The University of Connecticut Residential Life informed its residential assistants and senior resident assistants on Feb. 22 of an updated employment end date that would lead to a stipend reduction for those who choose to leave early.
ResLife emailed the residential assistants and senior residential assistants to say their employment end date per their contract ends Monday, May 10. However, for RAs or SRAs who want to change their employment end date to Monday, April 12 – the start of spring break – they may do so at the expense of having their semesterly stipend reduced.
According to four RAs who spoke anonymously to The Daily Campus, they were under the assumption that they would leave campus for spring break in April, mirroring the fall 2020 semester.
All RAs will be referred to by a randomly chosen letter to protect their identity. Resident assistant B said all RAs left campus for Thanksgiving break when all the residential buildings were closed, but they received their full stipend for fall 2020. B said they also lived on campus two weeks prior to the start of classes, resulting in the same number of working weeks in one semester.
For spring 2021, RA B said they were not allowed to return to campus two weeks early, but it was assumed they would leave campus for spring break and receive their regular stipend regardless.
The Daily Campus was able to obtain a copy of the original 2020-2021 contract and the Feb. 22 email through a Freedom of Information Act request. In the original contract, the employment end date is listed as May 11, 2021 at noon for all graduating RAs and those assigned to traditional residence halls, suites, Mansfield Apartments and Husky Village. For compensation, the contract stated that RAs will receive free housing and a stipend of $4,160 for the academic year.
In the Feb. 22 email, it stated RAs and SRAs who fulfill their role through May 10 will receive their full stipend amount. For those who choose the April 12 employment end date, they will receive their final check on May 7.
For the RAs leaving in April, they will have a final spring payment of $1,724.40 instead of $2,255, according to the email. For the SRAs leaving in April, they will have a final spring payment of $2,427.95 instead of $3,175.
The RAs and SRAs have until March 5 to make their decision on whether or not they will stay on campus until May 10 to receive their full stipend, according to the email.
ResLife executives did not respond to The Daily Campus inquiry for comment.
Stephanie Reitz, university spokesperson, said the decision allows both RAs and SRAs to decide if they want to leave campus when classes go fully remote or to stay until the end of the semester.
“This gives them maximum flexibility to choose the schedule that best fits their needs, since some might wish to return home to their families and others might want to remain on campus,” Reitz said. “In both cases, the stipend amount they receive will reflect the time worked.”
The decision is completely voluntary and anyone who chooses to stay will be allowed, Reitz said. They will make their decision known by filling out a Google Form Residential Life sent to all RAs and SRAs.
“No one is mandated to stay or leave against their wishes,” Reitz said.
Reitz said the stipends for the RAs and SRAs who stay on campus until the end of the semester will reflect the work for the additional month.
“Although the on-campus population will be greatly reduced, the stipends for RAs/SRAs who stay on campus will remain at the level they receive when residence halls are more heavily populated and they have a larger workload,” Reitz said.
When asked if ResLife had given scripts to hall directors on how to communicate with RAs in response to this situation, Reitz said ResLife has given hall directors key information.
“ResLife has provided information to hall directors to share with RAs to address their questions,” Reitz said.
“ResLife waited this long to announce this because– with the end dates being a little more than a month away–they knew more people wouldn’t be able to stay.”
However, the four RAs who spoke anonymously to The Daily Campus talked about how they feel about the changed employment end date and stipend reduction for those who chose to leave early. Each RA was not pleased with this decision from ResLife.
Resident assistant A said the stipend change does not properly reflect the extra hours of work required over the course of semester. They said they have had to put in more hours than usual for all sorts of reasons, including staying up late writing incident reports for students breaking COVID-19 guidelines.
“Due to my floor being quarantined, I had to find coverage for several of my duty shifts, and because of that, I now have to make up six shifts for next month,” RA A said. “That is going to take up a lot of my time and focus from my school work. Not only that, we have to be very involved with our residents, which means more floor meetings and more one-on-ones. Which is fine, but again, because they have been increased, it takes a lot of our time up for the day.”
RA A said they have to leave campus on April 12 and take the stipend cut. As a Type 1 Diabetic, they need close access to food and, with several dining halls closing after break, it is not a viable option to stay.
“I know they are going to shut down the dining halls near me, which means I will have to hike to McMahon just to get food, which is not something I want to do,” RA A said. “As a Diabetic, I can’t just eat one meal a day or else I will have a serious medical emergency.”
RA B said ResLife waited too long to make this decision. They said they know some RAs made commitments to their hometown jobs, starting in April, because they were under the assumption they would be home to work these positions.
