This semester, the Office of Housing and Residence Life is updating the Resident Assistant (RA) and House President (HP) reimbursement policy. The reimbursement payment of $4000 will now be split between a stipend of $2100 and the rest in a waiver applied directly to the student account. The stipend will be paid in installments to students throughout the year – although it is not yet confirmed at what points in the year or in how many installments the payments will be made. This plan will be reevaluated after four years, according to Housing and Residence Life. Until then, Director of Residential Life & Housing Helen Wang says that she does not expect any changes to be made.
This “middle ground” option is a departure from last year’s compensation policy, which saw the entire package being treated as a grant, or “scholarship” by the College. And until recently, the RA position was virtually unpaid. That change came in the 2016-17 academic year, when new RAs received a stipend of $2,100, returning RAs received $2,200, and HPs received $2,300. The payments were distributed in four installments over the course of the year.
Zoe Owens ’22, an RA of Severance Hall, is satisfied with the new plan. As a sophomore planning to continue as a residence life staff, she says that she appreciates the guarantee that the compensation will be the same for four years, so she will not have to worry about any changes that could impact her financial aid. “It’s not going to be this question of, well I know this $4000 definitely exists, but how will [it] interact with my life?”
For others, the policy has been a barrier to residence life leadership. Gabriela Leovan ’23 explained that the policy’s implications for her financial aid was the reason that she did not apply to be an RA, even though she believed that she would be a good fit for the position. In a message to the Wellesley News, Leovan wrote, “I receive significant financial aid. I also work around 20 hours a week to pay my tuition bill. I don’t have the time, or mental headspace, to have my aid package evaluated. What if they made a mistake, or took some of my aid away? I would be too tired to tell.
Last semester’s RA payment policy was implemented with very little advanced notice and limited transparency from the administration. One issue has been the federal government requirement that a student’s financial aid package be reduced if they receive more than $300 of additional aid.
Helen Wang told Tthe Wellesley News last semester that re-examining the RA compensation package was one of her top priorities when she arrived at Wellesley. Wang explained that Housing & Residence Life “recognized that the feeling of not having money in the pocket for the role was a challenge for our students so this change is in response to that.”
Still, the Wellesley package does not quite measure up to other local schools. Boston College gives RAs full room and board, and Smith pays head residence staff $10,590 per year. Owens said that it should be normalized for future RAs to ask about the financial aspect of the position in their interviews. She knows many people who were reluctant to do so because they did not want to seem like they were only in it for the money.
“I do think that RAs should be compensated more because when you’re an RA you’re not just working on the clock, there’s all of this time that you are implicitly an RA and at any point you have to be ready to step into that role,” said Owens.
Still, she acknowledges the difficulty of quantifying how much the job should pay. Owens says that she is content with the current amount because the community-building aspect of the job, not the monetary aspect, is what keeps her in the position.