When we think about campus workers, it’s important to recognize all of the various types of labor that allow Northeastern to function. Resident Assistants (RAs), though unpaid, are an integral part of the workforce that keeps Northeastern housing operating smoothly. RAs work virtually 24/7, as even when they’re not on duty, they are still living in the dorms and serving as a resource to any students who need them.
The university gives RAs free housing and meal plans to compensate for their work, but this is not nearly enough for the amount of labor they provide. And since their job involves such long hours, it is not manageable for most RAs to have a part-time job on top of their responsibilities to ResLife. There are plenty of colleges in the US that pay their RAs for their work, and many RAs feel that Northeastern should be paying them as well. On top of the lack of pay, there are many other issues RAs face on campus, that many feel Northeastern is not doing enough to properly address.
One anonymous RA of color mentioned that they often feel tokenized in ResLife spaces. They feel as if the RAs of color are hired just to diversify websites and catalogs. The diversity and inclusion trainings that they are forced to sit through every year are not only emotionally tolling, but they’re often given the burden of having to explain their experiences in a predominantly white space, while still being invalidated. Another anonymous RA of color said, “How many times does a student of color have to be vulnerable for people to learn?” Providing living arrangements for a variety of students from different backgrounds requires the help of people from various backgrounds. However, the tokenization of minority RAs is wholly unnecessary. Northeastern administration could certainly do a better job of listening to the people that this treatment affects.
In addition, the first anonymous RA feels like Northeastern takes advantage of the fact that many RAs would not be able to attend the school if they were not RAs. This allows Northeastern to greenlight a system where there are massive disparities in work conditions and pay amongst RAs. Though all RAs receive housing and the highest meal plan free of cost, some RAs are placed in worse housing than others. There's no stipend given to RAs placed in economy style housing to compensate for lack of space, AC, kitchen, or private bathroom. RAs also don't get paid to proctor any of their first 13 required shifts, though employees who proctor through the Residential Security Office do. Additionally, if a student receives a grant or work study that covers housing to any extent, they aren't reimbursed if they become an RA. Many RAs have even reported losing work study funds entirely when they become an RA. When all of these factors are considered, there is a clear pay disparity between RAs.
This pay disparity tends to affect minority RAs more than non-minority RAs. Cultural inclusion, creative expressions, fusion, and other LLCs that tend to draw students of color are usually placed in economy style housing and/or older buildings. RAs of color tend to end up here as well. The latter anonymous RA mentioned that their job was very different in older buildings where bugs, rats, and pipe bursts are more common problems. RAs in freshman dorms also tend to have a more demanding job than RAs in upperclassman dorms.
In freshmen housing, RAs tend to get a bad rap for shutting down dorm parties or doing mandatory room inspections. The reality, though, is that RAs are workers with an incredibly demanding job that they receive no actual compensation for. Your RA probably doesn't want to write you up just as much as you don't want to get written up. Getting to know your RAs and asking them about their jobs can lead to a healthier dynamic for everyone in your living space. The more we all talk about these issues, the harder it will be for Northeastern to stifle the voices of RAs raising concerns about their working conditions.