Content Warning: mentions of sexual assault, sexual harassment

On Sept. 8, 2020, over 100 residential advisors — University housing staff members consisting of student employees — at the University of Michigan voted to strike, frustrated by hazardous pandemic-induced working conditions. 

The University reached a deal with residential staff members two weeks later. As part of this agreement, the University agreed to provide ResStaff with updated data on COVID-19 cases in residence halls and daily communication regarding case numbers as well. 

They also promised the formation of the Residential Experience Council (REC), a biweekly forum for residential staff members to voice their concerns to University Housing administrators.

A Michigan Daily investigation into University Housing policies found that University Housing has reneged on its commitment to ensure residential staff members’ safety after the Fall 2020 strike. 

In August and September 2021, University Housing did not hold any REC meetings according to an email obtained by The Daily sent on Oct. 19, in which Director of Residence Education Jasmine Clay scheduled the first REC meeting two months into the semester. 

Clay wrote that meeting frequency will be reduced from biweekly to monthly. In addition, the email also included a guideline that regulated residential staff members’ behavior during REC meetings.

A document Housing administration sent out with updated guidelines for the REC. Obtained by The Daily. 

According to the email, REC meetings will not be used to discuss “personnel matters regarding specific supervisors of (residential staff members). Building representatives should follow the designated Department communication route to share personnel feedback,” Clay wrote.

For residential staff members, the “designated Department communication route” is their hall director, an in-dorm supervisor who directly oversees everyday work. Circumventing hall directors and reporting directly to their supervisors is heavily discouraged by University Housing, according to interviews with 21 current and former residential staff members.

These staff members allege this prevents some safety concerns from reaching University Housing administrators. 

In an email statement to The Daily, Amir Baghdadchi, Senior Associate Director of University Housing, commented on University Housing’s reporting processes.

“ResStaff can always find a first resource in their direct supervisor, who typically lives in the same building alongside their ResStaff, present and available to talk,” Baghdadchi said. “In addition, one of the strengths of our student staff program is that each member is part of a larger cohort of fellow ResStaff, including more experienced RAs, and some of the most valuable support comes from that community.”

A Daily investigation found University Housing failed to properly respond to numerous undisclosed safety concerns brought by residential staff members between 2018 and 2021.

Before the strike in Fall 2020, residential staff members were prohibited from speaking to the media, according to Letter of Appointment (LOA) documents obtained by The Daily. 

An excerpt from the 2019-2020 Letter of Appointment. Obtained by The Daily.

“ResStaff may not communicate publicly (including to the news media, in social media, or other public communication venues) about professional matters internal to University Housing without authorization from a supervisor,” the policy stated.

Current LOA documents, also obtained by The Daily, do not outline forbidden actions such as engagement with the media. The LOA from 2019-2020 was 12 pages long; the updated LOA for 2021-2022 is only one page long.

Despite the policy change, numerous residential staff members allege that hall directors continue to discourage interviews with the media. They fear that the vagueness of their current contracts would allow the University to easily terminate their employment.

Baghdadchi wrote in an email to The Daily that residential staff members are free to engage with the media. 

“Student staff have always been free to express their personal points of view as students to the media,” Baghdadchi wrote. “To ensure accuracy, factual questions about Michigan Housing are handled by professional staff.” 

Baghdadchi also wrote that he acknowledges the difficulty of residential staff work and shared the support provided to these staff members by the University.

“Resident advisors and diversity peer educators, known as ResStaff, have some of the toughest and most critical student jobs on campus, and we know that for them to support residents, they need strong support from Housing,” Baghdadchi wrote. 

Former residential staff member Isra Elshafei also spoke of the difficulty of residential staff work.

“It was a constant feeling of being a pawn in their system. We were being stripped of being a student,” Elshafei said. “We were no longer a student, we were just an RA.”

‘I didn’t trust being in the dorms’

The Daily spoke with a former residential staff member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. In this article, she will be referred to as Alice.

Bagdadchi declined to comment on Alice’s experiences. 

“The University does not comment on personnel matters,” Bagdadchi wrote.

Alice shared a written account with The Daily about her experiences as a ResStaff member, which are quoted below to share her testimony in this article.

