Res hall desk jobs cause ire

BY JAKE HOLMES
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 4, 2007

A policy change requiring resident advisers in each dorm to work weekly two-hour shifts at the dorm's front desk this semester - a job previously reserved for students enrolled in a work-study program - has upset both RAs and student employees.

Kelly Fraser
Shawna Stover, a resident adviser in East Quad, answers the phone while RC sophomore Sarah Oas and RC freshman Caroline Thomas wait for a new room key. Some RAs are upset about being forced to work at dorm front desks. (SAM WOLSON/Daily)

Students who work at the front desk for work-study say they can't work as many hours as they want. Some RAs complain that time spent behind the desk takes away from the key duties of an RA, like being available for students or planning hall events.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity because RAs aren't allowed to talk to the media, one RA said he thinks spending time at the desk can cause him to miss problems arising in his hall.

"I don't think you're going to intercept crises when you're at the front desk," he said.

RAs have been required to work shifts at the front desk since the spring when the Residence Education branch of University Housing - which oversees dormitory staff and community development programs such as hall social events or workshops - was restructured, according to Patty Griffin, interim student housing associate director.

The original idea behind the change was to make the front desk less of a service counter and more of a focal point for residence hall communities, Griffin said. By having RAs working with student concerns outside of their hall, they would have more opportunities to meet with and help students. Griffin said it also gives students a better chance to have their problems resolved.

"It gives us an opportunity to have a different kind of conversation with students," she said.

The RA who wished to remain anonymous said he disagrees with that reasoning. He said his time at the desk is spent doing clerical work, not meeting students. He said he's spent his shift merely sorting packages.

The RA also said he has been reprimanded by the office manager for chatting with students.

"I'm a clerk," he said. "I'm not there to talk to people."

The RA said because he had to learn to sort packages, provide lock-out keys and perform other front desk tasks, he didn't receive as much training in regular aspects of being an RA - like suicide prevention or working with residents.

University Housing spokesman Peter Logan said Residence Education didn't provide as much training as was necessary for RAs working at the front desk because they didn't have enough time before school began. He said desk workers and RAs have thus far failed to understand the ideas of turning the desk into more of a community hub. But he said he thinks RAs like being placed prominently in residence halls based on what he has heard from hall directors and office managers.

Griffin said Residence Education is only now realizing how it should have better prepared for the change. At first the office overestimated the amount of time the RAs would be spending at the desk and cut student workers' hours to 10 hours per week to make room in the schedule for the RAs' shifts. The office has since realized it can give work-study students more shifts, Griffin said.

But John Janulis, resident director for Mary Markley residence hall, said he doesn't think that the shift is extra work that would interfere with RA duties. The RA position already requires 20 hours of work per week, and the shift counts as part of that 20 hours. He said RAs can still plan events or meet with residents during their desk shifts.

A desk worker at South Quad residence hall who uses the job to earn work study money who wished to remain anonymous because she was worried about her boss' reaction said she can't work as many hours this year as last year because of the RAs' involvement.

She said last year she worked an average of 20 hours or more per week at the South Quad front desk. She said now she can only work 10 per week because times reserved for RA shifts.

"I scrimp," she said. "I only buy food when it's absolutely necessary."

She also said she was very upset because she didn't find out about the change until August, when her boss sent the staff an e-mail.

Despite a few people who aren't happy with the change, Griffin said she thinks overall response has been positive. Based on conversations with hall directors and front desk office managers, Griffin said more people are coming and striking up conversations with desk workers in general - especially RAs.

LSA sophomore Molly Netter, a West Quad resident, said the change hasn't had a large effect on students' interactions with RAs. She said she thinks she sees her RAs the same amount as last year, despite the desk shifts. But she said she doesn't really notice RAs at the desk and doesn't seek them out there.

The desk worker who wished to remain anonymous said she didn't notice a difference.

At South Quad, she said RAs most often work evening shifts when the desk is quietest. She said she doesn't think any more students come to the front desk than came last year.

Logan said work-study employees were taken care of in the new system.

A guarantee of 10 work hours per week was established for student workers as part of the change, and no workers lost their job as a result, Logan said. Students who want to work more hours can cover other workers' shifts or spend time at front desks in other residence halls.

"(Front desks) have been able to accommodate anyone who has requested other hours," Logan said.

Griffin said RAs weren't asked to do desk duty so the University could save money by hiring fewer desk staff members. She said hall directors from each residence hall determine a budget need based on how many desk shifts are required each week, and each hall director can budget as many shifts as they need.

Griffin also said desk workers and RAs would get better training next year. She said most workers didn't understand how they were supposed to "build community" and interact with students through their front desk work this year.