This quarter’s Roompact Contest invites residence life and housing professionals to submit a blog post responding to the prompt, “How has COVID changed ResLife?”
The post shared as part of this series represent their views on the topic. If you’d like to submit your own post, learn more about how to enter the contest here.
Guest Post by Christopher Alan, Residence Life Professional
Throughout the course of the pandemic, I’ve seen frequent posts (some from anonymous posters fearful of retaliation from their employers, others from named posters) asking questions like this: “My institution is asking Housing & Residence Life professionals to do X. Can we push back? How?”
In this equation, X can be so outlandish that you’d think schools believe “other duties as assigned” to be so malleable to essentially mean “whatever else we tell (or, more charitably and insidiously, volun-tell) you to do, you simple Masters-educated cog in our pseudo-capitalist machine.”
“My institution is asking us to do the work of four people and we’re shamed for requesting time off, what can we do?”
“My institution is asking us to deliver meals to students in quarantine and isolation for no hazard pay and without proper PPE? Do we have any options?”
“My institution is asking us to herd llamas and sheer their fur to raise additional revenue, how can we push back?”
Okay, maybe I haven’t read that third question yet, but it doesn’t feel so far off in our current state.
Housing & Residence Life staff, from RAs to RDs and up, have often been tasked as the catch-all of the university: we will always be present on the scene, always be there to answer the phone, always be available to help. For live-on staff, low wages are supplemented by university-covered housing, hanging like a Sword of Damocles over them with every request to do more or go the extra mile.
One could argue that the pandemic posed once-in-a-lifetime challenges that put our schools in a near-constant emergency state, with everyone needing to jump in and do their part to keep the ship afloat, and that people should be lucky to even have jobs. The issue here is that the pandemic likely exacerbated many challenges departments already had, in addition to bearing entirely new problems to solve. Employees at many places were already feeling overworked and under-compensated or undervalued; add COVID budget and personnel cuts, as well as all of the new “COVID-19 related duties,” and you get employee morale so tainted it’s non-existent.
How has COVID-19 permanently changed housing and residence life? I believe that Housing & Residence Life professionals are finally internalizing the understanding that our work is not only valuable to our student communities, but that it also holds real economic and institutional value, which can help in advocating for change. I hope that Housing & Residence Life professionals will stop accepting difficult work conditions and start engaging in real conversations with their department and institutional leaders on how to improve staff working conditions and morale.