Colin Maruscask, Sports Editor |
After being sent home during my penultimate semester of education due to COVID-19, I was thrilled to hear that we would be returning for the Fall semester at SUNY Oneonta. The joy of seeing all my friends that live far away and the freedom of being on my own made time fly by this summer. However, all that positive energy and vigor that I came into the semester with was quickly washed away due to the threat of the pandemic. While we all have heard the stories regarding student experiences with COVID-19, one story that often gets overlooked and ignored is the story of the RAs and RCAs on campus.
Starting my senior year, I had around two years of experience being an RCA in Golding Hall and those were some of my fondest moments on campus. I loved every aspect of the job; from interacting with many different students, to throwing cool socials, to presenting ideas to committees and trying to make campus a better place for students to live. I was glad to know that I could resume my place on campus and as an RCA but looking back on it, I wish I didn’t. I wasn’t alone in thinking this as many of the other RAs on-campus shared similar beliefs to me and voiced the need for change. There ended up being a petition formed with some RAs even floating around the idea of going on strike. If you want to read the full petition you can find it here: https://www.change.org/p/the-office-of-the-president-pay-suny-oneonta-ras-covid-19-compensation?redirect=false.
The first reason why I wished I had not returned to campus this semester was the amount of close contact we as RAs and RCAs would have to deal with in regards to COVID-19. Coming into the job this year, I knew that I would have to deal with students who tested positive, and though I wasn’t afraid of that, I did not believe it would be at the scale at which it ended up. Many student-residential staff felt they were being inadequately compensated for the exposure they faced. RAs and RCAs have been advocating for themselves for the past few years and have received nothing but empty words from our director. Since COVID-19 spread through our campus like a wildfire, buildings were asked to create all-day desk hours for building staff in case someone needed something in regards to COVID-19. RAs and RCAs already have mandated desk hours built into their original contracts as well as having to sit desk duty around one night a week. The increase in desk presence and the lack of separation from the job did nothing but increase stress and ruin our overall health. I vividly remember dragging some of my stressed-out coworkers from behind the desk and making them take a break due to the obvious mental strain it was putting on them. To have students in an already short-staffed building spend 6-8 hours at the front desk without compensation was brutal. Luckily, the building directors managed to secure funding for the RAs and allowed for them to receive compensation for the last week they worked at the desk.
Another reason as to why I wish I didn’t return to campus was the amount of, for lack of a better term, babysitting we had to do for students. There are already enough issues freshmen have when coming into college and adding the threat of COVID-19 to them pushed it over the edge. From the week-long move in process, until they sent everyone home, the RAs and RCAs on campus were put in the precarious position of playing all-day, all-access parent for students. While this isn’t anything new, having to deal with the drama of, “she went out last night so she has COVID” or “I heard so-and-so slept over at her boyfriend’s dorm last night” was not an easy affair. While our rushed training did give us some tips for handling this situation, we were in no way able to predict the amount of chaos that COVID-19 would bring. While playing police within the building was fine by telling people to wear masks and to maintain capacity limits within rooms, anything outside our building wasn’t within our jurisdiction. I could think of three residents off the top of my head who confided to me crying that they didn’t feel safe leaving their dorm rooms due to the number of unsafe gatherings happening outside the building. This was all just too much for us to handle as staff combined with the traditional freshman drama. It only was worsened by the fact that we had to spend most of the day brooding it over at the desk and unable to truly unwind in our rooms with mandated roommates.
While I could continue with our grievances, I will leave this issue on a positive note. There are plenty of people within the Residential Life Community that are looking out and advocating for their RAs and RCAs and it makes me happy to know. However, if this trend of neglecting RAs and RCAs continues, don’t be surprised to see an already thin pool of candidates get even thinner for student leadership at our home, SUNY Oneonta.