Residential Assistants (RAs) are beginning an indefinite strike Friday, in which they “will not report for work until [they] get compensated and see change” after not seeing a substantial response from USC about demands for better financial aid compensation, according to the RA Organizing Committee’s Instagram page.
An RA at Nemirovsky, Bohnett and McMorrow, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being fired, described how some of her coworkers cried when they learned of financial aid cuts, but Residential Education (ResEd) directed their questions to the financial aid office instead of offering a solution.
She said she also noticed “logical inconsistencies” in how RAs are compensated at the beginning of the year but still has not had her concerns addressed by ResEd.
“It seemed like they were just passing the blame and not really putting all their effort into fixing the financial aid for these RAs,” she said.
RAs are compensated with a meal plan and free housing rather than a salary. The committee claims that some RA’s financial aid has been reduced because the financial aid office no longer factors in housing costs when calculating aid for RAs.
Adrian Lopez, an RA at Cowlings and Illium Residential College, said that it was initially unclear to RAs about what exactly happened to their financial aid packages. The committee decided to put their demands together and go on strike after seeing how these changes to financial aid affected everyone.
“Some RAs are basically working for free because some of their gift aid got removed because of the RA job,” said Lopez, a senior studying computer science. “It’s not fair for all of us to be working when some RAs aren’t getting fair compensation for the job.”
In an emailed statement to Annenberg Media, the university wrote that financial aid packages included “gift aid equal to the student’s demonstrated need.” Without the cost of room and board, the overall cost of attendance is lower and lowered the amount of grant aid, according to the statement.
Carol Alata, an RA at Gateway, is frustrated by the lack of support by ResEd considering the long hours she works. In one instance, Alata was pushed by a resident in the middle of the night and the university only referred her free mental resources and refused to compensate for any therapy sessions in response.
“They want you to make all these efforts for residents on campus but they don’t want to make any efforts for you,” said Alata, a junior studying computational neuroscience.
The committee started a petition two weeks ago, calling for amnesty from collection holds, late fees from class registration and a stipend of $10,730 per semester to make up for financial aid cuts. That cost is tied to USC’s most expensive dorm — McCarthy Honors Residential College.
The committee is also demanding the establishment of a Resident Assistant Advisory Board to provide RAs a voice and encourage greater transparency from university and ResEd administration.
The university wrote that the Financial Aid Office has been working with Student Affairs and RAs to address any concerns with the financial aid packages.
“We are in constant communication with our Resident Assistants,” the university wrote. “Our Residential College Coordinators have regular meetings with their RAs to discuss expectations for the positions, their residents and overall student life.”
However, there is concern over who, if anyone, will take over the role of RAs during the strike. A primary responsibility of RAs is emergency response, which may be required at any time of day, inside or outside the housing complexes. Not having RAs on call poses potential safety risks for students on campus.
“We obviously don’t want to put our residents’ health or safety at risk because we are crisis responders, but what we do want to emphasize is that what we’re advocating for really matters,” said Alata.
According to the university statement, live-in professional staff members, on-call support staff and security support are also an active part of ResEd’s emergency response plan.
RAs are also responsible for enforcing quiet hours in dorms, designed to maintain a “comfortable environment” for residents. With study days and finals week approaching, some students have raised concerns about the noise level in the residential halls.
Fisher Johnson, a freshman studying business administration who lives in Webb Tower, isn’t concerned about how the RA strike will affect his quieter dorm, but he does see how it could be an issue in other residential halls.
“I feel like in places like New North, it’s more of a social dorm, so like that’s probably a place where it will probably be pretty hectic, which as a student sounds fine, but I could see where that would definitely be a problem in the long term,” he said.
Hagar Eldeev, a freshman studying neuroscience who also lives in Webb Tower, agrees that the dorms will likely be more chaotic without RAs but believes that their proper compensation is more important.
“If anything, the consequences that happen are just going to show how important the RAs are and how they deserve to be compensated for what they do,” Eldeev said.
RAs took notice of a similar strike at Stanford University when planning out their strike.
About three months ago, RAs at Stanford University also went on strike indefinitely to demand the same changes: increased compensation and greater RA involvement in the decision making process. According to CalMatters, a resolution was not reached and RAs “ultimately returned to work because they felt a responsibility to help students.”
With no official response from executives in ResEd, Lopez said he feels that the severity of the issue is not fully being recognized.
“We’re promoting engagement in our community. We’re the first line for our residents with Residential Education,” Lopez said. “I feel like more attention should be put into it and everyone should be compensated fairly for the job.”
Alata is hopeful that USC will grant the requests, but said that the RAs’ protest will go beyond a strike if their demands are not met. “We really hope that it doesn’t have to go farther than that, but if it needs to, then so be it,” Alata said.