Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on theeaglecoronavirusproject.com, a separate website created by Eagle staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. Articles from that website have been migrated to The Eagle’s main site and backdated with the dates they were originally published in order to allow readers to access them more easily.
During a normal semester, American University resident assistants, or RAs, were guaranteed on-campus housing and a stipend, but after a fall semester with no on-campus housing except for emergencies, RAs are left without the job again.
In October, AU announced it would expand some on-campus housing for the spring semester.
Last June, American University announced a hybrid plan for the fall 2020 semester, and RAs were offered off-campus hotel rooms in hopes of reducing the amount of students on campus, said Ashley Boltrushek, senior associate director for Residence Life. However, that plan was reversed in July, when AU moved fully online.
“The University had worked with some local hotels to be able to secure spaces in the event that we continue to house students for the fall and in essence as a way to de-densify and to continue to offer more space for students to live on campus or having an on-campus or D.C. experience,” Boltrushek said. “Because we were going to have students living in a hotel potentially, that hotel would have been in our purview and in our operation.”
College of Arts and Sciences senior Farshad Bazargani said he was looking forward to being a first-time RA this year and receiving housing, until plans for the fall semester changed.
“They gave out the hotel assignments, and they sent out a survey to see who wants to live off campus and wants to be on campus and remain an RA,” Bazargani said, adding that they were later informed that they wouldn’t get housing assignments.
Boltrushek said that deciding what to do with RAs after the online fall plan was released was a difficult decision to make with many different factors.
“We had a very long conversation with our staff about the decision that we wouldn’t be bringing students back for the fall because both because of the projected risk and continued sort of increase of viral numbers in the district,” Boltrushek said.
The coronavirus influenced the decision to keep RAs from coming to campus, as well as the possibility of continuing their job virtually in hopes of preventing burnout for RAs during such pressing times, Boltrushek said. Although it was a tough decision, Boltrushek said that providing a virtual experience with RAs would be a difficult transition for all parties.
Some senior RAs, including Bazargani, are struggling to decide whether moving to D.C. is a plausible option at this point in the semester. Bazargani said he was hoping to get housing, but by the time the news about the fall semester was released, it was too late to look for off-campus housing options in the fall.
“I was going to get free housing, and I didn’t have an apartment because a lot of people already signed leases,” Bazargani said. “Then everything was canceled, so a lot of people in my grade already had an apartment and everyone’s still in D.C., but I’m still here in Houston, Texas.”
RAs were eager to build connections with the incoming freshman class, which is why they applied in the first place, some said.
“I was really looking forward to being able to help guide freshmen because I was going to be a freshman RA,” Bazargani said. “I was looking forward to this leadership opportunity and wanted to be a mentor for the new students.”
College of Arts and Sciences junior Daniel Giles was an RA during his sophomore year and was supposed to be one again this year. He said that he became an RA to be able to help freshmen have a good first-year experience on campus.
“I had a really good freshman experience when I was living in Anderson third floor in my freshman year, and I had a really good community,” Giles said. “That was a really big part of my entrance and getting rooted in the AU community, so I just wanted to create that kind of atmosphere for freshmen coming in.”
Giles said he was also inspired to help those who were joining the AU community from out-of-state to adjust to a new environment based on his personal experience.
“When I first came to AU, I was pretty isolated and not super excited or anything. I was missing my friends and was really homesick,” Giles said. “So for the first couple weeks I really hated being in college.”
Some RAs, like Giles, were disappointed when the news was released that AU would not offer freshmen housing for the spring 2021 semester, although the University is considering allowing freshmen on campus for the second half of the semester. Giles said that AU’s response was appropriate due to the current circumstances of the pandemic; however, it will be difficult for students to foster a connection with AU when they are dispersed around the world.
“I think it’s gonna be tough for the freshman class next semester to really get rooted in a community, obviously when you’re not there,” Giles said. “I think online school and AU’s doing the best they can with community events, online classes, and trying to engage people, but it’s really hard when people are all over the country and all over the world.”
Although freshmen will not be able to experience on-campus housing this spring, Giles said students who are disappointed with AU’s decision to remain primarily online next semester should stay hopeful until we can safely return to campus.
“We need to be mindful of and stay hopeful, and just try to be as safe as possible and do what we can until hopefully we can get back on campus in the fall, but again it all kind of boils down to what happens with the pandemic,” Giles said.
The Housing and Residence Life staff is looking forward to greeting the incoming freshman class when the AU community is allowed to safely return to campus, but, until then, students can reach out to AU’s resources if they are in need of support, Boltrushek said.
“Our team is excited and well-positioned to bring back our folks into a welcoming community and to provide time, place and space for all of the growth, stretch points, and challenges that come with sort of repositioning yourself on campus and being differently independent in a way that I think some of our first-year students are getting and others are really looking for,” Boltrushek said. “We are excited for it so we're looking forward to that level of support when we’re back in person with you all.”