On the second day of classes in Fall 2019, Alice said she overheard a conversation between several of her residents.

“They were talking about how they were going to break me,” Alice said in an interview with The Daily. “What was that supposed to mean? Break me? How?”

Alice said she tried to brush the incident off, but she began noticing the residents around campus outside the residence halls.

“I noticed at least three of them during many passing periods,” Alice said. “I became increasingly nervous … on campus.”

In the residence hall, she alleged that she began hearing them speak about her inappropriately.

“I had to engage in nice conversation as they purposely said things to make me uncomfortable,” Alice wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Afterward, I would hear them saying ‘fuck her,’ ‘nice ass,’ or ‘Oooh I’d like to tap that.’”

Alice said she received notes and love poems on her door that commented on her appearance and her private life. Some of these notes were signed by one of the residents who allegedly made those comments, according to Alice. The Daily has obtained photos of these notes and confirmed their contents.

One night, Alice said she heard a loud bang on her door. The noise startled her so much that she burned her thumb on her curling iron. 

“I hear (him) yelling … ‘Where the hell (is she?),’” Alice said. “This was the first time I was very scared of him.”

According to training documents obtained by The Daily, residential staff members should report incidents of gender-based harassment to hall directors. Alice started doing so in September 2019.

Alice told The Daily that the resident allegedly cornered one of her coworkers and demanded Alice’s whereabouts. This coworker, who corroborated this story, requested anonymity in an interview with The Daily for fear of professional retribution.

Alice said she reported this event to her hall director. A Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) officer was called the same day to take Alice’s statement.

During that meeting, Alice said she felt her experiences were dismissed. In a written statement sent to The Daily, Alice said the DPSS officer made comments that disparaged her concerns.

“At the end of the meeting, the DPSS officer looked at me like I just wasted his time and said, ‘Honey, it sounds like they have a little crush on you. Why don’t you just confront (them)?’” Alice wrote.

Alice told The Daily she didn’t have the emotional capacity to respond to this comment. Her hall director was also present at this meeting, and Alice said she was surprised that the hall director did not speak up.

“(My hall director) didn’t try to convince DPSS that … this was a problem and needed to be solved,” Alice said. “There wasn’t any checking-in with me to see how I was doing.”

The meeting ended with the DPSS officer promising to have a conversation with the resident, “not because it was wrong, but because it was scaring me,” according to Alice.

According to the DPSS report, the conversation between the DPSS officer and the resident lasted two minutes.

When Alice later read the DPSS report, she learned that more than half of what she told the officer was not included. The Daily has obtained a copy of this report.

After the meeting, the hall director allegedly told Alice that the resident was going to stop by Alice’s dorm room later that day for a private apology. Alice said she was shocked. She told the hall director she was not comfortable with being alone with the person who had allegedly harassed her.

Although the hall director set up this meeting, they did not offer to accompany her, according to Alice.

“It’s like they had purposely taken away any choice I would ever have in how to deal with any of this,” Alice said. “I felt kind of violated that he was in my room. It was supposed to be my safe space and (he’s not) a safe person.”

After this, Alice said she felt unsafe in her dorm room. She said she slept fully clothed with a screwdriver under her pillow.

“I just didn’t trust being in the dorms anymore,” Alice said. 

In the same month, Alice was allegedly sexually assaulted by a classmate in her dorm room. She said she could not tell her close friends on the residential staff because they would report the incident as mandatory reporters — residential staff members are required to report allegations of sexual assault to their hall director.

“If something happens to (a residential staff member), the person who’s in charge of you, that you work with everyday, who you live in the same building with, that has complete control over your life, regardless of whether or not you trust them … is the one who’s supposed to find out,” Alice said. “I never understood that.”

In the two months following the alleged sexual assault, Alice said she constantly experienced panic attacks and flashbacks to the incident. She said she ultimately decided to report to her hall director, so she could inform and be supported by her residential staff friends. 

Alice said she approached her hall director and asked a few hypothetical questions to find out if her privacy would be protected. 

“My boss said I could just say I was sexually assaulted, my name could be left off the report, the report would be a hard copy (with no electronic records) and no other groups on campus would reach out to me because it was anonymous,” Alice wrote.

