Opinions, Column

Not All RAs Are Created Equal

Try to visualize your move-in day for your first year at Boston College. You pull up to an old building with no AC and disgusting bathrooms, yet you are filled with excitement. A band of upperclassmen donning yellow shirts greet you and tell you these will be the best four years of your life. You then see a sweaty short girl with a speaker blasting Olivia Rodrigo in one hand and parking permits in the other. She’s telling parents to move their cars to avoid being towed, and she’s trying her best to keep the peace. That’s me! My name is Mary, and I’m one of many RAs across BC. 

Now, imagine that we yellow-shirted RAs aren’t there. Order is disturbed. No one can move their car, no one can find Fenwick in the jungle of Upper Campus, and no one is playing 2010s pop hits. Instead, RAs are chanting on the Quad, demanding a modest stipend for the hundreds of hours of work they put into making resident halls functional. A very similar event just happened not too far from BC at Tufts University, and now the wave of unionization efforts has spread to BC.

After postponed negotiations and stalemates, the United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants voted to strike after the university denied its main request: a stipend. Tufts countered this by offering a “specialized” meal plan, and the school suggested that it already meets the “industry standard” for what RAs receive at other universities—including BC. 

The phrase “industry standard” twists knots in my stomach. The Jesuit tradition encourages us to  constantly reflect, so I want students to examine the compensation package of RAs at BC and decide if change beyond the “industry standard” is needed. I aim to point out problems involving BC’s Residential Life so the University can understand the frustrations RAs on campus face. 

First things first, I am an RA in a first-year environment. I receive free room and board on the condition that I create a community with my residents. That consists of hosting monthly programs, making bulletin boards, supporting other first-year activities, and creating intimate, one-on-one connections with my residents. RAs on Lower Campus have fewer community-building responsibilities because their older residents are more settled into BC. They also have private bathrooms and sometimes even kitchens. Due to these differences, there is a pay gap between the first-year area and upperclassmen-area RAs. With the addition of a kitchen/kitchenette, upperclassmen RAs receive a stipend at the beginning of the semester, an amount comparable to the price of BC’s standard meal plan. 

Here’s the point of contention: This money can be dedicated toward unpaid tuition or be effectively put into personal bank accounts, while first-year RAs (like me) are limited to using their meal allotment for BC Dining. We get no reimbursement of the meal plan money that we do not use, unlike other RAs.

I understand the pricing difference. I need a meal plan to eat, and I cannot make anything of substance in my 60-watt microwave. Nonetheless, I have earned the right to that meal plan, even after the end of the year. I am not paying for a service—being an RA is a job, and I need food to sustain myself because I am living in a double room as a junior. Additionally, living in upperclassmen RA housing is not reserved for veteran RAs. The unspoken system in BC  ResLife is that the better you do your job, the more likely it is you will be put back into first-year housing—unable to get the stipend. After all, first-year students are expected to need more events and personal attention from their RAs than other students—so there’s a lot to lose if an unenthusiastic RA supervises a first-year dorm.

This system takes away the incentive to innovate as an RA, and a good RA helps make a good year. Instead, BC should instate a veteran preference principle that allows RAs who perform their responsibilities well to give preferences for the following year’s placement. That way, RAs work for the chance to pick their own housing and don’t feel the need to constrain their work. 

But the problem with compensation goes deeper than reimbursement of meal plans—it begins as early as training. For those unaware, RAs come to campus about two weeks before school starts to prepare for the school year. Most days, we work from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and are given a mere BC Dining gift card that barely covers our meals. Personally, leaving my summer job early puts me at a financial disadvantage: I lose out on wages that I need to sustain myself during the school year. 

Being an RA is rewarding. I become a mentor for others and work to make sure my residents have the best freshman year possible. It is a job, however, and it necessitates compensation. In order for RAs to succeed, we need to be compensated appropriately. If an RA feels undervalued or that their hard work will keep them in a quaint double, they will not perform to their potential. RAs set the tone of the hall, and the experience in the hall sets the tone for the year. 

The title of RA comes attached with many connotations, whether they be positive or negative. They are BC’s crucial first responders to some, or the people who write students up for fun to others. What we all can agree on is that being an RA is a job—and anyone in a job deserves fair conditions based on the amount of work that is done. I do not speak for all RAs, but I believe the system needs to change. 

September 17, 2023