When I applied to New York University, I knew I would pay for most of my tuition. I’m not from a family that could afford a reliable savings account in college. My parents help me when they can, but my $ 250,000 student loans do most of the hard work. I knew from the beginning that I would need to work as an assistant at the place of residence to help cover the costs. When New York University translated all classes online in response to COVID-19, the only way my parents allowed me to leave home – and the only way I survived the rest of the pandemic – was a free housing and food plan that comes with future RA.
I didn’t expect to be an RA, so it’s a lot of meetings with the New York City Police Department, the insulting responses of our construction management team about our concerns and the free office work that is expected of me.
It is financial circumstances, despair and the deceptive appeal of RA benefits that make people become RAs – the reasons why I found myself in a second-year interview in the fall. The Resident Assistant Leadership Institute is a long process of two-round interviews that potential RAs go through. The rest of the applicants and I were sitting in the stale Palladium conference room at 9 a.m. Saturday morning when RALI staff told us that only about 100 of the 800 students who applied for the RA would be hired.
The threat of easy replacement became clear from the start. We were told stories about students who applied because they were going to work from Philadelphia, and about students who would have to refuse enrollment if they didn’t get financial aid. This type of despair has been presented as the guiding reason for the competitiveness of the position.
Office of New York University Housing and housing services describes RA as a “paraprofessional living in a dormitory or graduate school” – as a “leader” and “resource for community residents”. As an RA, I was expected to implement programming and respond to student problems in exchange for New York University’s housing and nutrition plan, actually withdrawing about $ 12,000 from my tuition bill. That sounded like a good deal. The role was offered to me in the spring of 2020, and that fall I moved to Lafayette Hall.
The first couple of months were difficult, as was the nature of the pandemic dorm life. It was difficult to involve residents in the program, and I felt disconnected from the other RAs on my team because I hadn’t met most of them in person. It was impossible not to notice the lack of support for RA from our BLT.
Of greatest concern were several cases of police activity in the building in March 2021. We expressed these concerns to the director and assistant director, telling them that we, like our residents, are afraid. The dormitory felt disturbed, and RA’s concerns were met with the “I Hear You” series, after which there was no action.
Audrey Becker ’21 was on duty when the police arrived on the night of March 19, 2021 – an emergency in itself. The consequences, Becker said, were worse. Campus security guards did not have a clear picture of where the police were in the building.
“They kept telling me the wrong floor, and they didn’t tell me what the police were doing, what they were looking for,” Becker said. “History is constantly changing.”
We later learned that the police responded to a call about a possible suicide attempt. Apparently, a passer-by saw a resident smoking on their balcony and called, but did not know exactly on which floor, so police checked all floors 11 and above. They knocked on all the doors and insisted on a search of every room. Residents were ambushed, and RA officers could not even tell them what was happening. When Becker and other RA duty officers called the director of the apartment building, he told them they would handle it and would call if they needed help. But that’s what they did – they called for help.
“At first it was very bad,” Becker said. “The consequences for the residents and students were just horrible and I had a lot of residents who were very, very upset. How should I help them? I am a student like them. I am not an activist or a psychologist. I was already holding my shoulders, and then I had to have these deep, difficult conversations with half of my residents, and it was so strong. ”
Trying to hear our concerns, Lafayette BLT dedicated one of the two-week Zoom team meetings to a conversation between us and Chanel Pendergrass, director of campus support at New York University. I and other RA Lafayette expressed disappointment at the lack of information provided to us and our residents during and after the incident, the lack of support from both students and RA, and the lack of confidence that this would not happen again. In response, we received more of the same “I hear you” from both Pendergrass and our BLT. When we told them that we and our residents feel in danger, our RHD told us that the police were here to keep us safe and “just doing their job”. I didn’t know that police work entails running around a college dormitory with no real direction and asking students to succumb to unwarranted searches without even explaining what they were looking for.
Lafayette Hall still has security concerns about who and where is in the building. Last semester, non-NYU attacker broke into the dormitory and chased two students into their rooms.