After disclosing the details of the assault to her hall director, Alice alleges that her hall director went back on promises and declined to keep Alice’s name out of the report.

“I started feeling like I was going to cry. I remember biting my tongue and tasting blood,” Alice said.

Alice said she feared that she would have to speak to DPSS again and decided not to share additional details with her hall director. She later found out her hall director still filed a report disclosing her name and Alice was contacted by the University’s Office for Institutional Equity.

Alice’s hall director no longer works in University Housing, and their email directed The Daily to the Office of Public Affairs. 

Baghdadchi wrote in an email that University Housing encourages residential staff members to report sexual harassment and misconduct.

“All members of the U-M community are encouraged to report sexual and gender-based misconduct to the university, to the police or both,” Baghdadchi wrote. “If any student, (including) residential advisors, has experienced sexual or gender-based misconduct, they can report the incident and request an investigation.”

Alice alleges that the residents — including the resident who was asked to apologize — continued to harass her; her residents allegedly came up with nicknames for her, commented on her body in pictures on the bulletin board and stalked her in classes. 

Later that semester, Alice alleges she was sexually assaulted again by a different person. Both instances of alleged sexual assault occurred outside her job as a residential staff member.

Alice said she chose to not report the incidents following the first alleged sexual assault incident to DPSS or University Housing. 

‘Clearly you can’t handle this’

Another residential staff member alleged that University Housing administrators repeatedly downplayed concerns for her safety. This staff member requested anonymity citing fears of professional retribution. In this article, she will be referred to as Bri.

During residential staff training in August 2021, Bri said she felt threatened by one of her coworkers. Conversations with this coworker left Bri feeling shaken and unsafe.

“He’s a very physical person and … you can tell when he’s getting upset,” Bri said in an interview with The Daily. “He’s just very loud and very in your face.”

Bri said University Housing did not adequately prepare her for the possibility that she might be harassed by a coworker.

These sentiments were echoed by a former residential staff member, class of 2021 graduate Anooshka Gupta.

“We had gone over all these resources with SAPAC (Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center) … but I feel like it was (about) ‘How do you support students?’ Gupta said. “There was never anything about ‘What if something happens with another staff member?’”

One day at lunch, Bri said her coworker allegedly approached her after she had asked him to stop interrupting her during training meetings. Bri told her coworker that she didn’t want to address this during lunch.

“I think (if) we have the conversation, I’m going to cry,” Bri said in response to her coworker.

Bri alleges that her coworker continued pursuing the topic until she cried. 

Once Bri’s coworker left, she said she called their hall director and asked for the training to be rescheduled because her coworker’s behavior made her feel unsafe. The hall director requested to meet with Bri to discuss the aforementioned incident, according to emails The Daily has obtained pertaining to this meeting.

Bri said she told her hall director she felt constantly on edge, couldn’t eat and felt unsafe in her own dorm because of her coworker’s behavior.

Bri alleges her hall director was more concerned with upsetting the coworker than addressing Bri’s safety concerns. Bri also said her hall director allegedly discouraged her from going to other staff members for help.

When Housing administrators became aware of the issue weeks later, Bri met with Area Director and Area Coordinator Bob Simmons and Program Manager for Student Leadership Anneke Darling. 

Bri said Simmons allegedly told her she wasn’t working hard enough and “needed to try harder.” 

Bri also alleges Simmons compared her safety concerns to a coworker he “didn’t really get along with” when he was in college. 

Simmons no longer works for University Housing and The Daily was unable to reach Simmons for comment. Darling declined to comment and directed The Daily to the Office of Public Affairs.

Bri told The Daily she held back tears during the meeting as Darling allegedly commented on Bri’s mental state. 

“‘I’ve never seen that level of anxiety over a thing like this,’” Bri said Darling allegedly stated.

Bri said she felt that her job was at stake.

“(I was) pressured to either take (a demotion) or resign,” Bri said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, clearly you can’t handle this, but we can’t fire you for it.’”

In a follow-up email Darling sent on Oct. 16, 2021 to Bri, Darling reiterated the need to push past the problems.

“How would you like to move forward from this?” Darling wrote. “As Bob mentioned, we know that the one thing that we can control is ourselves and our actions.”

