Over the past two years, resident assistants (RA) and residence hall management have had to adjust to the developments following COVID-19, and the continuation of in-person Residence Life (ResLife) activity has led to the creation of the position of desk assistant. Resident directors have been seeing a turnover with positions still open to cover two out of the seven residence halls, Assistant Director of Residence Life in University Lofts Robbie Williford said.
Williford said the creation of the desk assistant position on campus has allowed for any gaps in RA schedules to be filled in at hall front desks. He said the role was initiated in the fall after an uptick in crime, and the position was created to fill in space throughout the week and especially on the weekends to maintain coverage at the halls. Prior to the position being filled, residence desks would be empty a lot of the time throughout the day and with no RA to check student ID, opportunities were created for anyone not affiliated with campus to come in behind those living in residence halls, Williford said.
“So it was really a sort of a minor security reason why it was created. The other thing is, it created jobs for people on campus,” Williford said.
Senior Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Jessica Ward said after hearing from students, figuring out what the housing department could do to make buildings more secure and more staffed included extending desk hours to increase coverage and creating the desk assistant. She said the desk assistant will cover more weekend desk hours as well.
“I think the desk assistant position also is a wonderful asset,” Ward said. “Helping people understand the residence halls so that in the future, my hope is that people become desk assistants and they’re like, ‘You know what, maybe I do want to be an RA’ because they understand some of that aspect too. Because they’re doing some of the things an RA does.”
Adjustments this school year for ResLife include resident director (RD) turnover, which Williford said is a result of RDs leaving for different jobs or to be closer to family. Ward said the position of resident director is an entry-level position, and all but one of the RDs on staff have worked in housing as professional staff members and all current RDs were hired to campus last July.
Apartment Community Assistant and senior psychology major Abra Dzaye said resident director turnover was a result of a lot of people leaving during the pandemic to pursue other careers. She said RDs wanting to do something else and not maintain the same responsibilities throughout the year was another factor in RDs leaving. Dzaye said to add to the situation on campus with hiring RDs, those who wish to apply must fill the requirement of having a masters degree.
“That can limit who is coming into the position,” Dzaye said. “That’s one big reason why some of the dorms don’t have [RDs], but they’re working hard on that and I’m pretty sure they’re trying to find ways to fill those positions.”
Some RAs at the beginning of the pandemic during the school year were not able to get back to their homes once COVID-19 took effect and international students as well were not able to return with travel restrictions, Ward said.
“So you just got all these intricacies that when you put a pandemic on top of it, it makes it so much worse,” Ward said. “Because you’re also then worried about your family getting COVID[-19], especially when we didn’t have a vaccine.”
COVID-19 is a big question mark at all times, according to Williford. Every spring, the department goes into a recruitment season where new professional staff are recruited, and Williford said the amount of students and staff that have applied is encouraging. He said he is eager to see how COVID-19 will impact staffing and the more people wear masks and comply with guidelines, the better it is for campus.
“There’s a good number of people that have applied for the student staff positions for next academic year. Then in the coming weeks, I imagine we’ll start recruitment for our professional staff positions that are open for next academic year,” said Williford. “I’m not sure what the plan would be for the year between now and next academic year for the open positions, but I’m eager to see how COVID[-19] is gonna impact that.”