Changes to RA position undervalue students

Being a resident adviser is not just designing bulletin boards and putting name tags on doors. RAs must be mediators, mentors and leaders for everyone on their floor, but soon they will no longer be paid real money to do their job and they will be forced to take on addition responsibilities.

The University announced changes to the RA job description recently that will add duties like serving occasional overnight “on-call” shifts and conducting community rounds. The new agreement also changes the logistics of the job by paying them in GWorld instead of a stipend and assigning some students roommates.

While some of the changes help alleviate problems – like boosting the number of RAs so each residence hall has adequate coverage – the new job description shows that the University does not value RAs by failing to give them appropriate pay and accommodations.

RAs will be asked to perform 12-hour on-call shifts next academic year where they will be the primary point of contact for their residence hall. This change might be better for some students like first-year students who typically utilize their RA more often. But it is questionable whether this will actually be beneficial for older students or RAs who are placed in upperclassmen residence halls. Asking RAs to disrupt their sleep schedules and take long shifts where they are required to be awake and patrolling the community is an excessive request – especially considering these students aren’t even being paid real wages.

Paying RAs with just a meal plan is unacceptable. While the majority of GW’s peer schools compensate RAs with meal plans and do not provide stipends, that is not a standard the University should aspire to meet. GWorld isn’t an appropriate payment because it restricts students to expensive restaurants in Foggy Bottom. Especially on an urban campus, students have other expenses like travel and bills, but furthermore, students should have the flexibility to use their wages however they wish, just like they would at any other job.

Paying RAs in GWorld money will likely deter some students from applying to or accepting the job. Some students need real cash to pay for things like books, tuition and other bills, so this change also limits who is able to work as an RA.

Students will also lose one of the largest perks of the RA job. Most students apply to be an RA expecting to live by themselves, but under the new agreement, some will be assigned roommates. While this change will largely just make the job less attractive, it could also affect RAs’ ability to do their job because they no longer have a private place to meet with their residents.

This is not the first time the University has undermined the concerns of RAs. RAs started a push to become the first unionized student group at a private university in 2016, but the University challenged their statement by appealing to the National Labor Relations Board. Despite the NLRB ruling that RAs should have collective bargaining rights, unionization efforts abruptly stalled when the local labor group that was set to lobby on behalf of RAs pulled out at the last minute.

But despite students nearly having the chance to collectively bargain in their position, the University changed the RA agreement just last year to eliminate the term “employees,” making some RAs feel that administrators made the change with the intent of preventing unionization efforts. It is concerning that the University continues to move further away from treating RAs as employees and instead is asking them to take on more responsibilities while providing them with fewer benefits.

If the University wants students to behave as employees, they must treat them as employees. Bumping the number of responsibilities RAs have would not be out of line if the students were paid real wages, but students cannot be forced to work like employees without being treated like them.

Not only are some of these changes detrimental to students, but springing them on individuals who applied to the job under different expectations is unfair.

The University is heavily dependent on RAs. These students are there almost all hours of the day in order to help students on a day-to-day basis. It is concerning that the University would put such a large responsibility on resident advisers’ shoulders without even paying them with real money.

RAs play a vital role on campus, especially for first-year and transfer students, but the University continuously fails to acknowledge these students and value their work. Not only should administrators take RAs seriously, but RAs must do everything they can to remind administrators that the University needs them.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, contributing social media director Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Lindsay Paulen.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.