NYU R(C)A Demands and Concerns Regarding COVID-19 & Our Building Community Safety

NYU R(C)A Demands and Concerns Regarding COVID-19 & Our Building Community Safety

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On the week of July 12th, 2020, R(C)A’s received emails from their intended Building Leadership Team (BLT) regarding changes to the role and were asked to meet with BLT that week to discuss. R(C)A’s were then sent an updated 2020-2021 role profile that did not describe in detail the safety measures and expected responsibilities that should have been laid out given the amount of time the university has had to make such plans and the severity of the current pandemic. After telling R(C)A’s they would receive their building assignments on July 20th, we did not come to find out our building placements until Friday, July 24th, and were expected to make a decision on our role by July 27th. In conversations with many R(C)A’s, it became clear that the role as it stands is unsatisfactory in its details, and accepting the role in its current state would be an endangerment to our health.


Given NYU’s abrupt and careless response to the pandemic in the Spring 2020 semester (all students were evicted with 48 hours notice, R(C)A’s were initially excluded from reimbursements/compensation that was given to other students and student employees, and the lack of clear communication surrounding our belongings), we were hopeful that the university would improve their response for the fall. Instead, there is a similar lack of communication, disregard for our safety, and absence of clarity in the university’s decision making.

R(C)A’s were given 3 days to respond to the Updated R(C)A status survey with a decision on returning to the role. Given that it has taken 3 months for the university to even reach out to R(C)A’s and then delay building assignments by an additional 5 days, we find it disrespectful to expect a decision when there is not even adequate information on the role itself for us to make an informed decision. The lack of communication during the past few months was a disservice to our R(C)A community as our voices were not included in the making of the new role review and our potential responsibilities.

We stand in solidarity with our respective BLT(s), as they do not control or set the expectations of our role and demand central housing and NYU administration take accountability in protecting our lives. We want to note here that our criticisms should not be extended to the essential staff (including BLT) and workers’ NYU has hired to carry out the decisions and choices of the administration and central housing. We are thinking of everyone as a part of our community and expect these demands to extend in different capacities to our Public Safety, dining hall, and custodial staff in the residence halls, who would also be exposing themselves to COVID-19 through contact with residents and R(C)A’s and endangering themselves through NYU’s lack of adequate planning.

During the 2019-2020 R(C)A training, administration, such as the Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais, pointed out the diversity represented in the R(C)A role using an image of melting rainbow crayons. For NYU, the “diversity” is a point of pride and not an indication of the differential experience students of color and/or low-income students at NYU face. The role is only as “diverse” as it is because these students are pressured into applying due to the exorbitant costs of the university, its housing, and its meal plan. If you take a look at current COVID-19 infection and death rates, you will see that people of color and/or low-income people are being exposed to and contracting COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. This is due to the fact that low-income and/or people of color are historically pushed into service jobs, or “essential worker” positions. We are seeing this pattern being repeated in NYU’s R(C)A population and we do not condone NYU’s continual exploitation of our labor as a demographic that is majority low income and/or students of color.

As R(C)A’s, we are used to feeling exploited and undervalued by the university while at the same time, being told that the best interests of the R(C)A community are being kept in mind. In a recent article published on May 26th, 2020 in Washington Square News by student and Deputy News Director Mina Mohammadi, the ex Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Tom Ellett was quoted saying “What is the motivation for them being an RA? I think that may play into why a lot of these students are unhappy .. If I go in for the compensation, I will never really be happy in the RA position. I do not have the motivation for student success and helping them. Shame on them for complaining without solutions. It is going to be hard to be in any organization if you are going to complain and not try and do something about it. I’m sorry if there are some RA’s, whether it is 5%, 20% or 85% (which I don’t believe) of RAs who were unhappy but what role did they play in the creation of their own unhappiness?”. What role is central housing playing in the creation of our own unhappiness as well? The lack of accountability and the assumption that because we apply to the role for financial reasons we are somehow lacking in our motivation to build community is disrespectful to the work of hundreds of low-income and POC R(C)A’s while at the same time, criticizing our efforts to make change.  As R(C)A’s, we want to see ourselves as equals with administration as opposed to adversaries. However, we can not achieve this equality with the role as it currently stands and therefore, we feel obligated to speak up. 

