New report shows gaps between job description and duties for housing workers
Following more than a year of investigation, Student Government released a report on Tuesday on the contrast between the demands of some student positions within Housing and Dining Programs and the University’s presentation of those positions.
The report focuses primarily on students who work as Resident Assistants, Desk Receptionists or Program Assistants. The report suggests specific changes, including making student contracts and responsibilities more specific, raising student worker pay to be on par with peer schools and making performance reviews more consistent and transparent.
The report includes survey data collected from RAs and anonymous interviews with seven student workers employed by the housing office during the 2014-2015 academic year. Specifically, it criticizes the vague nature of an RA’s contract, which includes the loose description of the “other duties as assigned” clause, a section included to encompass any responsibilities unspecified by the contract.
“When you have unclear responsibilities, it means that students feel a lot of pressure to really go above and beyond, and they feel a lot of pressure to tackle things on their own,” SG President Sasha Gilthorpe said. “They often do deal with these things by themselves. Having really clear responsibilities means that students will be more able to go to their supervisors and ask for help, they would feel more supported by HDP as a system, and they would have guidelines for what to do in difficult circumstances.”
Additionally, the report brings forward complaints regarding the around-the-clock responsibilities of an RA, the ineffectiveness of RA training, worker undercompensation and inconsistent evaluations of student employee performance.
“Those [RAs] are students who largely have need-based aid or are using their experience as an RA to increase their disposable income so they can afford this school,” Gilthorpe said. “They’re students who, if they get fired, especially an RA or a PA, they’re homeless.”
Gilthorpe began looking into student worker concerns as the Director of Student Rights in May 2014 under then-SG President Sophia Wirth. Ultimately, she said her findings motivated her to run for president in 2015 when Wirth prioritized other “critical issues” and did not publish the report.
During the summer of 2015, Gilthorpe sent an advance copy of the report to Gail Hanson, vice president of Campus Life, Christopher Moody, assistant vice president for Housing and Dining Programs and Lisa Freeman, director of Residence Life.
Freeman, who was hired to oversee the residence halls in June 2014, said she has never had a student come forward to raise the specific concerns outlined in the report. She said the interviews with seven anonymous student-workers are not representative enough of the viewpoints of all the student workers employed by HDP.
Her interpretation of the RA job contrasted with the all-hours interpretation put forward by the people interviewed for the report.
“Whenever we are dealing with human beings, their lives don’t come nicely-packaged into the work time,” Freeman said. “We have an on-call process that the RA can call a professional staff member or an RA on duty. I don’t have the expectation that you’re on at all times or that you even have to open your door at all times. I want people to have quality of life and to be able to enjoy their position but also to be able to enjoy their life at AU.”
Freeman has created a Student Staff Advisory Council that has existed since June 2014. The council, independent from SG, includes employees from each of residence hall, with the goal of increased communication between student workers and housing office staff. She has also released an official response to each of the recommendations presented by the report.
Freeman said she has already implemented changes recommended by the report such as the addition of an Eagle Bucks stipend for student workers who are required to work over school breaks. Since on-campus dining options are largely unavailable over school breaks, she said the stipend will prevent students from having to pay out of pocket for meals that otherwise would have been covered by their meal plan.
One student worker, Matt Waskiewicz, currently serves as SG’s director of student workers rights, in addition to being an RA in Cassell Hall. Waskiewicz began working as an RA in January 2014 and also sits on Freeman’s Student Staff Advisory Council.
Waskiewicz helped compile the report in its final stages. Going forward, Waskiewicz will continue as the administration’s chief advocate for student workers’ rights and will write a Workers Bill of Rights to empower student workers, he said.
“It's tough when the people to whom you're speaking are also in charge of whether or not you have a job,” Waskiewicz said. “The hope is that this report gives people the opportunity to speak freely, and I think it does that.”