Returning MU resident advisors experience a different year in the dorms, including new policies and updated job expectations

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed aspects of the Department of Residential Life’s resident advisor job. This includes the enforcement of new policies as well as changes to communication with residents.

Resident advisors at MU face an unfamiliar situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With changes to dorm life and their job expectations, returning RAs are experiencing an unusual semester on campus.

What’s new (and what isn’t)

When RAs came back to campus this year, there were a few noticeable changes: locked lounges, when possible, taped-off chairs and signs telling residents to not sit in certain areas.

Even with these changes, RAs are expected to create a community within the dorms this semester.

“Res Life wants us to … help our residents out as much as possible with getting them involved at Mizzou, making them feel comfortable [and] helping them feel that this is their home and this is where they're meant to be,” the first RA interviewed, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.

To do this, the Department of Residential Life and RAs have had to get creative.

“[Residential life] has encouraged us to do [things] like trivia nights over Zoom or [play] Kahoot! over Zoom,” the third anonymous RA said. “They've thrown out the idea of doing things outside, but it's kind of hard to do that because, at least in my dorm, there's not a designated outside area for socializing that would accommodate a whole floor of like forty residents.”

RAs are now required to have office hours over Zoom, where residents can chat with their RAs.

“I've been doing it and I haven't had a single resident get on there,” the second anonymous RA said.

While some expectations have remained, the requirements for programming have relaxed. In past years, there were programming quotas where RAs would need to program a certain number of events in a certain amount of time.

“This year, that's been kind of vague, maybe even non-existent,” the second RA said. “They're encouraging us to do programming through Zoom but they don't have any sort of quota.”

According to the second RA, Residential Life has quotas for interacting with residents in the dorm.

“Last year, by the end of October, RAs needed to know the names of at least 80% of the residents on their floor, and we needed to know the room numbers of those residents,” the second RA said, via email. “Additionally, at the end of the first semester, a survey was sent out to all residents, asking if they knew who their RA was. Res Life wanted at least 95% of our residents to know our names. I believe there are similar quotas this year, but I don’t know that they’re being enforced as strictly.”

The second RA’s hall coordinator has been accommodating to RAs who might not reach all of those goals because of this year’s circumstances.

“I have the good fortune of having a really understanding, really good hall coordinator,” the second RA said. “He's said multiple times, ‘My very first priority is to make sure that you guys are safe and healthy.’”

According to MU Spokesperson Liz McCune, RAs do not have to do health and safety checks in residents’ rooms this semester in order to limit in-person contact. The first RA said that RAs are also no longer responsible for cleaning up messes, such as vomit in the hallway. In the past, they were supposed to clean up as much as possible and tape it off with caution tape until the cleaning staff could clean it. Now, it should be left for the cleaning staff.

RAs are now expected to enforce MU’s COVID-19 policies and report residents who don’t follow them. Those policies include no visitors in the dorms as well as wearing masks in public spaces.

What Residential Life is doing to Protect RAs

RAs, as well as residents, had to sign an addendum related to COVID-19 with their housing and dining contracts this year.

In order to address the effects of the pandemic on RAs, MU has sent out emails frequently this year, letting them know about the mental health services that MU provides.

In terms of supplies, RAs received masks and sanitizing wipes at the beginning of the semester.

“We got everything that every other Mizzou student got,” the third RA said. “We were actually told to go ourselves and pick up our safety kits, just like the ones in the Student Center that they have right now.”

The third RA also teaches a freshman interest group. The RA expected to get a face shield for the class, like MU professors were given. Instead, they received a disposable, clear face mask that “fogs up really quickly.”

“I've had to just wear my cloth mask, which I know can be problematic for students who are deaf or hard of hearing because they might need my lips to try and understand what I’m saying,” the third RA said. “But Mizzou hasn't provided me with an alternative to that.”

According to McCune, RAs who need different accommodations in regards to personal protective equipment should reach out to FIG Academic Director Dr. Jerry Frank. The RAs who don’t feel safe teaching their FIG in person have the option to teach remotely. At least one RA has opted to do so this semester.

Before the semester started, RAs were concerned about not having enough remote options. During their training week, RAs were told that, due to a lack of Welcome Week leaders, they would have to assist with in-person events during Welcome Week. This included attending Citizenship@Mizzou, tours of campus and the Tiger Walk.

“It just felt very rushed,” the third RA said. “We didn't have a lot of time to adapt to these new things that they wanted us to do. It seemed like they were trying to take everything from Summer Welcome and cram it into this one week, and then also make us be Summer Welcome leaders. I was like, I didn't sign up for that. I'm an RA, not a Summer Welcome leader.”

