After coming forward about his experience in the Milzman incident last spring in an op-ed in The Hoya, Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) now faces the possibility of immediate dismissal from his position as a Residential Assistant. Although Lloyd’s case is certainly the most publicized account of the mismanagement and mistreatment of RAs, he is not alone. The following stories are accounts written by current and former RAs about their experiences dealing with challenges as diverse as the demands of the RA position to sexual assaults and alleged Title IX violations on behalf of the university. These stories have been anonymized in order to protect both their personal privacy and their jobs.
Terms of Appointment:
As a part of the RA terms of appointment, RAs are subject to requirements including arriving on campus two weeks early and staying until the very last day of finals. These terms of appointment are not only demanding, but also highly inflexible to the personal needs of RAs.
“Before finals of my junior year as an RA, my niece (who lives with my family) had been diagnosed with a serious disease. Her circumstances got incrementally worse, forcing me to arrange my finals in order to get them done so I could leave campus as soon as possible.
“I communicated to my supervisor the trying time that my family was going through and how important it was for me to be home because I hold my family together. As a student from a low income background, I also communicated that the prices of flights were rising everyday. He waited three weeks to give me an answer on whether I could go home sooner. During that time flight prices sky rocketed, my peers agreed for this to be fine, and my niece’s illness got worse.
“My supervisor had no sense of urgency for my circumstance. He blamed everything on the bureaucracy of Res Ed. He disregarded my experience as a low income student and served as a great deal of stress during finals.”
“RA training reflects the underlying treatment and consideration of RAs.They’re expected to be present for official training from early morning until early evening, and then expected to spend the rest of the night in group meetings, working on room inspections, bulletin boards, and door decorations in a timely fashion. From there, the standard of quantitative tasks as a priority over qualitative tasks continues throughout the academic year. It doesn’t matter that the RA has established strong connections for residents and has demonstrated great care and concern for residents. If the RA doesn’t complete a bulletin board change by the due date, then he/she is penalized. If an RA doesn’t respond to an email in a timely fashion, a Community Director may so much as knock on the RA’s room door.
“Is it ever appropriate for your boss to knock on the door to your residence outside the professional environment?
“Residential Living always reassures us that they understand that we are students and have many priorities, yet the sincerity is questionable considering the expectations held of RAs.
“I am also uncomfortable that RAs of freshmen halls, upperclassman dorms, and apartments are responsible of varying numbers of residents are all paid the same, when the workload of each is very, very different. If the pay is indeed going to be the same, then the same standard must be held of all RAs or the standards held of RAs who clearly have bigger professional challenges must be lowered.
“Students are unaware of the tasks unimportant to resident relationships that are expected of RAs. They don’t deserve exhausted and subpar RAs and yet this is the case because the structure of Residential Living forces them to prioritize in a way to keep their jobs. ”
As a part of their roles, RAs are often first responders to students in crises. RAs can expect to encounter issues as serious and diverse as eating disorders, adjustment disorders, homesickness, sexual assault, and suicidal ideation. When RAs themselves experience these personal crises, however, they are not allowed the same protection and sympathy from the university. Because of their roles as university employees, they are treated primarily as legal liabilities to the university, and some RAs even suspect that their decision to come forward with these issues resulted in punitive measures in the hiring process.
“During my first week ever as an RA, I was sexually assaulted by one of my residents. It happened during the first week of training, so only myself and the OAs [Orientation Advisors] had moved into the residence halls. At 3:30 in the morning, I received a knock on my door. It was one of my residents who had just returned from an OA party. He was visibly drunk and asked me for an Advil. I told him to wait a second and I went to retrieve the medicine from my desk. When I turned around I saw that he had taken it upon himself to enter my room without permission. He sat down on my desk chair and talked to me for almost an hour while I sat on my bed, the only other place in the room where I could have sat down. I thought that by sitting up with him, I was doing my duty as an RA by making sure he was okay. At one point in the conversation, I shifted my position on the bed. He took that as an invitation to join me. After he sat down on my bed we continued chatting for a few minutes when suddenly he stuck his hand between my legs and started rubbing my inner thigh. I panicked and told him to leave the room. Frankly, I was lucky he did. We were the only two people on the floor, and if he had decided he did not want to leave, I have no idea what could have happened that night.
