Sweeping Changes to RC Role Come After Conflict with ResLife and COVID-19

The position of resident counselors (RCs), now called community advisors (CAs), has been redefined this year due to both Covid safety needs and the organizing work of disenchanted RCs who met with the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) last semester to address occupational grievances. The new position increases supervisory support, as well as increased compensation. While some CAs are pleased with the changes, others believe the job is more burdensome with Covid guidelines and still deserves greater compensation. 

In March, a group of RCs formed  the Organizer Team, who banded together  to file complaints with ResLife regarding the need for a structured communication system between RCs and supervisors, explicit requirements for the role and  appropriate compensation. 

In particular, the RCs expressed disappointment with the unequal labor but equal compensation among all RCs and the use of on-call phones. Although the Organizer Team held meetings with ResLife, their talks were halted due to COVID-19, which sent students home in mid-March. 

Director of Residential Life Andrea Cadyma indicated that the RC role  changed to include “more accountability and supervisory support” at the behest of student demands. “Our professional CDC (Community Development Coordinator) team was increased from four to six,” she said. “CDCs are now more accessible to CAs when they’re interacting with the community to be a mentor and supervisory support as well as available to students for questions and concerns.” 

Cadyma noted that compensation has “increased by $600 for the year for each CA,” from $4,400 to $5,000, but also indicated that payment was an issue that they would be exploring further. 

“The CA position emphasizes distanced one-to-one interactions, focused floor meetings and we are providing material for the [buletin] boards in each hall,” Cadyma added. “We want CAs to have more available time to be a presence and participate more in small group conversations.” 

ResLife has also halted the use of on-call phones for CAs, a responsibility that RCs had to walk through their assigned residence hall once per evening, on Wednesday through Sunday nights with the intention of building in more face-time with residents.

One member of the former Organizer Team, CA Molly Sanderson ’22, said that she is “pretty happy with the job right now.” 

Sanderson shared that her current CDC, Drew Bryan, has been instrumental in providing the level of support that was lacking in the past. “He’s been really helpful in setting professional goals and expectations for our team. He’s made himself really open and available for our questions and our concern.” When asked how she felt ResLife responded to their concerns, Sanderson explained that “not all of the changes we asked for last year have been made, but I do think things are a lot better, and I definitely plan to keep pushing ResLife when the pandemic is over and things start to go back to the way they were.”

Among last spring’s demands gone largely unaddressed is appropriate compensation, which Cadyma said “will continue to be a point of conversation as we continue to adjust the role and expectations to meet the needs of the campus community.” Notably, the Organizer Team had previously called for higher pay for RCs of first-year dorms due to the higher workload, proposing a yearly salary of $7,875 for RCs in upperclassmen dorms and $8,715 for first-year dorms based on its analysis of other university residential jobs. 

Another member of the Organizer Team, Ella Peterson ’22, noted that “there was [originally] a culture of complaining about ResLife, continuing to work for ResLife and never trying to get ResLife to do better,” she said. Peterson reflected on the conversations in March with ResLife, expressing approval of the process and assessing that the administration cared about the Organizer Team’s ideas. “We had a meeting scheduled for the Tuesday [of the week] they had announced everyone was to leave campus, which they kept; it was absolutely insane.” 

However, there have also been changes to the role during Covid that have complicated and made the job harder. “This year I’m personally in charge of two-and-a-half floors, making it hard for us to check in with residents on a consistent basis,”  CA Sunghoon Kwak ’22 said. “I also went from having 22 residents last year in James [Dormitory] to having 23-24 residents this year.”  

Another challenge is community gatherings. Kwak shared that “most meetings have to be over Zoom because in-person gatherings are restricted to up to 10 people. You can probably imagine how difficult it is to come up with engaging meetings that would be online, while juggling demand for in person community gatherings.” 

As a result, “many of ResLife student staff are still pretty underwhelmed with the compensation,” Kwak said. On the other hand, Sanderson is happy with the changes, citing how “we don’t have programming requirements anymore, and we don’t have on-call like we used to, so that’s a pretty significant cut in the hours that we’re required to work, so with that plus the fact we have a pay increase, and don’t work the finals period, I think the pay works out a lot better for the semester.” Next semester, however, Sanderson would like to see another pay increase to adjust for the additional hours. 

In times of Covid, CAs are pleased with the support they receive from the administration. Sanderson said that one of her roles is to inform her CDC if she or a resident witnesses a party on campus, adding that “I think a concern of CAs this year was that we would be responsible for breaking up parties, and I was glad to find out that is not part of my job description because it is unsafe.” Students on campus can report violations to the Statement of Shared Responsibility, including parties, via an online form, or contact an administrator-on-call.

The changes can represent more than just a shift in responsibilities for the RCs but also a shift in the culture surrounding the role. Sanderson added: “Last year while being an RC, I definitely thought of it as more of an independent role, something I did on my own, whereas this year I feel a lot more supported by ResLife.”