Long hours, low pay and a pandemic: Residence hall staff are at a


Resident assistants and community educators are the front-line workers that operate IU's residence halls and apartments. Hundreds of students and staff work tirelessly to create safe environments conducive to a positive living and learning experience for IU’s residents.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes an already demanding job more taxing. Residential staff are unknowingly exposed to infected residents on a routine basis. On top of that, mismanagement and lack of transparency from IU’s Residential Programs and Services has sowed chaos in IU’s coronavirus response, further endangering residents and staff alike.

If we claim to be “in this together,” then we need to protect and compensate the workers who risk their health everyday to uphold the IU student experience. Many of the concerns shared in the following testimonies are not new. Rather, they are a reflection of long-standing frustration among staff, brought to fruition by a university that opened its residence halls during a pandemic.

Rumors of not being allowed to speak to press circulate within residential staff circles. While no such policy exists on paper, residential staff understand the risks of gambling the job that gives you a place to sleep. To respect this, some of the following sources have been kept anonymous in order to safeguard the jobs and livelihoods of IU’s residential staff. 

The Indiana Daily Student spoke to two former and 10 current RA’s. This is the RA experience, in their own words.


Working during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many unprecedented challenges to IU’s residence halls. Despite IU’s policies and safety measures to combat the spread of the virus, there are many shortcomings. Residential staff are not notified by IU when one of their residents is diagnosed. Quarantine measures using Ashton Hall have been loosely enforced.

“So many times we knock on doors, and people just aren’t wearing masks. We have to tell them to put on masks, and they just don’t. One time, we had residents who said they didn’t need to wear masks because they had COVID-19 before. Freshmen are usually the most egregious violators of COVID-19 policies, when it comes to parties and things like that.”

“We had a scenario where a resident contacted another RA saying their COVID-19 positive roommate was able to get back into their dorm room. They’re supposed to lock out residents with COVID-19 once they get reassigned to Ashton. That didn’t seem to happen.”

— Current RA, first year in position

“The thing is, though, we’re busting our butts off. We have to not only deal with typical situations that we have to do in RPS but also COVID-19 situations, which is extremely dangerous.”

“One time, there was someone getting loaded up for quarantine. I asked a simple question, ‘Is someone getting transported to quarantine?’ They kind of snapped back at me, saying ‘We can’t answer that for you.’”

— Current RA

“Last weekend, an infected resident came in from Ashton, and one of the RA’s had to go up with them to their room and we know they have COVID-19. They were wearing a [hazmat] suit and the RA had to go up in the elevator with him and open the doors for him. Why are we supposed to be exposing ourselves that much?”

— Current RA

“Sanitation is not sufficient. Some bathrooms in the hall have been skipped on proper sanitizing or even routine cleaning. No increase in sanitation has happened in rooms with reported positive results or in shared places when positive results have been confirmed.”

“Also, information is not provided to staff. Each time that someone on the floor got a positive result, I would only be informed if they told me. Many times, contact tracing would not contact individuals who were around infected individuals or that frequently shared spaces such as bathrooms with them. Public health announcements can’t be sent out to help promote the safety of other residents. Information only comes about by chance.”

— Current RA


Mental health and working conditions

It is important to recognize that residential staff are still students, with classes, families and extracurricular involvements. Juggling a demanding job along with the normal responsibilities that come with being a student is burdensome for anyone. Poor working conditions coupled with lack of support for residential staff disregards the importance of mental health.

“My first year as an RA, I was a first responder to a student suicide. After the fact, I was given no support from anywhere within the organization for three days. I had no contact with my supervisor during that time until he called me into his office, threatened to fire me, and told me that my response to the trauma I had experienced was inappropriate. Contained in this threat was the implication that he could make me homeless and take away my access to food overnight, two weeks before final exams, and that there was nothing I could do about it. It was not until I appealed this to the head of RPS, nearly five days after the student's death, that anyone asked me how I — or the student’s I was responsible for — were handling the situation.”

— Abigail Bainbridge, former RA, Forest Residence Center

“As a first year RA, I was excited to enter a role where I could help students. Unfortunately, my three months as an RA have not been like that. I have been gaslighted by my leadership team and the higher ups at RPS. I do not feel supported. We do so much for our jobs, yet it is never enough. They keep adding more and more, and we are already busy enough with COVID-19 policy. There is no policy in place for people who test positive. Whenever we complain to our bosses all we hear is ‘We are here for you. We see you. We appreciate you.’ In all my time here, however, I am not appreciated. My mental state has never been so low. My leadership team will not communicate with me, and they are not willing to help. I'm sick and tired of the conditions, but whenever we try to speak out we get beaten down.”

— Current RA, first year in position

“Things I was being told to do were really counterproductive to what my own morals are. And that really drove home that I wasn’t there to help people. I was more there to help the corporation, not lose money.”

“Bias training came in late November, or maybe early December, which is the end of the first semester. So nobody knew how to write bias incident reports before that. We were told verbatim, ‘The most important reason for bias training was so that future students still decide to come back.’ Our supervisor relayed a story about how someone saw a video of somebody at IU saying the n-word and that this student revoked their commitment to IU. That was the story that they gave me as the example of why bias incident reports are important, not because it actually affected that student, but because IU lost money.”

“I had never gotten a B in college, except for that semester. I got three, and that’s because I couldn't actually get out of my bed to leave some days. Because it was just, it was weighing so heavily on me and the things that I was being asked to do and the work that I was being taught to do.”

— Nick Comer, former RA, Linden Hall

“It’s just ridiculous how weekends are so stressful because you literally are up until 4 a.m., and then they expect us to log only two and half hours for work.”

