Resident advisors across the country submit lists of demands to their universities and win

Resident advisors at colleges across the country organized for better working conditions. Campus Reform identified multiple RA organizations that submitted a list of demands.

In some cases, the university capitulated.

Feeling burdened by university policies and extra responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, resident advisors at colleges across the country organized for items such as “hazard pay” and better working conditions. Campus Reform identified several RA organizations that submitted a list of demands to their schools.

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University of Michigan

According to The Chronicle, In September 2020, dozens of resident advisers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor went on strike  for improved COVID-19 protections and hazard pay for student employees. Over 100 RAs voted to abstain from day-to-day duties like staffing mailrooms or helping students locked out of their rooms. 

Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Rick Fitzgerald told Campus Reform that the RAs’ “work stoppage” was “a way to engage the administration,” but because they are not a recognized union, they did not “collectively ‘strike.’” 

Fitzgerald added that the university did “quickly distribute more PPE for every RA, testing became available (and later mandatory) for all RAs, and additional data has been added to the campus dashboard” and “housing leadership now meets regularly with RA representatives from each building to problem solve issues together.” 

The university, however, refused to give their student employees hazard pay, a benefit that no university employee receives.

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Cornell University

Cornell University RAs went on strike less than a week before students were set to move into their residence halls in Fall 2020. Based on the hashtag #GiveUsEmpathy, the strikers published a list of demands on Twitter, including improved safety measures, more protective equipment, cost-of-living raises, hazard pay, an RA representative present at Housing and Residential Life meetings as well as a professional staff liaison, and fewer responsibilities.

According to The Cornell Daily Sun, RAs sent an email to their supervisors declaring that they “will refuse to be on-call, boycott weekly staff meetings, and avoid communication with superiors until our spokespersons are contacted and our demands are met.” 

After just one day, the RAs called off on their strike, returning to work after Cornell officials “agreed to begin a larger process of communication and dialogue.” 

Since then, Cornell has agreed to several of the strikers’ demands. RAs are now provided more protective equipment and reimbursed $50 for laundry fees, $75 to make up for a lost gym membership, and 100 meal swipes per semester. The university also hired more RAs to decrease its resident-per-RA ratio. 

RAs are still working to increase their representation and pay, however. 

“As far as we’re concerned, our demands have been met and we’re looking for longer-term change later down the line through this direct line of communication being established in the formation of the RA Council,” senior RA Ramon Reyes told The Cornell Daily Sun.

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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Prior to the start of the Fall 2020 semester, the University of Massachusetts Amherst announced it would lay off roughly 450 resident assistants and peer mentors, leaving only 21 of the former and 2 of the latter left to be employed by the university. 

In a contractual agreement between the university and the Resident Assistant & Peer Mentor Union (RAPM Union), the Layoffs clause states that “no RA/PM shall suffer a loss in compensation or benefits.” The RAPM said, however, that the university did not intend to pay the laid-off student workers and violated their contract. 

The university argued that it did not violate the contract because these students were given “appointment offers” and not hired for formal positions.

Reacting to the news, a group of six resident assistants and peer mentors, according to Jacobin, tried to protest but were interrupted when university police threatened to arrest them. Undaunted, the group returned the next night with the addition of about thirty student workers.

“So it is that we occupied the chancellor’s lawn, demanding the university honor our contract and provide for all RAs and PMs. We chanted and sang, shared testimony, and even toured the chancellor’s lavish backyard. We occupied the lawn for a half an hour before UMass police threatened to arrest us,” three RAPM Union co-chairs wrote in Jacobin.

In December, the laid-off RAs anticipated receiving job offers from UMass but said they would refuse them “unless the University considers students as ‘hired’ staff when they accept their position offers, and agrees to provide safe ventilation in the dorms.”

According to the Daily Collegian, a final agreement was reached between the university and RAPM Union which extended offers to all resident assistants and peer mentors who were offered positions for the 2020-2021 academic year. Additionally, demands including $225 in dining dollars, seven free masks, free COVID-19 testing twice a week, optional remote work, and improved ventilation systems were met.

“I want to be clear: You won this. When you take action alongside your fellow RAs and PMs, you can make a difference on the issues that you care about,” RAPM Union co-chairs Marco Maldonado, Iya Carney and James Cordero said in an email

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Syracuse University

According to the Daily Orange, in September of 2020, a group of RAs at Syracuse University issued a list of nine demands to the Office of Student Living. Their demands included biweekly hazard pay of $24 to compensate the RAs for their potential exposure to COVID-19, a $620 stipend, additional protective equipment, increased involvement in decision-making processes, and a “safe place” for expressing concerns. 

The students threatened to take “alternative measures” if residence officials did not to respond to their notice.

University officials responded by providing additional protective equipment and instituting drop-in office hours to serve as the demanded “safe place.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @redwave1776