On Thursday, Scripps College students employed as resident advisors (RAs) on campus announced that they will refuse to work in protest of their “exploitation” as “low income students of color” until their demands for extensive changes to college policies and personnel are met.
Though acknowledging that failing to perform their supervisory duties would enable students to “engage in unsafe behavior” and deprive students of a valuable mental health resource, the resident advisors insisted in an open letter to Scripps President Lara Tiedens that the college’s “exploitation” of their labor in the aftermath of the tragic death of a fellow Scripps student justified the drastic measures.
“We are now expected to continue to function in our roles while also grieving and trying to fulfill academic and other responsibilities,” the letter explained. “Furthermore, most of us are low income students of color, which further exacerbates the exploitation we are experiencing.”
The lengthy letter demands the “immediate resignation” of the current Dean of Students for failing to “show adequate leadership or support,” as well as significant changes to the college’s mental health, residential life, and financial aid policies.
Central are the changes the RAs are seeking to their own role on campus. They charge that their central duties, such as performing walkthroughs and enforcing college policies on lockouts and room residency, do “not actually model restorative justice” and hurt “marginalized students more than students with money and privilege.”
“For example, students are given two free lockouts per year, and after these free lockouts a student is fined $25 per lockout,” they explain, referring to the college’s policy on students who lock themselves out of their own rooms. “RAs are expected to record these lockouts so if a student surpasses their number of free lockouts, they are charged; this is a classist practice that serves no concrete purpose.”
The RAs also criticize the college’s requirement that students exit residence halls at the conclusion of each semester or face a daily fine. “Charging residents who stay past closing time for breaks is yet another classist practice that we are asked to implement,” they complain. “This [policy] does not allow any consideration of individual personal circumstances that leave students with nowhere to go. These, and all other fines used to disproportionately punish students must be removed.”
Turning to mental health on campus, the RAs’ letter demands that Scripps “increase the subsidy for off-campus therapy,” saying that a “financial burden should not be put on any student who seeks to improve their mental health.”
On financial aid, the RAs insist that the college “allocate emergency funding to accommodate unexpected changes in student finances.” They also propose a new financial aid formula that would permit students to obtain outside scholarships without reducing need-based aid granted by the college.
The labor “strike” is total. The RAs say that they “will not perform any of the labor expected of us” — including providing emotional support to students, responding to emergencies in the residence halls, and assisting students who are locked out of their rooms — unless the school agrees to meet their demands by April 20th.
The resident advisor position is one of the best-paying jobs available to students on campus at Scripps. Because RAs are important to ensuring student safety and protecting college property, Scripps College covers the full cost of room and board for all RAs — nearly $16,000 per year.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to airfare compensation as a benefit available to all Scripps RAs. In fact, the college chose to offer airfare compensation to some RAs on account of special personal circumstances.