It’s been a year since a resident advisor movement brought Western’s attention to the RA position, but the work has continued behind the scenes.
According to Leonard Jones, director of University Residences, RA stipends increased from $731 annually to $1,440 this year in response to last year’s movement and RAs now have more flexibility in their meal plans. RAs are also now paid up to 120 hours for training, and training days have been decreased from 12 hours to 8 hours.
In April 2017, RAs from across campus held an open forum where university administrators were confronted with concerns about pay, residence safety and inclusivity, according to previous reporting by the Western Front.
On May 22, 2017, RAs held a sit-in at Jones’ office to show they weren’t going to stop until all their needs were met.
Newly-elected Associated Students VP for Student Life Anne Lee was an RA for the SHADO community, which includes Ridgeway Sigma, Highland, Alpha, Delta and Omega, at the time of the protests and helped organize the open forum.
She said the movement grew out of a distrust of Western’s administration after several incidents where an RA in Highland Hall was targeted.
Lee said after several meetings with administrators to talk about how to make the dorms safer, she and the other RAs didn’t feel they were being listened to.
A year after both the open forum and sit-in, Lee said she is encouraged by the changes that have been made, including the increased stipend.
“Last year, our stipend every two weeks was $35 and that was not a livable wage at all. This year, depending on what kind of meal plan you have, your stipend can range from $70 to $100 every two weeks,” Lee said. “And I think while [this] is still a continued topic, for me at least it’s been a lot more sustainable than it was last year.”
Lee said she still has concerns about safety of residence halls, RA training and inclusivity, but there have also been some steps taken on those issues.
“I would say that our concerns about lighting and security have been met with some progress. On The Ridge, we’ve had an environmental safety assessment done to see which areas are lacking in lighting or [have] safety issues,” Lee said. “I think that response from administrators to take our feedback and change it in to tangible change is really good progress.”
Annie Gordon, the current AS VP for Student Life, was an RA in Mathes Hall at the time of the protests.
She said through her position this year she wanted to focus on working with administrators and community to make sure students have places to voice their concerns and work on these issues.
“I think the protests happened because students were really hurting and I think, collectively, we didn’t know where to turn,” Gordon said. “We felt really disenfranchised.”
Jones said in response to the protests last year, he now meets with an RA advisory group once a quarter, sometimes more often at the request of the RAs. He said the group consists of one representative from each residence hall and is an opportunity to discuss overarching problems they experience.
“[Meeting with the advisory group] gives me an opportunity to gather RA opinions on things, see what they’re thinking and get their advice,” Jones said. “That’s really been key to our problem solving.”
Lee said this year, she thinks while the administration has been more keen to listen to RAs because they know about their concerns, it is also disappointing when communication does not transfer into action.
“I think there is a lot of frustration still this year because new RAs and RAs involved with the movement last year still kind of see the same feedback not really go anywhere,” Lee said.
Gordon said that institutional change always takes a long time, but many of these problems cannot necessarily be fixed by policy changes. She said she thinks a lot of the issues RAs experience stem from the expectations people have for RAs.
Jones agreed, saying RAs need to have less pressure placed on them.
“People expect the RA’s to be all things to all people all the time,” Jones said. “It’s only supposed to be 19 hours a week, that’s all its suppose to be because your main responsibility is being a student here.”
Lee said in the future, she would like to see more transparency in terms of funding within housing so RAs can fully understand the reasons for projects taking a long time or not being attempted.
Lee said she wants to follow in Gordon’s footsteps next year by working collaboratively to help meet the needs of students and RAs.