the University, said the added responsibilities may force RAs to work more than the 20 hours currently required of them each week. They said taking away their stipend prevents them from paying for items other than meals, and mandating that they patrol residence halls could make RAs seem like an extension of GWPD.

One RA on the Foggy Bottom Campus, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the University, said they were “shocked” by the decision to assign some RAs with roommates because they would lack their own space away from residents.

“I thought the logic of it was really warped, and the way they tried to frame it was, ‘Oh, all RAs have expressed the idea of having roommates,’” they said.

The RA added that they wanted to receive GWorld dollars in addition to receiving a stipend because they often run out of money before their paycheck comes in every two weeks.

“They’re asking for a higher commitment, and I want to dedicate my time because I do love this job,” they said. “However, I cannot dedicate all my time to it, and I may have to take a second job so I can pay for all these other expenses.”

Another RA, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the University, said several RAs “feel really disempowered” by the changes because they have voiced concerns to officials over roommate assignments and staying on call. She said the latter responsibility could hurt students’ relationships with RAs because they will take on a responsibility typically assigned to a GWPD officer.

“In the summer, they told us the role of the RA isn’t to necessarily do rounds because your role is to support students in a non-judicial way,” she said. “This new role will mean that we do have that responsibility.”

The RA added that while officials acknowledged that RAs’ current paycheck does not cover the cost of eating in Foggy Bottom, the new plan takes away RAs’ ability to use the stipend for other expenses, like cell phone bills.

“I don’t necessarily appreciate that the solution to that was, ‘We’ll just give them GWorld,’ because that doesn’t feel as tangible as compensation as receiving a paycheck does,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like my work is as dignified as being real work.”

But junior Oscar Barrios, an RA in Cole Hall, said allowing Shenkman and Amsterdam RAs to have roommates is a “great idea” because he sometimes feels isolated in a single room. He said the changes to the role are “enticing” because he will have extra money to purchase meals on GWorld.

“I told everybody that I talked to about it that I am excited for next semester since I don’t have to worry that much about, ‘Oh I can’t eat that much today,’ or, ‘I reached my daily balance today,’” he said.

Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the addition of resident advisers would bring the ratio of RAs to residents to about one to 35 in most residence halls. Freshman halls will have a ratio of roughly one to 35, but upperclassman halls will have a ratio of roughly one to 56. We regret this error.

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