Yes All RAs: The mistreatment of Resident Assistants by the University

By:
11/13/2014

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 #242

“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. ”

-RA #566

Personal Safety:

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.”

-RA #333

“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.”

-RA #75

“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.”

-RA #427

“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.”

-RA #558

“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.”

-RA #932

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.”

-RA #868

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22 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Yes All RAs: The mistreatment of Resident Assistants by the University”

  1. Avatar Spen says:

    Keep in mind that these people are being charged almost $60,000 per year for the ‘opportunity’ to be subjected to this misery and disrespect. They may be employees of the university tangentially but they are also customers – something this university consistently seems to forget about student workers and students in general. The fact that the university can fraudulently advertise online and in campus tours that students are treated as humans and given adequate counseling services and then, when students pick Georgetown on account of this information, this stuff can happen and in such a way that students literally fear for their employment status it makes me furious. Georgetown is expensive and every day I wonder if I’m getting correlative value out of it relative to an education at a substantially cheaper state school – these stories aren’t helping me answer that question affirmatively.

    I expected that my tuition and housing fees would include Resident Advisers that are treated in such a way that they can do their jobs and do them well. The Office of Residential Living charges us exorbitant amounts to live on campus in conditions that are squalid relative to the cost of rent – even considering that we are in an expensive neighborhood. They’ve decided to force the class of 2017 onwards to support a department that treats their employees this way for not just two but three years against their will. I’m starting to advise people from my High School to not bother applying to Georgetown – the University does many good things but given the price and the number of things the University does terribly and the absolute lack of culpability this administration offers I’m just waiting to recuperate my sunk costs, pick up my diploma and move on.

  2. Avatar placenta says:

    I understand the value of presenting the harsh realities of the experiences of certain Georgetown students, but if you are going to present an explicit account of clearly traumatic experiences, please consider adding a warning or a trigger warning ahead of the text. I’m asking because this article has definitely set off emotional reactions in myself and other people I know. Respectfully, I understand the right for the press to publish what it wants, but considering what I and others have suffered, I’m asking you to please add a warning. Thank you.

  3. Avatar Thomas Goodman says:

    Please note that these feelings of ambiguity in complex and painful situations are not isolated to Georgetown RAs. As a fellow RA in the district, I face similar conflicts with my RD (resident director/CD) about what my rights are as both student and staff. I am constantly in fear for my position, and feel that my students only suffer as a result.

  4. Avatar Former RA says:

    There’s also the matter of RAs not getting paid. I was an RA my sophomore year and while I had an unbelievably supportive CD and liked the job, I decided not to return because it wasn’t a cost-effective use of my time. I have a fairly large financial aid award, and Georgetown treats RA benefits like an outside scholarship–that is, it replaces 1) family/student contribution up to the Expected Family Contribution, 2) FWS award, 3) Federal Loans, and 4) Georgetown grants.

    Say that the RA benefits amount to about $14,000 and that I have an EFC of $10,000 (not correct, but easy numbers). My financial aid is then made up of $2500 in subsidized loans, $2500 in work-study, and $50,000 in Georgetown grant. Instead of getting that $14,000 deposited to my account, $5000 will replace my subsidized loan and work-study. The rest will replace my grant, so my financial aid award is now made up of $14,000 RA benefits and $41,000 in Georgetown grant. I’m still on the hook for $10,000. Since I’m still going to have to take out loans to cover that, the $2500 in work-study that was replaced is really the only benefit I’ve gotten (other than a better meal plan and the intangible knowledge that I’m helping my fellow students, I guess).

    If Georgetown wants their RAs to be from diverse backgrounds they *cannot* keep doing this. This makes it so that being an RA is a strain on students who come from middle- and lower-class families, and the only people who can comfortably afford to take the job–the only people who are actually getting paid for doing the job–are people who come from wealthy backgrounds.

    Tl;dr? As an RA, I was being paid less than my wealthier peers for the same amount of work. I still had to take out loans to pay for Georgetown even though my RA benefits should have covered the amount that wasn’t taken care of by my scholarship. I’m now living in a MUCH nicer off-campus apartment and working a day job related to my career plans and I haven’t needed to take out loans. That’s not okay.

  5. Avatar Eileen says:

    My son expressed interest in becoming an RA at his Ivy League university, and his two older sisters (both students at the same school) talked him out of it immediately, pointing out the loss of privacy and dirty jobs such as cleaning up vomit at ungodly hours (you don’t wait for a custodian when the vomit in question lands on your shoes, etc.). RAs are overworked and under appreciated as well as compensated poorly.

  6. Avatar Former RA says:

    While these stories are concerning, I do not believe they speak for the majority of RAs or their attitudes toward the Residential Life system.

    Yes, there are risks in being an RA. Yes, they are sometimes placed into vulnerable situations. Yes, they are both resources and liabilities for the University.

    All of this is made clear when applying and accepting the position. There are risks involved in any job, whether it is university-based or not. It is a privilege to be chosen as an RA, as it adds immense value to your resume, provides extremely useful project management and personal cooperative experience, and provides significant financial benefit (the fact that these can replace Financial Aid is well publicized and unavoidable).

