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Bellingham
Sunday, May 24, 2020

RAs hold sit-in in director of university residences’ office

Resident advisers, student supporters and at least one parent occupied the office of Leonard Jones, director of University Residences from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, May 22. The sit-in participants were protesting what they saw as a lack of communication and commitment in the implementation of RAs’ demands.

As of 1:30 p.m., there were at least 45 people participating in the sit-in.

Senior Ben Morgan, who passed out posters and pins before the protest, said a group of RA representatives have been communicating with the administration weekly.

However, early Friday morning, Jones sent an email to RAs with commitments and changes, including increased stipends and reduction of training hours. Jones also said he and Vice President Eileen Coughlin would no longer meet with the RA group.

“Because the University cares deeply, the decision was made to work long hours into the night in order to respond with comparisons and to set a stipend and package that is higher than any other institution that we had identified both in the state of Washington and around the nation,” Paul Cocke, university director of communications and marketing, said in an email.

The stipends will be increased from $731 to $2,760 annually, according to data from University Residences’ website. The data compared Western’s annual compensation for RAs with that of the University of Washington, Evergreen College, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and Washington State University, as well as five out-of-state schools.

University Residences also released lists of approved requests and requests that will be assessed from RAs, as well as timelines for implementation.

However, some RAs felt these actions were not enough.

“They raised our compensation and they seem to think that was the end of the line, but we have a lot of issues regarding security, sexual assault on campus, mental health,” sophomore RA Xana Waughman said. “I think they thought if they would raise our compensation that we would just stop talking about it.”

Jones declined to comment on the sit-in. The Western Front received an email response from Cocke.

“The administration, in working with the RAs, has been repeatedly accused of a lack of response to RA concerns. At the same time, in meetings with some of the RAs, none of these concerns ever were voiced,” Cocke said in an email.

The sit-in was planned prior to Jones’ email being sent, but protesters used the protest to call for conversation to resume.

“This is us continuing that communication even though they’ve refused it,” Morgan said.

In an email, Cocke said meetings with RAs had not been constructive, and that remaining issues will be dealt with in the RA Council. He said the council would invite RAs to continue conversation on unaddressed issues.

“The meeting was run by RAs without any collaboration with the administration on the agenda, the order of the agenda, or the amount of time spent on each issue. This form of discussion does not lend itself to ongoing constructive dialogue,” Cocke said in an email, referring to the first of the RAs’ meetings with Coughlin and Jones.

The protesters gathered outside Edens Hall around 9:45 a.m. to pass out signs. At 10 a.m., participants walked silently into the buildings and sat in the office and and adjacent hallway.

Jones walked into his office in Edens Hall shortly after the RAs and students entered the space, grabbed his coat, and walked back out the door. Jones sat down the hall behind the University Residences front desk while students remained in his office, hoping for a chance to talk.

Jones then emailed RAs half an hour into the sit-in and canceled a staff meeting with the RAs scheduled for Tuesday, May 23.

At 11:21 a.m., President Randhawa sent an email to RAs and Associated Students board members.

President Randhawa said the university is dedicated to RAs’ concerns, and thanked them for bringing attention of these issues to the administration.

“However, I was disappointed and at a loss about messages being continuously posted or distributed about ‘unresponsive administration,’” President Randhawa said.

Cocke emphasized that President Randhawa’s message was not in response to the sit-in, but was echoing Jones’ prior email.

The RAs’ original demands, initially outlined in an April 7 letter to administrators, cover a variety of areas including: compensation; training; security; duties; social equity and inclusion; communication; and personnel and management.

Linda Giles, the mother of RA Olivia Giles, participated in the sit-in.

“The fact that Western doesn’t seem to be supporting [RAs’] efforts is just atrocious to me,” Giles said. “Whether or not changes can be made tomorrow, that’s not the issue. Communication needs to be open and ongoing.”

At 4 p.m., participants left the sit-in at the University Residence offices and walked to Fraser Hall to attend a film-screening put on by the College of Ethnic Studies.

Reporting contributed by Eythan Frost, Questen Inghram, Zachery Schmidt and Matthew Pearson.
Compiled by Questen Inghram.

Updated on June 4 to include information about the university’s stipend increase. For more information, go to https://housing.wwu.edu/apps/about/updates

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