First name pseudonyms are used to improve readability. The identities of resident assistants, while known to The Daily, are being withheld for fear of retaliation.
When resident assistants (RAs) from more than 28 dorms announced their strike on Sept. 2, they presented a unified front against the University. But as the strike wraps up its second week, cracks in the RA contingent have emerged.
After the University did not meet demands to expand COVID-19 safety precautions, increase RA compensation and overhaul a new undergraduate alcohol policy, hundreds of RAs went on strike just days before frosh moved into their residence halls.
The decision to strike, however, has not been without controversy. While RA strikers say their efforts aim to improve workplace safety and ensure fair pay, some student staff contend the strike will harm their incoming residents.
In particular, the decision by those on strike to forgo training intended to support student health and wellbeing has become a major source of contention. While RAs on strike refuse to attend training, they continue to carry out other responsibilities such as welcoming residents, decorating dorms and preparing for New Student Orientation (NSO).
According to two RAs — who requested anonymity for fear of retribution — some student staff who are striking do so not for collective action, but because they find training to be “a waste of time.”
“The strike started out as supporting people who couldn’t attend training — but instead of that being the focus, it shifted to RAs being too lazy to wake up in the morning,” Maya ’23 said, echoing multiple RAs. “The people we were hurting wasn’t administration or Stanford — it was our future peers.”
She added that the strike calls into question the intentions of RAs who are “willing to put themselves in a situation in which they have less information to help the residents or less information to serve.”
“We shouldn’t have gotten into this job if we weren’t at all concerned about the residents,” Amelia ’22, another RA opposed to the strike, said. “The people who are striking are the ones who are missing information and focusing on the politics of the situation without focusing on the responsibilities.”
RAs on strike, however, painted a different picture of the virtual staff training, calling it “superfluous” and “arguably useless.” Another added that the training boiled down to “how to be nice.”
“Training only helps you so much,” Diego ’23, one of the strike’s organizers, said, emphasizing that staff members had already received training on Title IX and sexual assault reporting. “We were hired for a reason. We are well-qualified, and we are faithful that we will be able to execute our duties to the best of our ability, even without the training, because we are Stanford students.”
This portrait of student staff concerns about the strike is based on interviews with 12 RAs, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
As news of the strike gained wind in local news outlets, incoming students and parents have also started to panic, according to several RAs who said they received messages from concerned frosh and parents.
Though most undergraduates move in this week, a resolution does not appear imminent. After the University sent an email warning RAs that they will “not be retained” if they fail to complete their training, Student Collective Action Against Residential Education (SCAARE), the group organizing the strike, doubled down, releasing a document urging RAs to continue their strike during NSO.
“Stanford’s victory in breaking our strike would not only harm student health but affect the bargaining power of staff for generations to come,” the document reads.
Similar complaints, different visions
Student criticism of Residential Education (ResEd) is not new. In December, ResEd, the University unit that hires RAs, drew the ire of student staff over its two-week virtual training program, which they said left them unprepared for their roles.
Before the pandemic, RAs were required to enroll in a two-unit course during spring quarter and complete a short training class before fall quarter. But because of the pandemic, the last two cohorts of RAs never received either training.
Based on the University’s plans to resume in-person classes in the fall and criticism over winter quarter’s training, ResEd proceeded with an in-person program. But concerns over student health prompted RAs to petition for a virtual alternative.
After an RA who had attended an in-person training session tested positive for COVID-19, a group of RAs established SCAARE and drafted an email to University leadership. Their message: meet our demands, or the group of RAs representing more than 28 dorms would go on indefinite strike.
While most of the 12 RAs interviewed agree with the strikers’ demands in principle, they disagree on the best way to achieve them. No demand illuminates this contrast more than the calls to scrap the newly implemented alcohol and other drugs policy.
Although underage drinking is officially illegal on campus, many residence halls previously recognized a de facto “open-door policy” whereby underage drinking was permitted as long as residents kept their doors open. That policy ended on Sept. 1, when Stanford announced a new alcohol policy that mandates RAs to refer all violations of the alcohol policy to administrators — a decision which RAs said will encourage students to drink behind closed doors where the harm to their health is greater.
The new rules, however, also expand “good samaritan” protections, allowing students to seek medical attention for themselves or others after alcohol or substance use without facing disciplinary action.
Despite shared criticisms over the new alcohol policy, many student staff believe striking is counterproductive to collaborative efforts with administrators.
That many strike organizers have assumed “bad intent” on Stanford’s behalf has made negotiations, middle ground or compromise “impossible,” one student staff member said. “[RAs] just want what is written in their petition and nothing else.”
Another RA quipped that “you can’t make an alcohol policy in 30 minutes,” and said the only way to achieve any changes was through direct communication with administrators — not a strike. But RAs organizing the strike said their movement was the product of student staff being repeatedly disregarded.
“Most decisions were made in the midst of a pandemic where individuals didn’t have the bandwidth to fully engage in these conversations,” an RA on strike said. Until a new policy is drafted, “we as a community will not succumb to this draconian, ill-informed policing.”
In an email to RAs, Associate Vice Provost for Residential Education Cheryl Brown acknowledged the perceived trust-gap between some student staff and ResEd, but then wrote that it “could not be further from the truth.”
Brown pointed to a new professional staff structure composed of neighborhood program directors, live-in resident directors and graduate resident associates, designed to support RAs and collect feedback.
“I appreciate that you are willing to contribute in such a meaningful way during your undergraduate experience,” she wrote. “You are valued, you are amazing and your perspective is important to us.”
Despite this reassurance, RAs on both sides of the strike lamented their powerlessness against the University.
“I think the real problem is that Stanford holds all the power,” said Emily ’23. “They can do whatever they want. And at least for me, I’m too scared to actually stick to my guns and quit. Because I think they’ll just say, Okay, screw you. You don’t have housing.”