RAs unhappy with their role this Halloween

By Billy Rainsford

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

Editor’s note: The columnist is a Resident Assistant.

Ah, Halloween. It’s one of the most exciting, fun and memorable events of the school year for any college student. With New Year’s Eve falling during winter vacation, St. Patty’s Day during spring break, and Cinco de Mayo right before finals, it is really the only widely celebrated holiday on campus (no matter how hard the President’s Day crowd tries). Oct. 31 falls on a Monday this year, and preparations have already begun across campus for festivities to take place on the preceding weekend.

But this year there’ll be one group missing out on Halloween weekend. New for this year, your friendly neighborhood resident assistants have been asked to stay in their halls for at least one weekend night- returning to their rooms no later than 9 p.m.

Now, to clarify: there have always been RAs on duty in the cluster office Halloween weekend, just like every other weekend. Running the risk of working Halloween comes with the territory of being an RA. This new policy is different, however, because now even RAs who aren’t on duty in the cluster office are being asked to sit in their rooms and ‘provide a positive presence’ in their hallways. What that means is apparently open to interpretation. The RAs of John Adams tower in Southwest are expected to put on programs, for example.

Many RAs are, to put the situation mildly, quite unhappy with the change in policy which was announced to most RAs by each clusters’ senior staff members during a staff meeting sometime in the last couple weeks. Some RAs didn’t find out until this past week.

Controversy has arisen in various aspects. For starters, RAs talk to each other, and it has become clear that this policy does not apply to all RAs across campus. So far it appears that only RAs of freshmen dorms are being asked to stay in their halls (though it is possible that mixed-year RAs have simply not been told of the policy yet). This has increased the tension felt by first-year (freshmen-only dorms) RAs who already feel as though they do more work than their mixed-year counterparts in the form of extra programming.

Furthermore, many RAs question whether the administration even has the power to mandate this change. Under the terms of the last RA contract, which is available to be viewed by the public at UMass’ website, “all staff members are expected to be on campus and available for duty during emergencies and the following: … [listed second] Halloween and the nearest weekend.” Many RAs interpret this statement as being available for “cluster office” duty, which they accept. As stated above, the potential for working on-call Halloween weekend comes with being an RA, and as much as no RA wants to go on rounds in their cluster that night, they understand that it is their responsibility. But being asked to remain in their rooms from 9 pm on? That’s pushing the interpretation of the clause to the limit.

In fact, discussion of the RA contract opens up another can of worms, as the RAs and the RA union are actually currently in contract negotiations with the University. Negotiations have been ongoing for over a year, and in that time, the University has seen fit to place a significantly heavier workload on its student staff. Notable among the extra responsibilities given to RAs this year was the Fall Orientation program. RAs had to wake the freshmen up early, take them to breakfast and escort them to sessions, among other obligations. All of this for no extra pay, however.

Not as though RAs can really do anything about the policy change either. RAs who do not stay in their rooms Halloween weekend face sanctions, which could potentially include being placed on probation. RAs who had put in to take the weekend off from work (to leave campus, for example) were specifically asked to cancel their time-off request.

The whole situation is ridiculous. As evidence of this, the “Quiet Hours” rule has actually not been changed. “Quiet Hours” will still start at midnight Halloween weekend, the same as every other weekend. So, while the RA is sitting in his or her room at 9 p.m., the residents are theoretically still free to bump music for the next several hours.

It gets stranger. Peer mentors and assistant resident directors [ARDs] have also been asked to spend a night in that weekend. Peer mentors don’t even enforce policy in the halls, leaving many just as upset as the RAs with the change in policy, if not more so. But the ARDs are in maybe the most bizarre situation of all. Some ARDs don’t even live in their clusters! The University provides housing in the Lincoln Apartments near Southwest for ARDs without rooms in the buildings they work in. These ARDs are still barred from going out one night that weekend.

Baffling as the policy is, it is little wonder that no one in the administration seems to be taking responsibility for it. RAs were informed about the policy by their residence director and assistant residence directors, but they are not the creators of the change. Who is, however, was not communicated to the RAs. Was it the area directors? Was it Tara Loomis, the new director of residence education? Or did it come all the way down from Eddie Hull himself, the executive director of housing and residence life? Though they must by now know how unhappy the student staff is with the change, none of these people have sought out the RAs to explain the decision, leaving it to the residence directors to quell the ire of the student staff.

In the end, the majority of RAs will most likely accept the administration’s decision, as all low-wage workers inevitably do when up against the establishment. But this incident will get added to the growing list of grievances resident assistants have with residence life’s policies. Hopefully the next RA contract, if the negotiations ever end, will finally address them.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist and Resident Assistant. He can be reached at [email protected]