— Current RA


Communication between leadership and residential staff has been historically strained. Due to lack of direct representation in RPS decision-making, residential staff have little to no say in decisions that affect their day-to-day responsibilities. This mismanagement is reflected in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the seemingly ineffective training that has not addressed recurrent concerns from residential staff.

“Another frustration of mine is the lack of representation that we get in RPS. We don’t really get any say during their meetings or express what we have to say. We have our supervisors who go and take what we have to say, but by the time it gets through them it gets kind of washed down and made to seem like it is not a big deal. So that’s definitely frustrating, but that has been a problem forever. The directors are always trying to pander to us and say ‘Oh, we support you,’ but it’s just words. There is no action.”

— Current RA

“When I brought up the issues with COVID-19 procedures to my Leadership Team with other RAs, we were told to either quit for our health or go along with it. The higher-ups in RPS keep gaslighting RAs. They know RAs can’t do or say anything because our housing is tied into our contracts. No one wants to lose housing for saying their opinion, especially with everything going on.”

— Current RA, second year in position

“But this year, it's just become very transparent with how much they see us as sort of resources or just see us as labor as opposed to seeing us as human. They're still pushing us to do all this curriculum and also enforce these policies. It makes it seem like they don't really care about our humanity.”

— Current RA



The compensation residential staff receive for their work comes in the form of housing and a food stipend. If this stipend were to be divided by the number of hours residential staff are expected to work it would come out to about $2 an hour. This semester — despite the increase in responsibilities that comes with an inevitable risk of exposure to COVID-19 — residential staff currently do not receive hazard pay.

“The compensation residential staff receive for their work comes in the form of housing and a food stipend. If this stipend were to be divided by the number of hours residential staff are expected to work it would come out to about $2 an hour. This semester — despite the increase in responsibilities that comes with an inevitable risk of exposure to COVID-19 — residential staff currently do not receive hazard pay.”

“Our pay is not adequate. Seven out of eight weeks I have worked over the ‘20-hour stipend work week’ with an average of 24 and a half hours a week. That is four and a half hours a week that is over the stipend 20 hours a week, and the highest hour week was 32 hours. No hourly pay is being received.”

— Current RA

“They switched up how we’re recording hours now. Last year, they would let us do the whole seven hours because if you were on call that night you know you’re on call. Most jobs are still going to pay you because you’re technically working. So now they’re telling us, ‘No, only report two or two and a half hours.’ That doesn’t sound right, and I know they’re doing it because they don’t want us going over those 20 hours a week. The reality is that we are working more than those 20 hours a week easily.”

— Current RA

“I think we should have gotten better pay. I will always do my job no matter what, [but] I feel like a lot of RAs want that. I am there to support them since I am a co-worker.”

— Current RA

“The amount of work RAs do is high. I am always around my residents but have been not paid fairly by the university. We are told we can only work 20 hours a week. Last year, we had an issue with people going over 20 hours a week all of the time. RPS, this year, had a fix for that — lie about your hours.”

— Current RA, second year in position

“We are considered frontline workers because we’re basically interacting with everyone who lives in the residence halls. With us having duty twice as much as usual, that’s twice as much time walking around the entire building. Inevitably, we’re going to be exposed to people who are not wearing masks or not taking the proper precautions. Then we also have to enforce those policies, and we aren't getting any hazard pay. So, morale has been very low.”

“My number one concern would probably be money. Because I can't say how they should change the job and obviously there has to be people doing our job. But if they really want to show that they value us as people, and not just like cogs in a machine, then they need to give us hazard pay. They need to give us enough to live off of. Yes, we get housing and a meal plan, but that housing puts us in the middle of a communal living situation so we're more at risk.”

“I don't want to stop doing my job. I genuinely like connecting with residents, even in a virtual setting. I think that this is a job that can and should be done during COVID-19. I don't think the residence hall experience should be just obliterated, but we need to be paid enough and shown that they care about us. You know what I mean? As of right now, it just does not feel like they care about us at all.”

— Current RA

IU Police Department

Residential staff have constant contact with the IU Police Department. Many scenarios require residential staff to call IUPD, even if the RA believes it to be excessive or unnecessary.

“Our only guidelines for mental health emergencies are to call IUPD. I have had to do this twice. Both times, residents were taken against their will and put in a cop car and taken to the hospital. RAs are just cops who get paid less on this campus. If you want to be an RA who isn’t mentally broken from being another cog in the police machine, you have to purposefully not do your job and hope you don’t get caught. There is no safety net put in place for our housing that so many of us are financially dependent on if we get fired.”

“Furthermore, RAs are supposed to call IUPD for all conduct situations with the exception of minor alcohol incidents. IUPD treats residents of color — specifically Black men in my experience — with less professionalism and respect. I have seen a white resident and a white-passing resident given tickets and courts dates for marijuana, and I have seen two Black residents arrested for marijuana.”

— Current RA, second year in position


Most residential staff genuinely enjoy connecting with residents and being a resource for their peers. Whether it be through late-night wellness checks, community building events or dozens of lost weekends spent monitoring the residence hall, RAs foster the experiences that make IU congenial. Fair treatment is a small price IU must pay for this work.

Residential staff want to make the university better. But when they live in constant fear of retribution, it becomes impossible to discuss the hard issues that would improve IU’s residence halls. To get out of this together, RPS must guarantee residential staff basic job security when grievances are raised. Concerns that are raised should be treated with the credence and respect they deserve.

IU made the decision to put students into residence halls, and it must be held accountable in this. IU’s residential staff has the leadership and power to transform the environment of on-campus living. It’s time the university recognize this and work together with those that make the IU experience possible.

Rebekah Amaya (she/her) is a junior studying law and public policy and critical race and ethnic study. She wants to go into immigration reform advocacy.

Brian Hancock (he/him) is a senior studying Law and Public Policy and International Political Economy. He is the president of the Moot Court Club.

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