The email Bri received from Anneke Darling after the meeting. Obtained by The Daily.

The following month, Bri’s hall director scheduled weekly meetings between Bri and the coworker, even though Bri said she had repeatedly expressed fear of her coworker. The Daily has obtained emails that corroborate the occurrence of these meetings.

This approach is consistent with University Housing’s restorative-justice-centered conflict resolution process.

The Daily spoke to 11 student residential staff members who said the University Housing’s restorative justice approach is ineffective.

Gupta voiced concerns about the restorative justice practice. 

“I just think that generally, the entire foundation of restorative justice isn’t properly implemented in Housing,” Gupta said.

The Daily obtained copies of the training materials about the conflict resolution policy provided to staff.

“(Residential staff) will be able to utilize restorative practices and restorative justice principles in their interactions with residents,” one training module said.

A University Housing training module that outlines conflict resolution procedures. Obtained by The Daily.

Bri said University Housing’s restorative justice practices felt disingenuous and influenced the handling of her complaint.

“They saw it more as checking a box, like ‘Oh, we did the restorative practices. Time to move on.’ They’re not paying attention to whether it works. They’re just doing it and hoping it works,” Bri said.

The Fall 2021 semester ended as it began, as Bri said she still felt unsafe around her coworker.

Bri ultimately left her position with University Housing and said she felt that Housing administrators never adequately addressed her safety concerns.

‘Maybe this role isn’t right for you’

In interviews with The Daily, multiple sources compared residential staff work to social work. LSA senior Anna Kreiner, a former Martha Cook residential staff member, said her responsibilities as a residential staff member lacked adequate support.

“I feel like an in-building social worker all of the time. Without the compensation, without the education … without the care and the title,” Kreiner said.

Elshafei alleges University Housing did not offer substantial mental health resources to staff members. 

“You know that basic blanket statement of ‘There’s CAPS available?’ It was always just that,” Elshafei said. “Especially as a non-white person, CAPS has always been not the best place to go. Why do I even wanna bother trying something that takes ages to go through?”

Students seeking consultations and resources from the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) have frequently faced long wait times and varying levels of accessibility to its resources, particularly among students of color.

In an interview with The Daily, class of 2021 graduate and former residential staff member Soneida Rodriguez shared similar concerns regarding the emotional labor the position demands.

“You’re expected to frontload all these different crises,” Rodriguez said. “There is an emotional cost, a mental cost to always being on the frontlines … I just don’t think that increased stress was always factored in.”

A former Martha Cook residential staff member who requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions spoke of the excessive stress of her former job. In this article, she will be referred to as Catherine.

Catherine said that University Housing allegedly tells applicants little about their positions and their responsibilities until after they are hired. 

“If I had known that there were only four (residential staff members) in this building, I never would have accepted that role,” Catherine said. “You’re not really able to give informed consent to the job when you only have 24 hours (to accept the position).”

From Fall 2019 to the staff strike in Fall 2020, Catherine told The Daily she was on duty for almost a week straight every month, which is abnormal for residential staff members in other residence halls. The Daily has obtained copies of the 2019-2020 duty schedules from Martha Cook, Baits and Stockwell to confirm this statement.

Catherine said the duty hours made her miserable.

“(Being on duty for a week meant) you couldn’t really see your friends … It destroys your sleep schedule,” Catherine said. “Every night you’re waiting, wondering ‘is there going to be an emergency?’”

Catherine recalls that by the end of September 2019, she was having discussions with her hall director about how being a Martha Cook residential staff member was negatively affecting her mental health. She provided documentation from her therapist to her hall director citing the University Housing job as a major factor in her declining mental health.

Catherine said when she requested to transfer from Martha Cook to another residence hall to preserve her mental health, her request was denied.

“I vividly remember HR saying to me on the phone, ‘We’re required to make an accommodation for you. It does not have to be the accommodation that you request … Maybe this role isn’t right for you,’” Catherine said. 

The demanding nature of the residential staff position aggravated Catherine’s struggles. After a coworker quit for the same reasons in late September of 2019, Catherine’s workload took a heavier toll on her mental state.

“They didn’t get us another (residential staff member). (Three of us) were covering the whole building for six weeks. No assistance.” Catherine said. “If the job had been negatively impacting my mental health before, it destroyed my mental health at that point.”