    These stories show little evidence of true mistreatment by the Georgetown Residence Life system. We all know there are mental health and sexual assault issues on campus- why would being an RA exempt you from having to face them? You are educated better than most other students on the resources (and lack thereof) around you. If you do not know where to get help- ask. If you can’t handle the time commitment, don’t volunteer.

    I am proud of my time as an RA, and although nothing in the world or campus is perfect, these stories do not reflect the general sentiment of other dedicated and impactful students who have gone before you.

    • Avatar this is shameful says:

      These are stories from 8 members of the current RA staff of roughly 90 students, almost 10 %. That is not just a few disgruntled RAs. And I don’t know what application process you went through, but when I applied to be an RA I was not informed that upon reporting a sexual assault committed against me by a resident, I would face the possibility of losing my job. Maybe I just missed that info session. How can you, an alleged former RA, be so callous to the abuses that the system has committed against your coRAs?

      By the way, these are just the stories of those RAs who were willing to come forward. I personally have several stories of this nature that I reported in incident reports and I know would be traced back to me, so I did not come forward. Perhaps your opinion is not the opinion that speaks to the experiences of the majority of RAs.

      • Actually, the very first paragraph mentions that these are stories from current AND past RAs. I know of RAs who have graduated who were asked to contribute possible anecdotes for this article.

    • Avatar DeerWhitePeople says:

      Sometimes I forget: People blame victims.

    • Avatar @Former RA says:

      “There are risks involved in any job, whether it is university-based or not.”

      There are also laws that demand a university respond appropriately to cases of sexual assault. These RAs are students first, and from these anecdotes, it seems clear that Georgetown is treating them primarily as employees and potential liabilities. If you don’t see why that is outrageous, then you’ve missed the point.

      (Also: The way you brush aside these claims — “If you do not know where to get help- ask.” — is remarkably callous. Would you tell any other victim of sexual assault to just “ask” for help? There are “risks,” and then there are risks. Just because you had no significant troubles as an RA doesn’t mean that others don’t or won’t.)

  7. Avatar I know these issues very well says:

    Former 2 time RA, plus I’ve seen a lot of the university departments in other roles. It’s actually pretty simple: the people who run Res Life are, almost without exception, unbelievably clueless. Some are nice, no doubt. Some make good bulletin boards and others good cookies. But they are uniformly among the last people you would want to go to in any kind of crisis. There is not an ounce of competence in the lot.

    Now for the part the students here won’t like: most of the RAs are not much better. Sometime this is because the wrong people are picked for the role–some folks just shouldn’t be there. Other times this is because training is a colossal waste of time, with more time spent singing songs than learning how to be useful (because, legally, Georgetown really doesn’t want the RAs trying to be useful, since the results won’t be good). I was an RA for several years, and I can count on one hand the number of RAs I would ask for assistance in any kind of messy situation.

    Bottom line: almost everyone involved is part of a glorified phone tree, designed to pass problems off to others, give the illusion of support, and reduce the university’s insurance premiums. Once you start looking as Res Life like Comcast’s customer service, the picture makes a whole lot more sense.

    If you need help, be your own phone tree and call GERMS or GUPD or your chaplain.

  8. Avatar VOR says:

    Regarding RA#333 who allowed a drunk resident to remain in her room for an hour after he entered without permission and then claims sexual assault after he places his hand between her legs – I wonder: “Why did you allow this person to stay in your room?” “Why didn’t you take charge as an RA and say ‘Let’s take this conversation in the hallway?'” “Why did you allow him to join you on the bed and not immediately tell him to leave?”
    If this incident was partially responsible for causing anxiety and depression, then I wonder at your ability to handle the reality of life in the professional world. This incident was certainly a case of unwanted sexual advance, but you need to recognize your actions/inaction were contributing factors.

    I attended a military service academy decades ago. A male student entered in the middle of the night (we couldn’t lock doors back then) and I woke to him fondling my feet (weird fetish). He bolted after my roommates and I screamed and he was never caught. Did I let this cause me anxiety or depression? No. It was unfortunate and yes, I was a bit nervous for a few nights, but you have to move on and be strong. I suggest you do the same.

    • Avatar CAM says:

      Perhaps your right in retrospect that the RA should have handled the situation differently, although I would debate that with you considering that you were not there when the situation unfolded. However, you have no right to tell her (or him btw) that because you were able to “move on and be strong” that someone who experienced more severe and prolonged after effects is wrong or weak. Perhaps your resilience is a by-product of you military experience, and all the more power to you for having it, but everyone processes trauma differently. You have no idea who this RA is and you have no idea about what the RAs experience has been leading up to that event. Being condescending and judgmental of this RA is not only insensitive but victim-blaming. Compassion and understanding, not judgement and dismissiveness should be at the forefront when supporting survivors of sexual assault.

      And I think you are missing the key issue here. RAs should be able to be available to their residents without fearing that they will be sexually assaulted. In my judgment, the RA in this case was attempting to perform their duties. It was the resident in question that crossed every line in this narrative. Just as rape is the fault of the rapist, sexual assault is the fault of the perpetrator, not of the victim, and your comment does not do due justice to that fact.

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