RA Requirement: Commuter Discrimination or Fair Employer Policy
The Residence Life Office issued a new requirement for its Resident Assistant, or RA, application for the 2012-2013 academic year. It requires each applicant to have at least one semester of residency before beginning the RA position in August 2012.
“One of the things we feel is that as a resident student, you have certain experiences through living on campus that students who are commuters don’t have,” Megan Sellick, Director of Residence Life, explained. “When you’re going through the RA process, in order to do your job well as an RA, part of that hinges on knowing what resident students are going through. And if you have never been a resident student, you’re kind of lacking or missing out on some of those necessary background skills that could be useful to being an RA.”
Feeling as though they could no longer apply, commuter students planning to apply for the position this year were disappointed when resident applicants informed them of the change in requirement.
“I get where they’re [the Residence Life Office] coming from: that to be a resident assistant you should have some experience,” Fizza Saeed, current commuter and sophomore, said. “But what made me upset is that I’m not even being given the chance to at least apply. It’s one thing if I applied and they told me I didn’t reach the qualification. But for me to not even apply, I don’t think that’s fair. I kind of think it’s like I’m getting discriminated by just being a commuter. I think I should at least be able to apply. That’s all I’m asking for is just to be able to apply.”
Chris Thompson, junior RA, has been on both sides of the fence. He used to be a commuter and was hired as an alternate during last year’s application process. He also serves on the selection committee for this year’s RA selection process.
“When I first found out about the new policy, it was a little shocking. I feel that when they came out with the policy, it seemed like it’s saying that you have to be able to pay to go to school to belong here,” Thompson said. “I know that’s not the case, it’s just how it struck me at first. Megan explained that’s not the reason for it, the reason for it was she was worried about the quality of the applications going down and that’s something I totally support Megan with.”
Despite the outcry of commuters over the policy change, Sellick believes there is still room for commuter students in the application process.
“If you were to become a resident student for the spring 2012, you could still apply in the spring 2012 and that would meet your semester of residency,” Sellick said. “So for students who are currently commuters, if they’re able to move on campus and become residents starting in January, they would be fine to apply. So it’s not that we’re completely cutting out all commuters, there is that opportunity for students, obviously that can afford to and are able to, so it’s not a complete cut out, it’s kind of a modification.”
A current RA, who wished to remain anonymous, felt it was important to share their thoughts on the importance of past residential experience and concerns over the new policy.
“I think it is helpful to have been a resident before being an RA. Being a resident previously can be included as a “recommended” quality for new RAs but it is an unfair aspect to be required of all applicants,” the RA said. “There have been commuters in the past who made great RAs and were even RA of the year. I think this requirement will eliminate some fantastic candidates.”
Ryan Glenn, who graduated last year and is currently in graduate study at the University of Notre Dame, applied to be an RA as a commuter during his first-year at King’s. He applied having no prior group-living situation experience, besides his experiences living at home with two brothers and one sister.
“Certainly, I did not have the same experiences as a resident student. They obviously lived the day-to-day in the residence hall as a first-year student. I did not,” Glenn said.
However, Glenn was heavily involved in extracurricular activities.
“I maintained a full academic course load, worked a part-time job, and ran King’s cross country among other on-and-off campus activities,” Glenn said. Glenn suggests there may be other qualities equally, if not more, significant than an applicant’s housing status.
“I was able to balance responsibilities and effectively prioritize my schedule,” Glenn said. “Also, skills such as organization, peer leadership, stress-management, and sensitivity to diversity are not attributes solely possessed by resident students applying for RA positions. These skills are abundant amongst King’s commuter students as well.”
Glenn was successful in his application during his first-year and hired as an RA. He served as an RA in Holy Cross during his sophomore year, in Alumni Hall during his junior year and in Gateway Corners during his senior year.
“I am not in a position to question the wisdom of the Residence Life Office,” Glenn said. “However, I just hope the Residence Life Office does not cut off a very viable source of RA candidates. It would be very cost-prohibitive for some commuter students to live on campus, even for one semester.”
Costs for room and board for spring 2012 can total an estimated $5210.
“I can only hope that my status as a commuter turned resident assistant helped promote the mission of the College in some way,” Glenn said. “Perhaps the Residence Life Office will make some exceptions to this rule, deciding on the candidate on the basis of his or her character, experiences, and level of competence and not necessarily their resident/commuter status.”
Robert McGonigle, Associate Vice-President for Student Affairs, explained that prior group-living situation experience would be considered such as residential living at another institution, etc. Currently, there is no mention of or details about this consideration in the actual policy.
McGonigle said that the new requirement isn’t that new. It used to be the policy before the requirement was lifted several years ago. He describes the return to the original policy as an employment issue”An employer has the responsibility to set reasonable criteria that people have background for a position,” McGonigle said.He describes other institutions with more stringent RA requirements such as the University of Notre Dame, which only allows senior or graduate students to apply for positions.
Notre Dame also requires their resident assistants to maintain a 3.0 cumulative G.P.A., not participate in varsity athletics or hold any elected student government position.”I think we’re more flexible,” McGonigle said.
Fr. Jack Ryan, C.S.C., Ph. D., King’s President, explained how direct experience requirements are a very common practice used by employers in the hiring process. He considered this idea in relation to the change in the RA policy at King’s.
“A requirement for directly related residency experience for the position of RA does not strike me as unreasonable; however, there may be a way to broaden what specifically constitutes residency experience,” Ryan said.
Alexandra Shinert, Commuter Life Association (CLA) President and senior, believes the College is missing out on qualified applicants by implementing the new policy.
“With the addition of the new application requirement, I feel an equal opportunity for all students is lost,” Shinert said. “While the experiences of commuter, off-campus and resident students vary during their time at King’s, I believe any student who is willing to seek out a leadership position, like that of a resident assistant, is an opportunity that should be offered to everyone.”
According to the Residence Life Office, the new policy will not change for this current academic year but they are open to educated, informed discussion concerning the policy with no guaranteed changes in upcoming years.