Although Catherine said her hall director arranged weekly check-ins with her, she also said these check-ins made her feel humiliated because Catherine saw it as a way for her hall director to micromanage her.

“I was expected to give them updates on how I was doing,” Catherine said. “If I asked for accommodations, I was supposed to justify why and I was like ‘I’m still depressed.’”

Catherine said she was forced to make the decision to reject her therapist’s suggestion to enroll in an outpatient program due to heavy workload and inability to leave the building during duty. 

“Because of my job I can’t do that. I might get fired,” Catherine said. “I can’t drop duty. I can’t go to the psych ward.”

Catherine said she considered leaving her position but she knew of the financial implications. 

“I didn’t have a job, because you weren’t allowed to have a job in the role,” Catherine said. “So I didn’t have any money to fall back on.”

As several other residential staff members said in interviews with The Daily, quitting is not so simple.

Multiple former and current residential staff members have told The Daily that their financial aid packages have been reduced or in jeopardy due to the job. Residential staff members shared similar grievances on the online forum Reddit. 

University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen told The Daily in an email that students’ financial aid packages are based on their “cost of attendance,” which includes tuition and fees, housing, books and other miscellaneous costs. These costs, Broekhuizen added, may be reduced when a student becomes a ResStaff since room and board costs are covered by the University. 

“So when a student accepts a role with ResStaff with compensation that includes their room and board, the student’s cost of attendance changes and it often affects their financial aid package,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Usually this adjustment comes in the form of reduced borrowing. In cases where a student’s entire financial aid package is made up of grants, the grants may be reduced since they are no longer needed to pay for housing costs.”

Broekhuizen added that this information is provided to students throughout the hiring process, including on the University Housing hiring website and on the job description page for ResStaff, as well as in all ResStaff interviews.

“It’s also important to note that this information is made clear to student employees throughout the hiring process so that it should not come as a surprise,” Broekhuizen wrote.

Gupta alleged that University Housing is not transparent about the real implications of accepting the residential staff position. 

“They’re not only profiting off our labor, they’re using our names to be like ‘Look at this great thing we’ve done,’” Gupta said. “They don’t talk about that part until you’re an RA, like ‘Oh, you might wanna look into how this affects your financial aid.’”

Rodriguez said these financial consequences make remaining in a residential staff position a necessity.

“Administrators just continued to paint this position as a choice, but when you have a job that is so closely tied to your food, your housing, your ability to send back money to your family … that … is not really a choice,” Rodriguez said.

Kreiner voiced similar concerns.

“You have a lot of middle class students who are here for the room and board,” Kreiner said. “How can I feel like I have choices when I’m … here because I can’t afford anything else on this campus?”

Catherine said she believes University Housing’s unwillingness to listen to the complaints of residential staff members has not changed.

After Catherine’s initial interview with The Daily, she texted a GroupMe chat of 296 current and former residential staff members asking if anyone wanted to share their experiences working for University Housing.

The next morning, Catherine said she received a call from her hall director.

“‘What messages did you send in the GroupMe?’” Catherine said her hall director asked.

Catherine alleges that her hall director threatened to fire her after she admitted she spoke with The Daily.

“‘You cannot just rant to a reporter, there is no context in which that can happen,’” Catherine said her hall director stated. “‘You should be aware that this is grounds for termination.’”

In a follow-up email to The Daily, Baghdadachi responded to allegations that speaking to the media was prohibited in the past, clarifying that residential staff members are allowed to speak to media as individuals but not as representatives of University Housing. 

“Yes, Resstaff have always been free to express their personal points of view as students to the media,” Baghdadachi wrote. “We train student staff on understanding the distinction between speaking their personal point of view as a student, and acting in the role of a Resident Advisor or Diversity Peer Educator. As RAs or DPEs, they are expected to protect resident information, and refer inquiries about Housing policy to professional staff.”

Catherine knew that speaking to a reporter was a fireable offense prior to the strike in September 2020. Her current contract does not indicate specific fireable offenses.

Catherine continued to speak to The Daily. She was not fired.

Focal Point Reporters Tate LaFrenier and Lola Yang can be reached at and