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Saturday, June 6, 2020

Allegations from RAs sent in letter to Western officials

Written by: Questen Inghram

A letter detailing a list of concerns and demands by a group of resident advisers was delivered to university officials Friday, April 7.

Complaints of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and general security were mentioned in the letter, which also said little or no action was taken by University Residences.

The letter details several allegations:

  • After female residents were sexually harassed by a male resident adviser in Mathes Hall, two resident advisers brought their concerns to their resident director. They were told “not to think about it” and no further action was taken. When they then went to the assistant director of University Residences, they were told nothing could be done.
  • The absence of a resident director in Ridgeway Kappa for three months at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year impacted resident advisers’ ability to complete their jobs. When resident directors complained they were harassed, some were reminded they were ‘at-will’ employees who could be fired at any point.
  • A case in Highland Hall where a felon broken into a resident adviser’s room and was found wearing her clothes. Advisers were given a ‘gag order’ that prevented discussing the incident. Concerns about the security of the hall, and the handling of the incident were brought to the director of University Residences and other staff members at a Dessert with Directors event, but not resolved.
  • Advisers are expected to have one-on-one conversations with their residents about sensitive subjects, including race and sexual orientation. The letter says advisers were not given enough training on handling these difficult conversations.
  • Not enough is being done to promote inclusivity in residence halls, and hiring currently favors male resident advisers.
  • Advisers are only compensated for 19 hours of work a week, but it is impossible to complete their duties in that time. Since there is no tracking of hours, there was no way to verify the number of hours actually worked by advisers. University Residences staff claimed advisers could complete their duties if they had more efficient time management.
  • Despite these issues being raised repeatedly, nothing has been done.

Sophomore Emily Gaston, an RA in Ridgeway Highland, said the university did not adequately address two incidents which directly impacted her.

“We’re not just speaking out publicly because we want attention, we’re doing it because there is no other avenue for us to explore,” Gaston said. “We tried doing it [the University Residence’s] way and nothing happened.”

In an email, Paul Cocke, Western’s director of Communications and Marketing, said Residence Life will work to address the RAs concerns.

“An issue that seems to be common among all issues raised is on the need to improve communications – specifically ensuring that RA concerns are heard, fully understood and addressed,” Cocke said.

Leonard Jones, director of University Residences, sent an eight-page email to RAs addressing each demand individually.

“I am sorry that the communication within the department has left you feeling unheard and that several matters that are important to you have not been addressed,” Jones said in the email. “I pledge the entire Residence Life leadership team to redoubling efforts to bridge the current perceived and real divides.”

Jones’ email can be read in full on the Western Front’s website.

The letter was signed by 53 current and seven former RAs, Wayne Rocque, AS vice president for student life, said on Friday.

Rocque is familiar with the resident advisers’ work to bring the allegations forward. More RAs were aware of the letter, but did not sign it due to fears of retaliation, Rocque said.

The group published a website with the letter and seven areas of demands, as well as testimony from resident advisers and other student employees.

An online petition in support of the RAs has drawn 1,123 signatures, as of 10 p.m. on  April 10.

The letter has been shared with President Randhawa, the vice president of student services, the director of university residences, the dean of students and the assistant vice president for human resources. It has also been sent to media outlets.

Incidents in Highland Hall

Gaston and other RAs were spurred to act by a series of events that occurred in Highland Hall over the last year.

On November 12, a convicted felon entered multiple dorm rooms in Highland Hall, and was arrested in Gaston’s room wearing her clothing, according to court records.

A Western Alert sent out that day stated University Police had arrested a suspect “in connection with thefts of clothing.” Gaston said the alert made it seem as if the clothing was stolen from the laundry room.

Gaston said while she was given an emergency room replacement, her suitemates were not.

“I feel [my suitemates] were also very impacted by this event. One of my suitemates was woken up by a police officer entering her room with a gun drawn,” Gaston said.

Gaston said  she wanted to host a community dialogue about the incident, but she was instructed by university residences to wait.

When a discussion was hosted with University Police, Gaston said she was not allowed to speak. Gaston said she heard residents say the discussion was a waste of their time.

“That really hurt, because I just went through this entire thing, and it got diminished down to ‘make sure you lock your doors and hide your valuables’ when that wasn’t even [the intruder’s] intention,” Gaston said.

The second incident involved a  threat written on the whiteboard on her door during winter quarter.

“I panicked,” Gaston said. “I had my entire schedule posted for one-on-ones outside my door.”

Gaston said while the university’s response was better that time, she has no idea if the threat was written by a resident or a random person, because of the lack of security measures.

Gaston said Highland needs a security gate, as other residence halls have a front door or gate which prevents nonresidents from accessing residents’ doors.

In his email, Jones said that he will evaluate the security measures of buildings with outside entrances with Facilities Management and University Police. He said that he will ensure that RAs and student leaders are involved in those discussions.

The second incident in SHADO, involving the threat on the whiteboard, was what inspired the RAs to take action, Sophomore Xana Waughman, an Alpha RA, said.

“The lack of response from that was when we decided it would be appropriate to mobilize,” she said. “That was almost the tipping point.”

Compensation

Senior Colin Misich was an RA in Edens Hall for two years. Misich said he agrees with the letter of demands, especially the parts about compensation.

“In any given week as an RA I worked more than 19 hours a week, sometimes much more than that,” Misich said.

Misich said residence life should either lower the expectations for RAs or raise compensation.

“There is a lot of pressure that RAs feel from the leadership, as a representative of the university, to be immune from all the stresses from the job,” Misich said. “I think there needs to be a dramatic restructuring of the position.”

Jones will work with a team of RAs to review compensation and job descriptions, Jones said in his email.

In an April 6 communication to RAs he also announced that they would compensate RAs for up to 120 hours of post-hire training annually and reduce 12 hour pre-fall training days down to 8 hours.

Looking Forward

In his email Jones invited all RAs to a meeting of the RA council on Thursday, April 13 at 7 p.m.

The group of RAs who signed the letter are also holding an open forum about their concerns.They have invited university officials including Jones and President Randhawa to attend. It will be on Monday, April 17 in Arntzen 100 from 6 to 8 p.m.

“We’re going to be reasonable, we will meet with people,” Gaston said about future actions. “However, if the university does not respond to us, we’re not going to just stop.”

This story will be updated as we learn more.

 

Editors note: An earlier version of the story included the exact text of the threat Gaston found her door. We have since removed it in the interests of respecting her privacy.

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