Residential Life announces changes to housing services

By Katie Landeck

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Fifty-four students lost their jobs via email Wednesday, when Residential Life announced its decision to eliminate the Peer Mentor program, effective in fall 2012.

Justin Surgent/Collegian

The program, which has been at the University since around 2004, employs built-in mentors who work to aid first-year students in accessing campus resources – both academic and otherwise – and in navigating their social and emotional transitions to college life.

The next day, Residential Life also revealed plans to eliminate the Apartment Living Assistants in the North Apartment, the restructuring of the Cluster Office systems, the creation of all freshmen dorms and the creation of a new tutoring program for 2012.

Incensed by the announcements, students quickly took to Facebook, where several of them reposted a report that was attributed to Student Government Association President Yevin Roh that listed suspected changes that further infuriated students, who worried that their jobs and friends and co-workers’ jobs were at risk. The list of rumored changes included turning the resident assistant (RA) position into an unpaid internship, the removal of cultural floors, moving residence directors out of the building and structuring living arrangements based on GPA.

Many of the listed concerns are untrue, according to Executive Director of Housing and Residential Life Eddie Hull, who said that the RA position would remain untouched, as would the cultural floors. He also said that living arrangements would not be structured by GPA.

However, as verified by Hull, changes will be made to the Residential Director position. According to Hull, there will be fewer Assistant Residential Directors in the building, but the number of full-time staff members will increase. In addition, a student conduct unit will be created so that the Residential Directors and Assistant Residential Directors can focus on community building, according to a document that summarizes the changes sent out to residential directors by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Jean Kim.

Also listed in the document is the elimination of first-year housing in the Southwest Residential Area. The document does not contain information about where first-year housing would be located next year.

The RA position will remain the same, according to Hull. The only planned change as of yesterday will be the addition of 23 RA positions for fall of 2012.

The most significant changes will occur in the peer mentor and ALA positions. They will cease to be implemented starting next fall. According to the document, the 19 ALA positions were cut as North “is a community that does not need to be treated the same way as First Year students.” Four assistant residence director positions will be added to the North Apartments.

Residential Life officials feel that other services, which document lists as “First Year Experience Specialists, Graduate Learning Specialists, Residence Directors and RAs” can fulfill the same responsibilities and duties peer mentors performed for housing residents.

To replace the peer mentors, the University intends to implement a tutoring program that has yet to be officially named, though Kim called the new student group “peer tutors” during last night’s Faculty Senate meeting. According to the document, this new position will focus on the academic success of first-year students by offering tutoring, test preparation and direct academic support to students, which has been a “missing link.” The tutors will not be required to live in the buildings, according to Hull.

Residential Life has been discussing these changes since October, according to Hull, who said that yesterday was the official roll out dates for the new programs. Kim approved the plans on Nov. 16.

“I believe these changes will enhance the quality of residential experience for our students, especially for first year students, and strengthen the collaboration between academic and student affairs in creating and maintaining a total living-learning environment that will contribute to our students’ success,” said Kim in an email.

However, some students – like the ones that silently lined the walls of the Faculty Senate meeting yesterday holding signs saying “What the Hull?” and “Students First” – are not as confident in the changes’ positivity.

“I think they are kind of screwing over future freshman classes,” said sophomore Casey Waugh, who works as an RA. “RAs go through very different training than peer mentors do and for RAs to have to make up for that is ridiculous.”

As faculty members filed into the meeting, students lined either side of the hallway in Herter so the the senators were forced to walk through them as they entered the meeting. Several members showed their support by smiling or giving students a thumbs up sign.

Once the meeting started, over 100 students silently marched into the meeting filling the side aisles and the back of the auditorium.

During the Faculty Senate meeting, there was a question and answer period where students were given a chance to speak. Waugh, who held a sign that read, “It sometimes appears that Hull does not respect students” –  a statement quoted from an opinion article titled “Paging Eddie Hull” from Duke University’s “The Chronicle,” published in 2005 during Hull’s time working as a dean at Duke – voiced her concerns, as did several other students.

“I went to support all of the peer mentors and try to get some information on what is going on with the RA position,” said Mike Spahr, an RA.

“I think that it is an understandable decision to change peer mentors to peer tutors, but I do not think it is a wise decision. It all bottles down to cold hard math,” Spahr continued. “It is cheaper to have tutors, rather than to pay the – I think it’s – $4,700 [to keep peer mentors]. It’s easier to pay people for the hours they put in as a tutor rather than those who participate in full live-in positions.”

According to Hull, the budget for Residential Life will not be cut in any way to accommodate the changes to the program. The tutors will, according to Hull, effectively cost the program more money than keeping peer mentors.

A common complaint among protesters was the lack of student involvement in the decision process that went behind the housing changes. One student held a sign asking “Why did no [one] ask me?”

“This wouldn’t be such a big deal if we had been involved every step of the way,” said Roh. “We wouldn’t need to rally if we were informed and included in every step.”

Students stayed for the entirety of the two-hour meeting, holding signs in silence as most of the senate’s meeting had its agenda reserved for discussions on the University’s football program.

“I saw all of the student voices that were present and heard what the faculty had to say and I really don’t think I would have done anything different,” said Roh.

It was after the meeting that the document clarifying the changes, which has also been posted on Facebook, began to be circulated. Even with the new information, many students including Roh, are still upset by the changes.

“I absolutely do not agree with the decision,” said Roh. “There is a fundamental difference between a mentor and a tutor.”

Roh went on to explain that peer mentors support many students who do not emotionally connect with their RAs.

“I know peer mentors who have supported students through depression, through hard family times, through isolation, etc.” said Roh.

Freshman Erica Bynarowicz, a resident of Melville Hall in Southwest Residential Area, has found her peer mentor to be particularly helpful during her enrollment appointment and when a friend needed to go to disability services.

“He walked her to disability services,” said Bynarowicz.

“My friends who are peer mentors are going to have to find another job, find an alternative living [arrangement], just a different way to manage their spending and income,” said Spahr. “Which is something for a college student that is complex to handle.”

Ashley Berger, Brianna Corcoran, Alyssa Creamer, Stephen Hewitt, Ardee Napolitano and Chris Shores contributed to this report.

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]