*****Update: The administration has approved a proposal to compensate RAs and HPs beginning in the fall of 2016
The Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), the Student Leadership Stipend Committee (SLSC) and students around campus are advocating for Resident Assistants (RAs) and House Presidents (HPs) to receive compensation from the College in return for the work they do on campus. After a predetermined five year period, the Wellesley College administration will make a decision on whether to compensate RAs and HPs on Nov. 2.
RAs and HPs are not currently compensated for their service, with the exception of receiving a single room from the college. RAs and HPs still have to pay for room and board just as everybody else does. Unlike many other colleges and universities, they do not receive free housing or an additional stipend throughout the year.
SLSC and SLAP are collaborating to approach the issue. SLSC, which typically includes RAs and HPs, has worked to receive the College Government Ballot Initiative, which is $11,000 that constitutes two percent of the collective student activities fees. According to the College, in 2014- 2015, all residential students paid $276 each for the student activity fee. During the annual spring cabinet elections that occur in April, students can vote for where the money will go. SLS has won the College Government Ballot Initiative for the past five years. For the first four years, the Initiative was divided up between RAs and HPs who are on federal work-study. Last year, it was divided up between RAs and HPs who are on financial aid of any kind.
Katelyn Campbell ’17, a former RA in Tower Court and an Executive Senator in College Government, does not see the Initiative as a sustainable way for compensating RAs and HPs.
“At the end of the day, once the Student Leadership Initiative is broken up amongst all the RAs and HPs you really only end up getting about $200, which is nowhere near the amount the RAs and HPs deserve to be paid or how much their work is worth,” Campbell said.
SLSC is working with members of the Wellesley College administration to find some alternative and permanent way to secure compensation.
In April, they submitted a proposal that they worked on with Debra DeMeis, the former Dean of Students, to the Provost Budget Committee. Although the Provost Budget Committee agreed on the proposal’s principles, it lacked the money to fund it in last year’s budget. This semester, Adele Wolfson, the Interim Dean of Students, created a working committee consisting of Wellesley College students and administrators to resubmit the proposal.
Suzanne Barth ’16, HP of Severance Hall and copresident of the House President’s Council, was appointed by Wolfson to serve as a student representative alongside Campbell on the committee. They are hoping to submit a new proposal to Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly in early November.
“Permanence would be achieved if such stipends were built into the annual budget of the college, and not taken from student activity fees, as ballot initiative funds are. Compensation would be meaningful if it correlated with the significant amount of work that is done by Wellesley’s RAs and HPs,” Barth said.
Adeline Lee ’16, College Government President, said that she sees her role in college government as a way to ensure good communications between CG and the college.
“As a past-RA myself and a past member of the Student Leadership Stipend committee, getting institutional support for the work student leaders do matters a great deal to me. I’m really pleased to see progress being made through these student-administrator partnerships,” Lee said.
SLAP is a recently created student action organization on campus that supports RA and HP compensation. Its hope is that SLS knows that the student body supports their efforts.
According to Meredith Berry-Toon ’16, who serves as the House President’s Council (HPC) and College Government (CG) Liaison, SLAP is a national organization, of which Wellesley now has a chapter. Though she is not involved in SLAP, she is excited that students who are not involved with residential life are getting involved with the call for student leader compensation. As a student, she supports compensation, but in her role as the HPC-CG Liaison, she says she is not directly involved in any of the efforts.
Daniela Kreimerman ’19, a member of SLAP, sees RA and HP compensation as a huge step forward for lowerincome students who need paid work in order to go to college.
“If you need to work eight hours a week to pay for your education, and you still want to do well in your classes, you can’t allow yourself to be an unpaid volunteer for eight to 10 hours a week. That means that automatically, the pool of RAs becomes less diverse, especially when you consider how socioeconomic status is linked to other factors like race,” Kreimerman said.
Savannah Hauge ’16, a member of SLAP, said that SLAP has brought together students of all backgrounds for a common cause.
“The response to our campaign has been nothing but positive. So many students have come out of the woodwork to organize with us for incredibly diverse reasons. Hearing their stories gives me so much hope. Some wanted to be an RA but couldn’t because they needed an on-campus job. Others come from more precarious socioeconomic backgrounds and want to make sure Wellesley is accessible to other students like them who also want to serve but can’t if they don’t get paid,” Hauge said.
Both SLS’ and SLAP’s campaigns are evoking responses from the larger student body. Campbell said a few weeks ago that she saw a lot of discussion about the issue on the anonymous social media application Yik Yak. She added that there was a lot of concerns that RAs and HPs do not do enough, which she says is a valid concern but does not take into account everything they do that is unseen by other students.
“A lot of what RAs and HPs do aren’t things you could talk about with other students, specifically the mental health assistance component. I know when I was an RA, I had residents come to talk to me about very complex issues all the time, but for me to disclose those issues to anyone would be both disrespectful of my position and disrespectful of those students,” Campbell said.
Campbell also said that since there are RAs and HPs who have work study compensation could allow them to leave their work study jobs, focus more on their position and free up more campus jobs for other students.
Kreimerman said that SLAP’s photo campaign on Facebook has gotten a lot of positive feedback, and she is seeing a lot of students expressing their interest to get involved.
SLAP is promoting an event in November Around the same time SLS hopes to present their proposal to the administration, SLAP is holding a solidarity event on the Academic Quad. On their Facebook event page, “Hold Wellesley Accountable: RA/HP Compensation,” SLAP says they want to see a proposal that not only says that RAs and HPs deserve compensation, but explains why they deserve compensation. They are using the hashtags “#November2,” “#PayMyRA” and “PayMyHP” to promote the event.
“Join SLAP and the SLS to take a stand in solidarity, to hold the administration accountable to this deadline,” SLAP’s event page says.
This mirrors Campbell’s words that SLS is working to explain why it is so important RAs and HPs are paid for their work, rather than just stating they need to be paid.
Alexandra Beem ’18 understands the concerns that RAs and HPs should be held accountable for their jobs, especially if they are going to be paid, but sees how valuable they are as a campus-wide resource.
“The support system for RAs and HPs needs to be increased in a lot of ways, one of which is that they need to be paid. It sounds like they need a better support system since they serve as the support system for their hall, so they need someone who can help them out,” Beem said.
Sabrina Leung ‘18 is the Digital Editor majoring in International Relations-Political Science with a minor in History. She is best reached at email@example.com or @sabrinatzleung on Twitter.