“Instead of thanking the ra staff for adapting to these changes and continuing to work during a pandemic, Reslife decided to cut our pay even more just because they can.”
“ResLife waited this long to announce this because—with the end dates being a little more than a month away—they knew more people wouldn’t be able to stay,” RA B said. “This just shows RAs and everyone at UConn that ResLife doesn’t care about the well-being of its student workers. A bunch of adults with high-paying powerful positions are taking advantage of 20-something college students because they simply can.”
RA B said they believed this change will make the lives of the RAs who decide to stay even harder as their workload will likely increase. During the semester, RA B had peers who had to cover multiple floors, which inevitably leads to more paperwork. Additionally, fewer RAs leads to more nights on duty, they said.
“Instead of thanking the RA staff for adapting to these changes and continuing to work during a pandemic, ResLife decided to cut our pay even more just because they can,” RA B said.
RA C said this decision would have changed their perspective on taking the role. They said if they had known about this change when making their choice to be an RA, they would not have taken the job.
“If I had known I was going to get paid less for doing more work, I would not have come back as an RA this semester… I’ve never been so close to quitting,” RA C said.
RA D said they lost much of their respect for ResLife after the recent decision to change the RA agreement as they felt they were undervalued. They said they willingly chose to be an RA this year, knowing that COVID-19 would be a constant potential risk.
“If I had known I was going to get paid less for doing more work, I would not have come back as an ra this semester… I’ve never been so close to quitting.”
“That’s the thing—that’s the mindset of a lot of RAs,” said RA D. “Which is why it’s tough when ResLife takes away our paychecks and stuff like that…I feel like they’re putting money over our job, our actual care, and concerns for the success of our residents in our community.”
In addition to reacting about the employment end date, the RAs spoke about the hardships affiliated with working this past year.
RA A said they feel like an outsider to their residents when they do their rounds as they are viewed as someone trying to ruin the fun when they enforce COVID-19 regulations.
“At one point, they wanted us to wear these RA shirts, and I remember wearing it once and having a student, I believe she was drunk at the time, say something like ‘Ooouu look we are going to get in trouble’ in a kind of mocking way,” RA A said. “I definitely did not wear it again.”
RA C echoed this sentiment, stating their residents are split between appreciation for their work and dissatisfaction with RA involvement. They said this is because much of the enforcement of the Temporary Health and Safety Policy falls upon RAs.
“I feel as though I have to be ‘on duty’ whenever I leave my room because most of the THSP enforcement responsibility falls onto RAs,” RA C said. “Half of the students appreciate us holding people accountable, while the other half hate us for spoiling their ‘fun.’”
RA C said another issue has been community involvement. While parents have complained about lack of events for their residents to participate in, RA C said they have had low community engagement all year.
“The department has also received complaints from parents about a lack of opportunities for engagement for students living on campus,” RA C said. “This is extremely frustrating to me because I have had a total of two students show up to my community events all year.”
RA B said ResLife has not given its staff enough direction on how to enforce COVID-19 regulations. The main rules they have noticed that RA have to enforce are wearing a mask and having guests in the dorms.
“Each RA has their own idea of what is worth being written up, so some students might get written up for certain things that others may not,” RA B said. “I tend to err on the side of not writing people up because there are a lot of rules and sometimes a reminder is all that is needed. Some RAs just enjoy flexing their power so they tend to write more people up.”
RA C spoke about how they feel they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their role. They said this comes from a combination of students not wearing masks when opening their dorm’s door and their role in stepping into areas where students are disobeying safety regulations.
“Between students not wearing masks when opening doors and having to enter [dorms] when students are non-compliant, I do feel as though I have an increased likelihood of getting COVID-19,” RA C said.
RA A said their Type 1 Diabetes makes them more susceptible to getting COVID-19. While working, they feel their health is always “a bit at risk.”
“I always get nervous when doing duty rounds as we do have to walk through quarantined floors, therefore I am always scared that I may run into someone or touch something that has COVID-19,” RA A said.
“If we will have our cups half filled … how are we expected to fill the cups of our residents?”
RA D also stated that recently ResLife has been picking up on their lack of resources and said they believe ResLife might have realized the quality of the RA depends on the resources that ResLife provides for them.
They said that ResLife had recently been talking more about creating mental health programs in the past month for RAs, including “focus groups, individual feedback, and certain activities and workshops for RAs.’” These programs have not yet been implemented.
“If we will have our cups half filled … how are we expected to fill the cups of our residents?” RA D said.