“I never officially reported the assault because I did not want to start any trouble. After hearing the stories of my fellow RAs who experienced indirect punitive measures in the rehiring process as a result of reporting incidents of sexual assault, I am glad that I never officially reported the incident. If I didn’t have this job, I would not be able to pay tuition.
“Despite not reporting the incident, I was still not completely saved from the injustices that the university commits against its student workers. Partially as a result of this incident, I developed depression and acute anxiety disorder. I was on the verge of taking a medical leave of absence. Throughout this time, my CD [Community Director] was one of my primary confidants. He sold himself as a resource for emotional support. He said he was there for me, and I believed him. When it came time to rehire me, however, I suddenly learned that I may not receive an appointment offer. ResLife slapped me with an Action Plan, which included attending therapy to work through my issues. The Action Plan—the terms I had to meet in order to be rehired—actually mandated me not only to go to therapy, but to make regular progress there.”
“After bringing concerns to my CD that I was being stalked by a student, I received no help, but did receive an RA evaluation that said I was disrespectful of the lifestyles of some residents and that I was insufficiently available to them.”
“I was sexually assaulted by one of my residents the first weekend of the school year. I told one of my co-RAs, who, out of a place of care, urged me to come forward to my Community Director. So I did. I didn’t know where this was going to go when I told my CD, I just felt like I should tell someone with authority. I was never informed of my resident’s or my own rights regarding sexual assault. From there, it went straight to the head of the department, and suddenly I was being told that I’d probably be removed from my job. GUPD was allegedly brought in to conduct an investigation, but I was never asked if I wanted them to be involved and still don’t know what information was divulged to them and how exactly they responded. For several weeks I didn’t know whether or not I would be fired, which along with having serious mental and emotional consequences also significantly affected my financial situation.
“My only channel of communication was my CD, who ultimately fought for me to stay on the staff. No one higher up than my CD ever tried to set up a meeting with me and I was too distressed at the time to realize that that was odd. Eventually, I was allowed to keep my job as an RA on the condition that I submitted to counselling. While talking to someone was helpful, the way it was mandated on me made me feel humiliated and like I was somehow responsible for what happened to me. No one ever asked me how I was feeling in the aftermath of the assault. The only question I was ever asked was why I allowed myself to be alone in my room with a man in the first place. I was instructed to never be alone in my room with a resident ever again unless the door was open.
“I suffered debilitating anxiety attacks in the months following the assault, and became afraid to ask for help pertaining to issues I faced as an RA. When I re-applied to be an RA for the next year, I explicitly wrote in my placement preference essay that there were two communities in which I would feel unsafe working. I was placed in one of those areas. I think this was their way of trying to phase me out. It worked. I didn’t accept my appointment for the following year.”
“During RA training this year we had four hours of Title IX training. I know all about how to report an assault as long as it’s a resident or friend who’s been assaulted. No one said anything about what to do if one of us in our capacity as an RA was assaulted. I don’t know whether I’m guaranteed equal protection as an employee of this university. I don’t know my own rights. It makes me very, very scared.”
“I had a resident with a severe eating disorder that was so apparent it was impacting the lives of the other residents, something that RAs are not trained to deal with. I felt that no one supported me during this time; the other residents took their frustration about the situation out on me because it was not being ‘solved,’ and my community director offered no suggestions about what could be done, other than to give the resident’s name to CAPS and to those responsible in Residential Living. No one asked me, not even once, how I was dealing with the stress of what was a very scary, on-going situation. The truth is that I ended up turning to CAPS myself, and went to therapy there for several months because I needed to feel that someone had an interest in my well-being. It’s important not to forget that RAs are people, too. The issue was never resolved and the resident was never helped.”
RAs are People too:
“RAs are among the most valuable members of the campus community, yet they are not treated as such. Lloyd is just one of many RAs who have incurred personal trauma as a result of their position and he is also one of many RAs who have been silenced by the institutional apparatus of the university. It is time for change. It is time for the voices of student workers to be heard.
“I am a university employee. There is no getting around that. But I am still a student of this school. I am still a person. I am not a number, I am not a legal liability. I am a human being, and I deserve respect.”