WashU RA Compensation
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We, the Residential Advisors of Washington University in St. Louis, are asking for financial compensation due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has shut down school and closed our residential communities. On March 11, 2020, Residential Advisors received an email notifying us of our forcible eviction from our living spaces, our dismissal from employment, and the cancellation of our remaining compensation for the Spring semester. These steps were taken without communication nor conference with Residential Advisors themselves and without consideration of the mental, emotional, and financial consequences such encompassing dismissals would have (and have had) on the individual experiences of RAs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. RAs were granted no additional support, and no further advice from Residential Life regarding how to move forward having now lost their guarantee of stable access to food and housing. Then, all WashU students remaining on campus were given only four days to leave, while everyone else was instructed not to return. While every other WashU student will be reimbursed a pro-rated amount for the cost of their residential housing and meal plans, RAs have been excluded from this necessary honoring of our contracts.
We, as contracted employees of the University, believe we should be compensated for these lost wages as we were unjustly terminated from our term of employment at the University. When we brought these concerns to Residential Life, we were met with a clinical, detached email in which there was no acknowledgement of their unique circumstances of eviction; namely, that RAs did not budget for housing, meals, and the cost of living, due to having that been a part of our contracts, and will receive no refund to put towards those things like other students. Furthermore, our RA duties often prevented us from working as much as we would have otherwise, meaning we were less able to save for a time like this. Many RAs depended on their RA role and the compensation attached to it in order to sustain themselves.
Numerous RAs are low income and financially in need. Many RAs were left scrambling for places to live and figuring out other living situations. Some RAs had to resort to drastic measures such as sleeping on friends’ couches. Furthermore, there was an assumption that our residents, who we spent a semester developing relationships with, would suddenly stop looking to us for support, which has proven to be false. Additionally, and as previously mentioned, there is an added burden for RAs who cannot go home for any reason, because unlike other students who will receive a refund from Residential Life, RAs are left with no money to pay for rent, food, or utilities elsewhere.
WashU Reslife’s mission statement:
The Office of Residential Life seeks to provide a safe environment that encourages learning and personal growth in an inclusive community that empowers and challenges our residents. We continually strive to improve our services to meet the needs of our students and guests and reflect the high standards of Washington University in St. Louis.
If Reslife’s role is to support its students and provide a safe environment that empowers its residents equitably, why are RAs not included, as “valued employees,” students, and residents ourselves? Though consistently told by Residential Life how “appreciated” they are in the few email exchanges brought on by these circumstances, this appreciation has yet to be felt.
We ask WashU to join other institutions such as New York University, who have compensated their RAs the amount they were meant to receive this semester. We ask WashU to join institutions such as University of Massachusetts Amherst, who have taken steps not only to provide their RAs with additional stipends to their room and board, but are continuing to pay them despite the pandemic. Other institutions, such as North Carolina State University and theUniversity of Chicago, have offered RAs opportunities for remote work in exchange for compensation. At an institution as renowned as WashU, with a Residential Life as highly reputed as ours, it is truly baffling that a better solution could not be thought of to support student employees. We ask WashU to make the right choice and take steps to support and compensate their employees.
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