Multiple RAs were upset about these expectations, which caused Residential Life to hold a Zoom meeting where RAs could voice their concerns to the director of Residential Life. After the meeting, Residential Life sent out an email saying that RAs wouldn’t be required to do anything in person and could volunteer to be a Welcome Week leader if they wanted to.

“The concern with Welcome Week has been addressed,” said McCune. “Many RAs volunteered to support Welcome Week nonetheless.”

While that issue was resolved, some RAs are still unhappy with Residential Life’s actions this year.

“They make us do things that seem like they would expose us to the virus and then, through massive protests or outcry from the other RAs, they revoke those decisions,” the fourth anonymous RA said. “And then they say, ‘For the betterment of everyone's well being, we're deciding not to do this.’ But in actuality, they're not really giving us much to go off.”

In response, McCune said, “It is an individual decision about the level of risk one is willing to accept related to their employment responsibilities. Those currently employed chose to retain their employment in a densely populated environment and that comes with risk. Due to that risk, we had some RAs resign prior to the start of the semester.”

The second RA is unhappy with Residential Life’s policies regarding media.

“They also have these weird rules about talking to like the press or media,” the second RA said. “That's why I'm requesting to be anonymous. I don't want that to come back on me. But that's also kind of a weird thing too. We always brag about how we're the number one journalism school but you want to silence a portion of the community. You need to get permission and ask for permits and only talk about certain things. I don't know all the details but it's definitely kind of shady when you think about it.”

According to McCune, the policy for media is the same for every campus job.

If an RA were to get COVID-19

Once an MU student on campus, which includes RAs, has tested positive for COVID-19, the MU’s Care Team will help them through the quarantining process. According to McCune, RAs may quarantine in the same spaces set aside for dorm residents provided by MU.

"I've heard... [Mizzou] really tries to push [residents and RAs with COVID-19] to go home first,” the first RA said. “It would be my opinion and my inference as why they're pushing us to go home first is so they could possibly save money and a space for someone else in the quarantine location."

McCune said that this was not true.

“We have contracted for the space and are paying for it whether it is used or not,” McCune said. “Furthermore, the decision on where to isolate or quarantine is a personal one and will depend on individual circumstances. Certainly, the option of going home is part of the discussion. Some factors students must consider is their own mental health, where their families live and whether they have a safe place to go. Students should consider isolating at home with family only if they have a safe place to do so (and won’t put others at risk).”

While RAs were not notified of COVID-19 cases in their residence halls originally, MU has changed that policy. According to McCune, RAs will begin being notified of COVID-19 cases in their dorm soon.

Are the dorms safe?

The fourth RA, who lives in one of the smaller residence halls on campus, feels safe in their hall. That is not because of the policies that MU and Residential Life have put in place, but because of the residents in the dorm.

“A lot of my residents stay inside their rooms,” the fourth RA said. “They're very cooperative with the mask-wearing policy. If I catch someone not wearing a mask, I say, ‘Just put on a mask next time.’ Next time I see them, they're doing it.”

For the first RA, some of the policies only partially address the issues. While there is a “no visitor” policy in the dorms, residents still usually have some sort of contact with people outside their hall.

“The fact that we all come back to one location where there are about 60 of us per floor and we’re all living in close proximity, I feel like there is a higher risk by living in the dorms than if you were to live off campus,” the first RA said.

There are more safety concerns outside of the dorms, for the third RA.

“When I am in a public area, such as the dining halls, I don't feel as safe,” the third RA said. “A week or two after the semester started, Mizzou realized that students were sitting together and eating together without masks on, which is a way that COVID-19 can spread. So, they put stickers on the tables that said ‘one person only.’ Students are not following those stickers. So, the problem of potential spreading is still very much prevalent.”

MU has made multiple changes in attempts to keep students safe during the pandemic. The first RA thinks that they are doing everything that they can for the RAs and residents in Residential Life.

“People are still going to find a way to complain or think that Mizzou could do more,” the first RA said. “But I think, for all of us, this is a brand new thing that we've never had to experience before and deal with.”

For the second RA, MU is not doing enough when it comes to COVID-19 testing.

“You need to actually have symptoms or have a doctor's note to get tested,” the second RA said. “I think that's ridiculous. Anyone who wants to be tested should be able to be tested.”

In response, McCune said “Our testing and tracing strategies have been developed by university medical and infectious disease experts… As is true for all Boone County residents, a health care provider must issue orders before a test can be administered.”

While the fourth RA believes there are problems with how MU and Residential Life is handling the COVID-19 pandemic, they can’t think of exactly what they would change.

“It's difficult to think of a solution,” the fourth RA said. “But I think that [should] rest in the hands of the authorities more than [us].”

Edited by Lucy Caile|lcaile@themaneater.com

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