The university may say that we have a choice in accepting this role. This is a lie. Coercion does not equate to choice. Many of us do not have a choice, whether it be because of our financial situations or familial circumstances, the option to receive housing and meals feels impossible to turn down as it is our livelihood as students.

NYU Housing and administration, we demand you hear our concerns and include us in your decision-making process. In his comments to Washington Square News, Tom Ellett called on R(C)A’s for solutions instead of complaints. Here, we have outlined in the following 14 pages our detailed concerns and solutions to the problems we see for the upcoming academic year and into the future of this role.


For the reasons above, the R(C)A community demands:

1. The Reinstatement of Reimbursements for R(C)A's and Residents

2. Compensation (in the form of Hazard Pay and other forms of compensation)

3. NYU Protect the Health & Safety of Our Building Community

4. Wellness Provisions/Plans 

5. NYU Address Issues with Policing of Black & brown Students (with this point, we wish to acknowledge the work of Black student leaders currently advocating for Black student housing and we have adapted their demands into our own with their permission).

6. We demand to see the full findings of the 2019-20 RA Working Group Committee as it pertains to the roles we are taking on in the upcoming year.

7. We demand a town hall with NYU administrators and central housing including Kate Baier, Christopher Stipeck, Nicholas Evans, Christina Duncan, Yetty Marquez, and Marc Wais. This town hall should be made available to all R(C)A’s hired in the upcoming academic year.

8. We demand NYU hires a replacement for the vacancy in the position of Senior Associate VP of Student Affairs if they have not already done so. In addition to conversations with Kate Baier, the R(C)A community deserves to have a representative within our central housing system, especially as we live through a pandemic.

9. Transparency for all R(C)A’s:
-R(C)A’s hired in for the Fall/Spring deserve a proper timeline on what will happen with their position. Currently, R(C)A’s hired in the Spring only, will be notified at an unspecified time of their housing assignment during the Fall semester. A proper timeline is needed for these students to adequately plan. 
-R(C)A’s in London and Shanghai also require an adequate timeline and planning considerations to be communicated from the university before they begin their role. 

10. R(C)A’s who declined the role based on the conditions set forth in late July should be allowed to reconsider their decision pending the response of the university to our demands. Furthermore, any R(C)A who accepted the role based on the conditions set forth in late July should be granted the same options as R(C)A’s who accepted following the creation of this document. 

For a full description and detailing of these demands and concerns, kindly read THIS DOCUMENT

We hope the demands and concerns listed above are seen and acknowledged by NYU Residential Life & Housing. We believe that as R(C)A’s, we are responsible for the health, safety, and happiness of our entire building community. We have come together as a united force to be seen and heard. It is important now to acknowledge that while these demands and concerns are comprehensive, they in no way capture the full extent of the anxiety and fear held by NYU R(C)A’s and students planning on returning to housing. Therefore, we call on administration and central housing to host an open town hall for all R(C)A’s to attend and speak directly with administration and central housing regarding our concerns and demands. The creation of this document has required an immense amount of free labor and we would not be bringing this forward if it were not for our genuine concern and care we have for the NYU community members impacted by the university’s careless decision making and lack of communication regarding housing and meals. We extend our solidarity and appreciation to our R(C)A community and we look forward to hearing the university’s response.

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Credit: 

Our efforts in improving the role can be credited to the courageous work of R(C)A’s that have come before us who have shown us how to fight for our rights as students, employees, and people. We thank them endlessly in showing us the power of community care and solidarity in times where administration has shut us out. Without past R(C)A’s speaking out before us, specifically in the 40 page thesis essay written by Rubin RA Ary Reich in May 2019, and the incredible efforts of returning R(C)A’s during the last academic year, we would not know the necessary steps in organizing for better treatment as workers by this university. We also want to thank the 2020-2021 R(C)A community that has come together and united in demanding better treatment and has dedicated hours into the completion of this document before even stepping into our roles. The free mental and emotional labor it took to complete the above statement and demands both by current and former R(C)A’s and the support of the general NYU community is recognized and valued, and we are forever grateful.