University of New Hampshire (UNH) Resident Assistants (RAs) are requesting hazard pay from the university through a petition that has circulated among the student body.
The petition, which has amassed nearly 480 signatures at the time of writing, notes concerns of the increased workload for RAs when UNH transitioned to its orange mode of operation.
“In ‘orange mode’, we are expected even more than before to be constantly enforcing the university’s COVID-19 policies, which have drastically increased from yellow mode,” according to the petition.
In orange mode, on-campus students could not enter any other residence halls or on-campus apartments besides their own. Off-campus students are also barred from entering any on-campus residence hall or apartment.
RAs say they have faced additional workload, as now they must enforce room capacity, visitor policies, as well as navigate their social programming with COVID-19 restrictions in mind.
Multiple RAs have come forward to express their concerns, all of which requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from UNH.
“This job was originally advertised to be about 20 hours a week. This obviously depends on the building and size of staff. However, this year, it feels we can’t catch a break,” said one RA. “There’s barely any work-life balance, or any separation between that. We’re constantly dealing with COVID scares within the halls.”
Another RA noted that their job description has changed throughout COVID-19, without receiving extra compensation or benefits.
“Our job description has changed, and there’s a lot more to worry about,” said the RA. “It feels like we’re getting compensated less for twice the amount of work.”
Comparing the RA job description in previous years with the COVID-19 supplement illustrates a dramatic increase in responsibility for RAs.
Under normal circumstances, RAs are responsible for developing community within their respective dorms, while maintaining an extensive knowledge on UNH’s resources. However, under COVID-19, the job description has increased by approximately a page. RAs are now tasked with knowing and implementing “all COVID-19 health and safety policies and procedures,” laid out in their job description.
In addition, RAs are expected to enforce protocol for addressing COVID-19 concerns. RAs are expected to police large gatherings, potentially putting themselves at risk from contracting COVID-19 by breaking up these groups.
Despite all of this, RAs are paid the same rate as they would during a normal year: a single room and a core meal plan.
In order to thank RAs for their hard work, the Department of Residential Life sent RAs a letter and a sticker over the January term. Though well-intended, RAs believed this move to be demeaning.
“Over break, we received a letter and a sticker. It felt very patronizing,” one RA noted.
During a meeting with Residential Life, RAs also noted a lack of transparency from Residential Life. Last week, the Town of Exeter, one of New Hampshire’s 13 mass vaccination sites, reached out to Chief Paul Dean regarding 200 unused vaccines that were set to expire the following day.
Director of Residential Life Ruth Abelmann noted that she has been an advocate of RA’s receiving the vaccine.
“As soon as I knew about the vaccine, I started advocating for RAs to get the vaccine,” said Abelmann.
Assistant Director Darnelle Bosquet-Fleurival justified the vaccine distribution, believing Dining and Housekeeping staff are at a greater risk.
“Even though we may not feel that Dining staff and Housekeeping staff are at the level of risk, through the data the state and country has provided, those are people who are impacted at a larger rate as well,” said Bosquet-Fleurival. “Let’s not do a one-up one-down situation.”
Another RA fired back at Bosquet-Fleurival.
“I don’t think we’re trying to say we necessarily deserve it more or less than other people. It’s more so the point that we deserve it,” said the RA. “If the university can’t be open and equitable to all of its employees, does it deserve to be open?”
RA’s have claimed information rarely disseminates, from vaccines to the transition to orange mode in February.
“Even when we were going into orange mode, no one would give us any information at all. All they would tell us is there’s something big going on. We didn’t know if we were being sent home or something else,” said one RA.
Even with RA concerns in mind, Adelmann was unable to promise hazard pay to staff.
“I certainly can’t promise hazard pay,” said Adelmann. “Our department is in such a hole financially, it’s a really high number, $14.6 million and we’ve gone through almost all of our reserves to cover that.”
Though discussions for hazard pay are still ongoing, RAs are asking residents to continue to be diligent in following COVID-19 protocols.
“I’d ask the student body to please be kinder to the RAs. We’re not cops, we’re not out to get you, we’re just humans trying to keep you and ourselves safe in this community,” said one RA.
RA’s who were not named in the recorded meeting sent to The New Hampshire have had their names omitted in fear of retribution from UNH.
Photo Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.