“BLT has been very obscene,” said CAS senior and former RA Maxwell Freir, who left the role between the fall of 2021 and the spring of 2022. “It wasn’t even like they said,‘ Hey, it happened ’and went on. We were hardly told about it, so everything was rumored. I wasn’t there when it happened, so the only reason I knew … was because I saw the Washington Square News publish about it. It just shows corruption and the fact that they don’t really want to share anything with us. Because you think that in RA they will tell us something like that. “
In an effort to reduce the stress experienced by RAs in emergencies, New York University has formed an incident response team, a team of professionals with experience in social work, student development and other ancillary professions. IRT members are housed in every apartment building every night. Now, instead of calling the RA emergency service, campus security officers are instructed to call an IRT member assigned to their hall. The IRT has significantly changed the role of RA – now RAs are more focused on community development and making students feel at home. Freyr said that in the presence of IRT he did not have to write any incident reports for the entire fall semester of 2021.
“The thought process and, in turn, the effects we hope to see is that redirecting these crisis responsibilities to a team of professionals will alleviate the unnecessary stress experienced by RAs,” said Christopher Stipek, director of a New York University apartment building. staff and programs. “The role of RA is a leading position in the community, and sometimes leadership is stressful, I understand that. I hope that if someone emphasizes, he will express it to his construction management team. Everyone copes with stress differently, but BLT will help as much as it can. ”
At about the same time as the police incidents, we were in the process of renewing our contracts with the RA for the next school year. The NYU, however, has made several important adjustments to the role of RA. First, Lafayette’s RA staff halved, doubling each RA’s responsibilities without additional compensation. Now each RA is responsible for doubling the number of residents, doubling the number of programs, doubling the number of night shifts.
In addition, the duties of the RA now include at least three hours a week in the resource center of the house – receiving and sorting packages, assistance in the duties of the administration of the hostel and the implementation of general administrative support of the hall. Previously, only RA employees worked there, who already worked as assistants for $ 15 an hour. The NYU has essentially turned this minimum wage into free office work.
We weren’t even well prepared for the role from the start. Due to the limitations of COVID-19, our training took place in the form of various slideshows and six-hour calls to Zoom.
«Tthe training was horrible – are you kidding? ” Said Becker. “Watching a slideshow for three days – what was it? I understand the nature of the pandemic, but I felt so unprepared for it. I was really hoping for her co-RA because she was returning RA from the previous year. I didn’t even know the rules. “
As anyone who was a student at the time could say, Zoom is a challenging way to learn. Not only is it difficult to focus on material for such a long period of time, it is also completely unavailable.
As we watched from the dormitory rooms as we were not allowed to leave during quarantine, Lafayette Hall staff explained where we should direct students in case of an emergency evacuation. Those who did not need to be quarantined have not even stopped by yet. If you hadn’t lived in Lafayette Hall before, navigating the huge 18-story building was almost impossible. Even after our 14-day quarantine ended, the staff never showed us what to do and where to go, offering only a few training documents on Google Drive for reference. During a fake fire alarm in the early fall semester of 2020, I didn’t know where to tell my residents to go. Even I was not shown a way out.
Stipek told me that over 90% of RAs say they recommend this role to other students. But I lost faith in the work. I was upset by the lack of attendance at virtual events, but I couldn’t blame the residents – I also didn’t really want to be on Zoom. What’s more, I was disappointed that when my colleagues, residents, friends and I asked for support, we were greeted with shallow condolences. I was upset that the university asked for more work without additional compensation, especially if most RAs work because they need financial help.
“There’s so much potential in the role,” Becker said. “It looks really good in the resume. There is significant financial assistance in free housing and free meals. But you need to know what you are getting into. And you need to be able to cope with stress and pure, complete frustration from being in situations where you are absolutely out of control and you are completely unprepared and unprepared. ”
This is a job that requires you to work days, nights, weekends and holidays. Your bedroom is your office and you never leave. On those nights when you’re on duty, you won’t lie in bed until at least the first hour of the night, and you spend the whole night fearing the stunning ringtone of the phone on duty. Ask for more and offer nothing in return – meaning that outside of the work they provide, students working as RAs just don’t matter to New York University.
Contact Alexandra Goldberg at [email protected]