Resident assistants call for better working conditions, increased communication with Residential Services


Kaavya Butaney/The Daily Northwestern

Resident assistants gathered at The Rock on Friday to advocate for better working conditions and mental health support from the University.

Kaavya Butaney and Fiona Roach

Student workers gathered at The Rock on Friday to advocate for increased resident assistant input in Residential Life decisions and mental health support for RAs. 

Residential Life announced during a Wednesday Zoom meeting that RAs will work an additional 15 to 25 hours each quarter without a raise, effective immediately, according to Communication junior and RA Jay Gokhale. He said the increase in work hours was not stipulated in their contracts for this academic year and that RAs were not consulted prior to the announcement.

Currently, RAs have the rooming cost removed from their quarterly Caesar bills and receive $1,500 or $3,000 in additional stipend, depending on whether they are a senior RA.

Weinberg sophomore and RA Aidan Lichamer said Residential Life treats RAs as if they are the “least informed” people to make decisions about themselves.

“The RA role is one of the roles that has the most direct contact with students, yet for some reason, faceless departments throughout the University pass down decisions on how our life and our work is going to be, without ever consulting us,” Lichamer said in a speech during the event.

The demonstrators presented a preliminary list of demands to the people assembled, calling for anti-harassment policies, third-party arbitration and RA representation in Residential Services.

Lichamer said while the demands have not been given to the University yet, many RAs have already spoken with their supervisors to express their frustrations. According to him, the RAs felt these concerns were “not taken seriously.”

“As student workers in general, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are some of the most vulnerable members of this campus,” Lichamer said. “We’re in this position because this is the only option we have if we want to be able to attend school.”

He also said the University is capitalizing on student workers’ vulnerability by increasing  their workload.

Assistant Vice President of Communications Jon Yates wrote in an email to The Daily that the University “appreciates and values” RAs and added that student input is sought after and factored into its decisions. He said the University offers RAs “both training and support.”

Yates also said the Residential Experience team is planning to host more team meetings this quarter to collect feedback from RAs.

Gokhale said he wants to collaborate with Residential Services to create “positive change” and “bridge” the connection between residents and the University.

Speakers at the event also called for improved mental health resources for student workers. Gokhale said RAs often have to deal with traumatic events regarding residents, and he believes a third-party mental health program would be beneficial.

“We want to help at the end of the day, but we’re not licensed therapists, we’re not counselors, we’re not licensed in first aid or emergency response,” he said.

Lichamer said he and Gokhale were avoiding speaking on behalf of all RAs at the demonstration until they’ve talked to more people about common struggles and ideas since they were in the “early phases right now.”

Members of Northwestern University Graduate Workers also attended the protest. NUGW voted to unionize with United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers of America earlier this month.

Emilie Lozier, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in chemistry and NUGW co-chair, spoke at the event and encouraged undergraduate student workers to continue their efforts to self-advocate.

“You all are integral. Your work is so important,” Lozier said. “We see you, we see what you’re doing, we want to be in solidarity with you.”

RAs have already begun working with Students Organizing for Labor Rights, Lichamer said.

Lichamer added that undergraduate student collectives at institutions like Columbia University have recently made large strides with their demands and treatment, such as a $1,000 yearly raise for RAs. 

“It’s time in general for us as RAs and workers to join other peer institutions that have been able to organize and unionize and work together to achieve their goals and demands,” Lichamer said. “If workers are better and doing better, and residents are doing better, I think that the whole university will get better as a whole.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @fionaroach03

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @kaavya_butaney

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