From being a confidant on their respective floors to putting on various educational and interactive programs, the Resident Assistants of Seattle University are dedicated to fulfilling their responsibilities and building community. However, since the start of the 2015-2016 school year, many have felt that concerns about the heavy toll of their work have been ignored.
The pressure and frustration of not being heard built throughout this past fall quarter resulting in a coalition of more than thirty RAs coming together.
The group of RAs composed a letter that explained why they feel the Department of Housing and Residence Life has exploited them. The letter also detailed a list of demands the RAs expected from current and future professional staff, with attached personal testimonies on accounts of mistreatment they had experienced.
“Resident Directors need to be able to provide sincere gesture for support, acting by their own volition to create a safe and open space for their RAs,” and “Resident Directors must understand professionalism and be able to fulfill the specific administrative requirements of this position” were included in the list of demands.
On Friday, Dec. 11, a large group of those involved with the letter and those who wanted to stand in solidarity filed into Director of Housing and Residence Life Kathleen Baker’s office, and read the letter aloud.
“When [the RAs] were done reading I think my first response was ‘I don’t disagree with anything you just said’,” said Baker. “I think we’re in a good place to start working on these issues together.”
Among the various grievances disclosed in the letter, one of the most important matters raised was the lack of support felt by the RAs from HRL. The felt their voices were invalidated, and many chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from their supervisors and their belief that there is no safe space for open and honest communication.
Additionally the RAs felt a great amount of dissatisfaction with the lack of social justice programming they were permitted to establish. Several students said they have experienced institutional marginalization, and insisted that more training toward racial and social justice knowledge was necessary for all professional staff members.
The lack of diversity among the current professional staff also added to discomfort for the diverse group of individuals that make up the RA team.
“We’re supposed to be at a school that pushes us to do more and be more, but if we can’t even pursue that ‘more’ for our residents, what’s the point?” said an RA who wishes to remain anonymous. “Why are we even given this title and these responsibilities if we can’t fulfill one of the most important parts of our jobs?”
While the department is still in a period of transition and is currently seeking to fill the vacancies in the resident director positions, steps have already been taken to address the concerns raised within the letter.
Together with Vice President and Associate Vice President of Student Development Michele Murray and Alvin Sturdivant, Baker and the rest of the Lead team have been taking new, directive approaches to mending the problems they see within the department.
“This is not an insurmountable series of concerns,” Murray said . “I think the issues the RAs have raised are good issues and with some dedication and hard work we can work to achieve very positive results for residents and resident assistants alike.”
According to Baker, the recruitment for the new resident directors consists of outstanding candidates with great strengths in diversity and social justice training. Opportunities for leadership development are currently being pursued as well, with help from Czarina Ramsay, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, as well as Rich Okamoto, the director of Disabilities Services, to best appeal to the needs of the RAs and professional staff.
Baker was unable to comment on any resolution toward personnel issues due to confidentiality restrictions.
“I’m a little bit aware of what’s been going on with the RAs and Housing,” said sophomore Bellarmine Hall resident Mari Onoye. “It hasn’t really affected the community on our floor or anything, you just hear about what’s going on.”
With future imperatives of a new staff-time curriculum, in which a training activity will be demonstrated at the housing staff meeting to then be repeated at the RA staff meeting, these new directives are intended to bring the department closer together.
Future meetings with Baker, Murray and Sturdivant with the RAs and housing staff will take place within the next two weeks.
“My hope is we can turn this around and make it a positive,” Baker said. “[I want to] have people look back on it as a great opportunity for us to grow and change and learn from everything.”
Vikki can be reached at [email protected]