As the University of Michigan prepared to enter a stay-in-place order two weeks ago in hopes of curbing the spike in COVID-19 cases on campus, some resident advisers reached their breaking point.
For some, this decision to resign was inevitable and they planned to leave their posts at the end of the semester. However, as the COVID-19 case numbers began to increase, Taubman junior Haley Beverlin, a second-year Mary Markley Residence Hall RA, decided to resign earlier. She said she had initially had higher hopes for her experience on Residential Staff.
“I thought it was going to be great again,” Beverlin said. “Different, of course, but still a fun way to help incoming freshmen transition to college and have a good community on ResStaff. It wasn’t as easy to build a community as it has been in the past.”
In mid-October, an outbreak of cases in Mary Markley forced the University to ask all students living in the residence hall to undergo enhanced social distancing for two weeks. Markley residents and staff were told not to attend in-person classes after testing identified additional new cases in the building.
Beverlin said not being able to properly socialize with residents made it more difficult to develop friendships.
“I felt like all I was doing was communicating with them to reprimand them which wasn’t enjoyable to me,” Beverlin said. “I decided earlier in the semester that I was going to resign for the next semester and move off-campus. However, when COVID cases increased in the dorms, I felt safer to head home.”
Sydney Moore, another RA in Markley and LSA junior, also opted to move out earlier.
“It was actually my first year as an RA, so I think that made me more likely to quit because I didn’t have the same connections as some of the others do to the position,” Moore said. “I thought pretty early on I was going to quit at the end of the semester and stay on until at least then, and then I ended up coming home thinking I was just going to stay for the weekend but I decided to just stay home because of how bad the situation got.”
Many students join Residential Staff each year to interact with students and help them adjust to college. However, with the ongoing pandemic, some RAs complained about the loss of the sense of community in the dorms as University Housing expected RAs to help enforce stricter policies.
“I thought it would be an interesting growing experience just to develop my leadership skills and I thought it would be fun to meet a bunch of new people, but that’s just not the reality I was met with,” Moore said. “We’re not really supposed to go into each other’s rooms and RAs this year really have the role of … enforcing all of the rules that Housing wants to see. But there’s really no way to enforce them.”
Some students have blamed the University’s plan to reopen campus and a lack of testing for the outbreaks in dorms. At the end of September, two new clusters were confirmed at Mosher-Jordan and Alice Lloyd residence halls. By the time Washtenaw County issued its stay-in-place order for undergraduates, more than 1,000 positive cases had been detected on campus.
LSA senior Natalie Cadotte, a second-year South Quad Residence Hall RA, said the school could have taken more drastic measures to prevent the spread of the virus in residence halls.
“I can’t tell in hindsight if I ever predicted that students would behave with more respect for the rules, or if I assumed University Housing would be able to handle the rising cases and increased need for policy enforcement better than they have, but I did not expect cases to reach the numbers they have without more drastic university intervention by now,” Cadotte said.
Senior Associate Director of Housing Amir Baghdadchi said the administration was not overwhelmed by the high number of RAs quitting.
“It regularly happens each year that a number of RAs choose to step down from their positions,” Baghdadchi said. “Being an RA is one of the most challenging jobs on campus, and we understand if a student is no longer able to be fully committed. Our practice is to rehire for those positions, rather than move current RAs to different buildings.”
Baghdadchi said that while Housing may hire someone to fill a vacant position in the middle of fall semester, they “typically rehire so that new RAs begin in Winter Term, which often works best for their housing arrangements, and we can train them together as a new cohort.”
“The basic operations of a residence hall (safety, mail, facilities, duty rounds) are not affected when an RA steps down from their position,” Baghdadchi said.
Cadotte noted that not all residents comply with public health guidelines. When freshmen began to move in back in August, people complained about the disregard shown for safety guidelines.
“For every dozen residents that are taking the Housing policies seriously around guests and face coverings, there are a few residents that do not respect the policies and actively put themselves and others in danger,” Cadotte said.
In September, more than 100 RAs voted to go on strike out of frustration, demanding increased COVID-19 protections and hazard pay. The strike ended on September 16 after the University filed an injunction against striking employees. Many of the RAs and graduate students’ demands, such as increased childcare support and reallocation of DPSS funding, were not met by administration.
Practicing social distancing is a difficult task for people living in large shared spaces like dorms. LSA senior Zoey Angers, a second-year East Quad Residence Hall RA, explained the daily struggles she experienced living in the dorms.
“It’s tough to stay safe in the dorms unless you stay in your room 24/7,” Angers said. “I practiced social distancing as best I could, but some activities, like brushing your teeth in the bathroom or grabbing food from the dining hall, were essentially impossible to do entirely safely. Handing packages over to residents at the community center was also stressful for the same reasons.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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