Resident Assistant turnover has doubled this year. That fact alone should be startling enough to make the university reconsider its shameful treatment of RAs.
This year’s changes to the RA payment system dramatically undervalue the services RAs provide to our campus. Instead of a standard monthly rate of $550, RAs now work specific hourly shifts, leading to some RAs making as little as $285 per month. Not only is this well below many other universities, who pay their RAs closer to $800 per month, it does not reflect the constant support and emotional labour that RAs are responsible for.
Having conscientious and caring RAs is a crucial part of developing the university community, as well as just keeping students safe, and it is unacceptable that their around-the-clock hard work isn’t being sufficiently rewarded. The new pay model means that RAs work designated 12-hour shifts, and are compensated at $13.60 per hour for those shifts — which is minimum wage. The people who are often first responders in emergencies, go-to emotional support systems, and responsible for dozens of students, make minimum wage.
Even if they were being paid more generously during those hours, it is woefully naïve to suggest that RA work is limited to those shifts. Despite not technically being on-call, residents will always see their RAs as being available to them for help with homework, advice, or doing laundry (moving away from home is hard!). Residents aren’t wrong to expect this. That’s the whole point of having RAs living in residence alongside other students. And for someone who is struggling, having that lifeline available to you 24/7 can be the most important thing.
Relegating official RA work to isolated shifts suggests that RAs should feel empowered to turn down students seeking help during their off hours. And while it is very important that RAs get time off like any other employee, I am certain that many continue to provide support far beyond what they are being paid for, because they recognize the value of that support and the unique position they are in to provide it. Knowing that RAs will end up working hours far beyond their technical job description, the University should recognize that a monthly stipend is a much more just compensation for that work.
Like many other jobs in the care sector, it is easy to dismiss the work RAs doing as being “rewarding” in and of itself. It’s true that many RAs find lots of meaning in being able to support students through some of the most formative years of their life, to see them grow and learn, to help them through their darkest moments. Finding meaning in your work shouldn’t be punished with lower wages. And for every fun formal dinner with their floor, RAs will still always have to deal with overdoses and suicide attempts and panic attacks. In those situations, their support is the most crucial, and also the most difficult to provide. RAs take on an enormous amount of emotional baggage for which they can never be truly compensated. The university owes them more than $285 a month.