Letter: UMass endangers its RAs, PMs and residents once more

The health and safety of RAs and PMs is at risk

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Letter Contributor

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Residential Life notified Residential Assistants that over 60 student-athletes, including members of the football and lacrosse teams, would be moving into rooms within their suites by the end of the weekend. Some athletes moved in just hours later — some moving in before RAs had even been notified. Now, many RAs will be put into regular, close contact with their new suitemates.

In sharing a suite, RAs and student-athletes will share the same bathrooms and common areas, and therefore be put in situations where they interact with their suitemates without masks on. Even should RAs decide to wear masks inside their own suites, there is no guarantee that the student-athletes will agree to do the same.

Athletes are a high-risk population who regularly have close contact with many other students and staff members at their athletic competitions and practices. Exposing RAs — who are essential workers responsible for enforcing the UMass Agreement — to a high-risk group of students is representative of UMass’ complete lack of disregard for the health and safety of its student employees.

The Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union quickly requested that Residential Life house student-athletes in their own suites, separate from the suites of RAs, to ensure that the RAs wouldn’t be housed alongside a high-risk population. Residential Life denied this request, claiming that athletes are not any more at risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 than the other students living on campus. This is false; student athletes, during practices and training, are bound to have contact with many more students and staff members than the average student living on campus this semester. Recently, a COVID-19 outbreak at Boston College was fueled by student-athletes and a California University of Pennsylvania football player recently died due to COVID-related complications.

This is not the first time the University has disregarded the health and safety of its workers and community. The University’s original reopening plan, which accounted for nearly 13,000 students in the Amherst area, lacked adequate provisions for PPE, COVID-19 testing and ventilation. Our union, and many members of the Amherst community, rightly rebuked this dangerous reopening plan. With the New York Times reporting more than 178,000 cases of COVID-19, and at least 70 deaths at college campuses since the beginning of the pandemic, our criticisms stand vindicated.

We stand ready to force UMass to consider health and safety once more. Housing athletes, who are a high-risk population, in the same suites as UMass’ essential workers makes no sense, especially when there are plenty of empty suites available in the North Apartments and the Honors College. To be clear, we are not arguing that student-athletes should not have housing. They should simply be placed in their own suites or apartments, and not be made to share the same spaces as RAs.

Residential Life’s blithe dismissal of our request for health and safety is nothing new. Over the summer, they first instructed RAs and PMs to wear one mask per week, despite CDC guidelines recommending washing a mask in the laundry machine after just one day of use. Once again, Residential Life’s insistence that housing RAs in the same suites as student athletes presents no danger to health and safety is rooted not in fact, but in expedience.

We are preparing to file a grievance to demand that Residential Life protect the health and safety of RAs by moving student-athletes to their own suites. We are optimistic that Residential Life will revise its policies to create safer working conditions for all.

 

Alice Troop, Marco Maldonado and James Cordero

Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union