It’s Time to Pay the Piper: The GrimRealities of Working as an RA

Savannah Sima

One of the most invaluable resources for any insular liberal arts campus, especially in a rural environment, is labor. Where are we able to sufficiently hire the labor necessary to maintain an almost totally insular campus? Internally. Who exactly becomes the necessary potential candidates for hire when an entire campus must sustain its own operations internally? Students.

This campus, operated and maintained by the staff and the Wooster community, also de-
pends on a particular pool of students for tasks we lack employees to complete – Resident Assistants (RAs). On top of existing responsibilities for our roles (on-call shifts, programming, floor meetings, weekly staff meetings, etc.) RAs take on tasks ‘as assigned’ per our contracts. Across RAs, I think there is widespread agreement that we have to take on tasks as needed for different residents, communities and to help one another out as the year progresses. RAs are not compensated disproportionately, we receive similar pay. And yet, the issue is the workload. The inequality is between RAs themselves in their workloads.

RAs receive a graduated stipend every year that increases from 50% to 70% with each
semester you work as an RA. Except, RAs are not actually directly paid this stipend, it is
applied to our room & board, even though we lose the ability to work 10 hours for the
College to make money from other campus roles each week.

This ‘RA hour cap’ has made many senior RAs resign in the past (around three RAs re signed just before this semester due to financial instability posed by the role), in order to make money to fund their college degree or take on a role related to their field that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise due to our inability to work be- yond 10 hours per week for another role. RAs have raised this issue nearly every semester that I have been an RA, but the College has not aided Res Life in finding an equitable way to increase our pay to be more in line with the work we complete (trainings, closing, move-in, on top of weekly hours worked that surpass 10 as soon as you have an 8:00 p.m.-8:00 a.m. on-call shift) without taking away financial aid from RAs.

This hours cap, use of a stipend instead of actual pay, in tandem with the dissimilar amount of work RAs perform across roles, has completely burnt out a significant number of RAs. Many of us have expressed a desire to quit to be able to work to make revenue to cover the rising out-of- pocket costs of college, but we are now dependent on a stipend that isn’t even enough to cover our room & board to be able to attend college at all. RAs that cover their cost of attendance and necessities themselves struggle to do so, and this in- ability to cover costs shows in the capacity of different RAs to be fully present for their respective communities. The role that economic class plays in our ability to be present as RAs is scarcely acknowledged beyond RAs that have to work multiple on-campus and off- campus jobs being reprimanded and questioned under our past director. RAs do not have an equal capacity to be present due to our pay structure and dissimilar backgrounds, which is worsened by the varied workload that an RA may receive from their community. First-year RAs engage in more programming, lockouts, on-call shifts and resident guidance across the board because that is what first-year communities need.

Some RAs have 20 direct residents while others may have 50. Some RAs have to design
programming by themselves for entire buildings or bring existing communities together with unique programming. Some RAs have to do little to no programming because of existing programs. The wide variance in work performed week-to-week after all-staff meetings and trainings makes the RA role plainly inequitable and exhausting for many students. This is no to mention the varied workloads that RAs have for their course-work, respective degrees and extracurriculars on top of other strenuous responsibilities and challenges outside of the RA role. All Res Life Pro Staff have expressed their sup- port for raising our wages and Johnathon Reynolds even proposed a new RA plan to cover our room & board that covered the cost of a double room entirely at Wooster with a tiered increase in board that mirrors the increase in our current stipend.

This new pay scale would exist alongside the current stipend that RAs are given per
semester. Though, this increase in pay would include modifications to our capacity to work
in other roles on campus. That was shot down by our budget committee. Why, after all of
this agreement and recognition of the strain that our method of pay disproportionately
places on students, and support given by the administration and our own staff, are RAs
constantly rejected for a raise in pay by governing bodies like the budget committee? This
campus effectively runs off of the labor of students, students who typically cannot say no to additional income to be able to send money home or cover their own cost of attendance. The College of Wooster is even underpaying their RAs in contrast to our sister schools (Ohio Wesleyan, Kenyon, Oberlin, Denison) when we comparably take on more work than RAs at other institutions. This campus runs off of the labor of students, it is time to actually pay these students equitably.

Disclaimer: The aim of the Viewpoints section is to provide
our readers with a view of the diverse and varying opinions
that make up the campus community. The views and
opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors
and not necessarily of The Wooster Voice. We do not censor viewpoints on the basis of the opinions they express; this means that we will occasionally print viewpoints that some
readers find offensive. We welcome responses to viewpoints
but ask readers to recognize that these views are not
necessarily our own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: