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Internal Conflicts of Housing and Residential Education: HRE Lacks Support For Student Leaders and Residents

Six current and former RAs and one CA said they received inadequate training and support from HRE leadership to fulfill their roles, but were held to unrealistically high standards.
The+Kahlert+Village+courtyard+on+the+University+of+Utah+campus+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+July+1%2C+2022.+%28Photo+by+Jack+Gambassi+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Jack Gambassi
The Kahlert Village courtyard on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on July 1, 2022. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Among Resident Advisors and Community Advisors in Housing and Residential Education at the University of Utah, seven told the Chronicle they feel HRE has several communication and support issues that make their roles as student leaders significantly harder.

The role of an RA is to live in the dorms and be a resource for students to come to with any questions or concerns, while CAs are in charge of daily rounds to do alcohol busts and help with mental health crises. To fulfill these roles, every student leader must go through training before taking on their position. However, many told the Chronicle the training and communication from HRE didn’t provide them with the necessary tools to have a successful year or take care of themselves in the position. 

Inadequate Training

Multiple RAs told the Chronicle that during the time in their positions, they were unable to provide support students needed due to limitations set on them by HRE.

Ian Wixom, who graduated from the U and left the RA role in December 2022, compared their lack of proper training to having nurses with no degrees work in a hospital. 

“It’s kind of like having nurses at a hospital, but none of them have degrees, and they were told verbally how to take blood pressure and do all these things, and then you’re thrown into the emergency room,” Wixom said. 

Wixom said he felt as though RAs were held to a high standard, but not given the proper resources to meet that expectation. 

“If our actions are going to have legal consequences, we should have the proper training and care,” Wixom said. “We do not get that from the university.”  

Currently, all student leaders have to participate in seven training sessions in August, before students move into the dorms. Each session runs from around 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., according to the August 2023 training schedule provided by HRE. 

Ana Belmonte, the associate director of communications and assessment for HRE, described these trainings to be intensive and covering a large number of topics. Some of the topics include HRE structure and staff, TitleIX/OEO mandatory reporting, mental health training, active shooter training and working with the University Police Department. 

Though the training schedules are packed, the August 2023 schedule shows the student leaders only spent an hour and fifteen minutes out of the week-long training going through emergency procedures, even though the Emergency Procedure Manual is 94 pages long. 

Current student leaders also expressed their frustrations with the training material and the depth to which topics were covered. Some feel as though the information was so general it could have been sent in an email. 

In a written response, HRE said there is additional training beyond the week-long session in August. This includes monthly sessions throughout the academic year on different topics selected by the Student Leader Training Committee and an intensive two-day training before the spring semester. 

HRE said the choice of training topics and the logistics such as the length of the training day are influenced by a few different factors. Some topics are mandatory due to federal and state laws or university policy. HRE also makes changes based on feedback from prior student leaders, which they obtain using a focus group with student leaders over the summer months. 

For example, HRE said after the August 2023 training, student leaders indicated they wanted more training on writing Incident Reports and Campus Assessment, Response and Evaluation, or CARE, reports. In response, this was made the focus of the September monthly training session. Besides the focus group, HRE said student leaders can also provide feedback in their weekly one-on-one meetings with their supervisors or the weekly staff meeting. 

The Community Advisor position is new this year. Belmonte explained this change was to help lighten the workload student leaders have in a day. 

Though CAs have a distinct role to fulfill, they are trained mostly as RAs. One CA, who was granted anonymity based on their current employment status and will be referred to as Source A, attended the week-long training and expressed frustration with it. 

“In training, they talk about all these procedures that they take, but [after] looking at the history of HRE it feels very performative,” Source A said. 

Job Retention and Turnover

HRE staff hope to help students learn valuable skills during their time working for them. However, some student leaders told the Chronicle they feel there is too much pressure to behave perfectly in their roles. These students described thinking about the chances of being fired and ultimately losing their housing in all of their actions. 

Source A said they felt anxiety over asking for better working conditions or any support because of the fear of getting fired, adding that most RAs and CAs would rather deal with their situation alone than report it and potentially lose their job. HRE policies are supposed to protect staff members from actions such as this, but the RAs told the Chronicle they did not feel this protection. 

“It just feels like you’re … always walking a thin line,” Source A said. 

While the academic year is in session, some RAs may stay in their positions regardless of difficult circumstances, but if provided with an alternative, many students expressed they don’t feel it’s worth the stress and mental health issues it causes. RAs may choose to not continue in the role or their offer may be revoked — either way, there is a high amount of turnover each year. 

“If everyone’s dropping out all of a sudden and only one or two people stick to the next year, [that] should say something,” Wixom said. 

The eligibility requirements to be a student leader include a minimum course load of 12 undergraduate credits and a maximum of 18 credits, a minimum semester and cumulative GPA of 2.5 (3.5 for honors communities), remaining in “good conduct/financial standing” with the U and attending all required training. 

Returning student leaders have to fill out a self-evaluation form which is taken into consideration in the returning process. Student leaders also must meet individually with their supervisor, during which they are presented with the final evaluation document filled out by their supervisor based on their semester performance. 

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The rating scale used in the RA semester evaluation ranges from 1 to 3. A rating of 1 corresponds to “does not meet expectations,” a rating of 2 corresponds to “meets expectations” and a rating of 3 corresponds to “exceeds expectations.” 

The students are given a score with this rating system for 20 different statements, like, “works positively and effectively with other student leaders to address concerns in the community in a timely manner.” In an additional section at the end, students are also rated on three yes or no questions, which count for 1 or 0 points, respectively. 

In order to receive the designation of “recommend for re-selection,” RAs must receive a total of 40 to 63 points on their evaluation. If a student were to score two (meeting expectations) on all 20 statements and a “yes” to all three questions in the last section, they would have a total of 43 points. 

One graduate from the U, who has been granted anonymity due to extenuating circumstances and will be referred to as Source B, said they are unsure the rating system is effective in evaluating RAs. 

“In terms of adequately evaluating my performance … metrics were not always the best way to evaluate an RA because an RA is fundamentally about people building personal relationships,” Source B said. “I often feel like that was sidelined by [HRE] in favor of quantitative goals that, to my mind, didn’t build community.” 

Lack of Support From Leadership 

Resident Director Tyler Bacon explained in a written statement that in his role the goal is to help young leaders develop important life and leadership skills that can support students and be used in future endeavors.

However, some RAs told the Chronicle they feel a lack of support from their RDs. Wixom felt the social support wasn’t there for the leaders or the students, leaving them to solve their issues on their own. 

London Ellis, who was not rehired after experiencing numerous issues with her RD, said she felt she was labeled combative for asking questions. 

Both Source A and Source B, as well as Wixom and Ellis, alluded to several times they could not rely on help from HRE leadership with student emergencies. 

Wixom spoke about students with disabilities and how maintenance issues and lack of response from HRE caused inconveniences when elevators were continually broken. 

Source A, Source B and Ellis spoke about their experiences handling mental health crises in which they felt HRE could have done better at responding quickly and providing support. 

“I think that most housing failures in supporting individuals have come in incredibly key moments,” Source B said. 

In their written statement, HRE said student leaders have a number of staff to call for support when they need help, including on-call staff members, an assistant director staff member and associate directors of HRE. They also said student leaders may reach out to staff outside of HRE such as Facilities Operations, the Racist and Bias Incident Response Team, the University Department of Public Safety and the University Police Department. 

Unrealistic Standards 

Multiple RAs spoke about the expectations their RDs had for them, saying sometimes they were unclear, while other times they had to be exceptional at their job. 

Source B expressed how much they loved the role and yet felt the expectation was for them to go above and beyond in all matters, which wasn’t always realistic for a busy college student. The anxiety of not living up to these expectations has continued to cause many of these leaders to not express their concerns to HRE staff out of fear of retaliation.  

“RAs [would] feel uncomfortable talking to [their RD] about situations that they were experiencing because they were afraid that they would not only not be supportive, but that they might be retaliated against in some kind of way,” Source B said.  

The feared retaliation was said to include several things that could significantly impact the student leaders’ life, like not being rehired the next year, being fired and losing their housing, or being written up for poor behavior.

Source B was verbally reprimanded many times and written up after not completing tasks in the way their RD requested. 

In a document provided to RAs titled “Student Leader Accountability Process,” the disciplinary processes used by HRE are outlined. The first disciplinary step is a verbal warning which clarifies how the RA failed to meet expectations. This is followed by a written warning, a final written warning and then dismissal/termination. Meetings are arranged between RAs and their supervisor in each of these cases to discuss the disciplinary action. 

If student leaders are terminated, they are given a dismissal letter, which the document says is used “when either a team member has received a number of warnings about performance or when behavior is egregious enough to warrant release from their position.” Following this, student leaders are given five days to vacate their student leader housing. 

In their written statement, HRE said the process “is not a three-strike policy but nuanced and individualized. Students can have multiple verbal or written warnings and not be terminated.” 

 

[email protected] 

@AynaelyssyaT

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About the Contributors
Aynaelyssya Thomas, Investigative Writer
Aynaelyssya Thomas is pursuing degrees in Communication, emphasizing in journalism and political science at the University of Utah. Born and raised in Medford, Oregon, Aynaelyssya loves the outdoors, drawing, and reading. After college, she hopes to go into investigative journalism to bring light to situations and help people.
Jack Gambassi, Photographer
Jack comes from Boise, Idaho and is a senior in the Honor's College majoring in economics with minors in Italian and chemistry. He is a pre-med student and hopes to go to medical school in the fall of 2024. Jack has been taking photos as a hobby since he was eight years old. After two years at the Chronicle, this will be his third and final year. A fun fact about Jack is that he speaks Italian.

Comments (3)

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  • L

    Linda MittelhammerJan 24, 2024 at 11:43 am

    I hate to hear that there are training issues and lack of communication for RA’S and CA’S in the dorms. This was an area of concern with Lauren’s McCluskey’s murder. The RA was the only one that actively tried to get Lauren help, but her concerns were not acted upon by the supervisors above her. They needed to put into place better training and communication in all levels.

    Reply
  • J

    JennaJan 24, 2024 at 11:06 am

    Excellent read as per usual. Great journalism. I hope that someone important at the U begins to open their eyes to the ongoing problems present in HRE.

    Reply
  • C

    Celine CardeñaJan 24, 2024 at 10:50 am

    Slay Boss

    Reply