Resident Assistants Face Repercussions of COVID-19

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Madison Kirkpatrick
Campus Beat Reporter

On March 14, Chancellor Henry Yang sent out an email informing the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) community that UCSB would fully move to remote instruction in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Students were urged to stay in one place (preferably their hometowns) for the quarter and practice social distancing in order to decrease the spread of the virus. However, students were also allowed to stay in their campus housing.

With the surge of students leaving campus, one group of students who faced unprecedented challenges were the resident assistants (RAs), students who oversee undergraduate residence halls and university apartments. Many of the RAs were left hanging with the influx of students leaving, and questioned what that meant for their jobs. 

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Jill Hurd, the director of UCSB’s Residential & Community Living, explained how her team tried to accommodate for this crisis.

“We guaranteed all the RAs that we would keep them on and working in some capacity,” said Hurd. “We kind of had to wait and see how many students ended up staying and how many ended up canceling before we would know how we had to redistribute everyone.”

Illustration by Esther Liu

Hurd explained that half of the RAs (67 RAs) decided to cancel their contracts with the department and return home for the quarter. She also explained that RAs will be reassigned to new buildings once every student has been relocated to either Santa Catalina residence hall or the university-owned apartments.

The Bottom Line interviewed a few RAs — Esther Liu, Daevionne Beasley, and Zach Shoemaker — about how they dealt with the situation prior to knowing that their jobs and housing were guaranteed. 

Beasley, the current external vice president for statewide affairs (EVPSA) for Associated Students, reiterated that RAs were given the option to decide whether or not to continue their contract. “This job is all I know. I’ve dedicated my three years at UCSB to being part of housing and I wanted to continue working. It wasn’t the time to quit. My staff and my residents needed me,” said Beasley.

For Shoemaker, there was a sense of fear regarding what the job would look like for those who decided to stay. “I knew that there would be so many fewer residents and so much of the RA’s job is face-to-face contact, though I’m not worried about that anymore.” 

Liu, The Bottom Line’s social media coordinator and an RA for Santa Rosa, decided to end her contract because of the disconnect between students and housing as well as the initial uncertainty of the position. She also mentioned that RAs get free housing, but she wasn’t sure if this would continue given the fact that jobs weren’t guaranteed. “Why would I try to stay and risk the free housing?”

Santa Rosa does not have spring break housing, so students who needed to stay at UCSB would have needed to relocate anyways. International students were especially disadvantaged, said Liu. 

Beasley cited the disconnect between housing, RAs, and their students. However, he understands that communication is not always optimal given the circumstances. “The lack of info is very frustrating but there’s not much we can extract out of them because nobody can predict the future or what will happen the next day.”

Shoemaker responded, “This is obviously a global pandemic that nobody was prepared for and it’s not like there was a playbook that they had for this kind of thing. But when so much of our livelihood is in their hands as administrators, and there are so many questions that need answering, they should have been more transparent about why they made the decisions they did and at least asked us for input.”

Liu had a similar response regarding student input; she stated that a meeting with housing employees and students would have been beneficial to ease any concerns. “You can’t make decisions on your own and assume you won’t get backlash.” 

Beasley and Shoemaker were also asked about how pay would work for those who left their contracts. “People who left won’t get their stipend and may not qualify for administrative leave. I’ve been trying to figure out through my role as EVPSA if there’s some way for RAs to qualify for the 128 hours of admin leave.”

Shoemaker also worried about compensation. “We don’t really get ‘paid’ as RAs so unemployment becomes very complicated and I worry that the university won’t offer any sort of measure to make those of us who chose to leave again.”

Despite everything occurring that seems negative, there are some positive aspects to the situation. Beasley mentioned the idea of being innovative during this time. “I guess one positive aspect is that we have to find innovative new ways to check in on my residents since I can’t be there physically. It gives us and the department time to innovate.”

Shoemaker said, “The biggest rewards of being an RA are the relationships that come out of the job. The friendships with the people on my staff, the friendships with my residents, the satisfaction of seeing your residents build their own relationships. A lot of that is gone now because a lot of my coworkers didn’t return this quarter and most of my residents moved out as well. But the people who did stay are in a very unique position together and I genuinely think that this trying time will bond us.”

Madison Kirkpatrick
Madison started with The Bottom Line in her first quarter as a transfer student at UCSB. She began as a staff writer and was promoted to Campus Beat Reporter for the 2019-2020 cycle. Despite the fact that she has now graduated after two short years, Madison’s passion for journalism still remains. She is excited to see where her career takes her and where the paper grows from here.