In the wake of their 2021 spring semester training, 48 Tufts resident assistants wrote an email to Josh Hartman, director of the office of residential life and learning (ORLL), outlining changes they would like to see, including the establishment of an RA council, mandated anti-racist training, COVID-19 vaccine prioritization and increased compensation.
In his response to the RAs' concerns, Hartman outlined why requests such as vaccine prioritization and greater transparency about COVID-19 statistics were not able to be fulfilled, but he was eager to to work with RAs to establish a council, increase anti-racist training and help advocate for increased compensation.
The RAs' request for increased compensation largely came from the fact that they believe their pay does not reflect their increased responsibilities that come from having to enforce COVID-19 guidelines in the residence halls this year.
Kaavya Chaparala, an RA, discussed these sentiments.
“I think across the board people are frustrated," Chaparala, a senior, said. “The isolation … has honestly been really hard on a number of our RAs who already left after the fall.”
Chaparala characterized the RAs as the eyes and ears of the university and spoke to the challenges of enforcing health and safety protocols in addition to their regular responsibilities.
“On top of all the normal emotional labor that RAs have to put into building community and supporting their residents … there is the additional load of [COVID-19],” Chaparala said. “That definitely takes a toll on you … seeing how many people have no regard for other people's safety.”
Due to financial and legal limitations, ORLL cannot grant all the requests the RAs made in their email. For instance, ORLL is restricted in its ability to accommodate calls for increased compensation, prioritization for the COVID-19 vaccine and communication of COVID-19 statistics in residence halls.
According to Hartman, Residential Life does not currently have room in its budget to answer RAs' calls for increased compensation. Despite this, he expressed ORLL's willingness to work with the RAs on securing funding.
"We would love to collaborate with you all on advocating for more funding from the university for the work that our department is doing, as we want to be able to compensate Resident Assistants, [Assistant Residential Life Coordinators], and even professional staff at a higher level for their work," Hartman said in his email response.
In terms of access to localized COVID-19 statistics, the ORLL could not accommodate the RAs' request. Students’ medical information is federally protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and Hartman noted that RAs' safety guidelines and protocols should remain consistent regardless.
Additionally, Hartman noted that Tufts must follow Massachusetts' guidelines for vaccine distribution, but also that the Association for College and University Housing Officers International, is advocating for RAs to receive the vaccine early.
Hartman’s email indicated there are other areas that ORLL and the RAs can focus on, and Chaparala said she is optimistic about collaborating with them.
One such area is improved anti-racist training. Both ORLL and the group of RAs expressed motivation to examine and address racism and work toward the university's goal of becomingan anti-racist institution. Both parties agreed on the dual importance of recognizing biases and developing practical training.
Chaparala noted that anti-racist training made up less than two hours of the two-week long RA training.
“I think it's a little bit telling of who is in power in [Residential Life] to see that it took RAs saying ‘we need anti-racist training for ourselves when we’re responding to incidents,’ instead of them coming to that conclusion,” Chaparala said.
In an email to the Daily, Hartman and Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar emphasized their commitment to collaborating with RAs, increasing support and developing more training.
“We work with and listen closely to RAs and make changes to our processes and practices every year based on their input,” they wrote.
In his email response to the RAs’ concerns, Hartman said that in fall 2021, RAs, along with all students, faculty and staff, will be required to participate in five hours' worth of anti-racist training. This training will consist of asynchronous learning and a synchronous group debriefing.
Additionally, Hartman pointed to RA Round Tables, a program ORLL had been planning to roll out prior to its communication with the RAs, as a platform to talk through objectives which will be developed in partnership with Maren Greathouse, associate director for diversity and inclusion education at Tufts.
Hartman also said that Residential Life will develop an RA Council in the coming year, where RA representatives will be able to advocate for their interests and express their concerns to the university.
"The plan to establish an RA Council based on best practices among peer universities is a positive step," Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, wrote in an email to the Daily. "A Council will enhance communications and feedback and give RAs a natural channel to raise concerns and make suggestions going forward."
The RAs who spoke with the Daily emphasized the importance of establishing a council and were optimistic that it could address their concerns in a more effective, long-term fashion.
Brendan Amorin, an RA included in the email to ORLL, told the Daily that he appreciated the response of the office’s willingness to work through the issues together.
“It seems like the central staff of Res Life wants to work with us to advocate for things like compensation and having a role in how policy is established, so I think it's a good start,” Amorin, a junior, said. “It's not everything people wanted, but I'm excited to see where it goes.”