The names of the resident assistants in this story have been changed as they requested to remain anonymous to comfortably voice their concerns.
With student housing being the epicenter for coronavirus cases on campus, resident assistants have been left with extra responsibilities to ensure their living environments are safe.
“We are more of the COVID police than we are anything else, and that is incredibly frustrating because we are here to be a resource and not to police these guys,” said L.
L said that during the last couple of weeks, much of their time has been spent filling out write-ups of students for not wearing masks, breaking quarantine or not following any other procedure in place.
As far as safety protocols, L said the main changes have been occupancy limits in rooms, study rooms and lounges, mask and quarantine mandates and mandatory swipe-ins to prevent guests from outside the halls.
L said it has been frustrating that they are not allowed to share the number of people quarantining in the hall with their residents.
“They won't let us tell our kids, ‘Hey, you guys need to be extra careful, our Hall has 34 quarantined people right now – just be mindful, it's very real,’” L said.
Despite all of this, one of the hardest parts about this year has been the lack of social life, said L.
“There is very little interaction — we interact with each other [RAs], but that’s it,” L said. “A lot of my friends didn’t move back up here this semester; they stayed at home to save money.”
L said that resident assistants are not encouraged to talk to their residents in person, but rather virtually; however, the virtual activities have not had much of a turnout.
With quarantine and isolation taking a toll on students’ mental health, L said that RAs share information about the Carruth Center’s resources in every floor meeting and send details about WVU Refresh activities in group chats, but when it comes to additional resources, it is just on them to reach out to their residents.
L said that the Housing and Residence Life office has not been very transparent with RAs so far.
“There's not a lot of communication,” L said. “They're adding things like extra responsibilities to enforce all these policies that are new. It's a lot to handle.”
B, who has been an RA for over a year now, said that she has been asked to remove food in her hall if residents are not communicating with dining services. She said there is confusion as to whether or not they are supposed to remove trash as well.
B said, while in theory they can email higher management within the department, there is not a quick turnaround for information.
“The response usually isn't what you want it to be, it's more so like a brushing off of the concern,” said B.
Executive Director for Student Services and Residence Life Patricia Cendana said that the University has worked to create new policies to ensure the safety of the staff and resident hall community, including maximum occupancy numbers, plexiglass at all of the front desks and having students swipe themselves in rather than RAs doing it for them.
Cendana said that they have continued to have weekly meetings with residence hall coordinators who supervise the RAs, which have been focused on COVID-19 related topics.
“Sometimes we don’t necessarily have the answers right then, but we work to get through the situation and get the answers for the RAs, so that they have an open line of communication,” Cendana said.
Cendana said in addition to this, last Friday, WVU President E. Gordon Gee and Dean of Students Corey Farris had a meeting with the RAs to answer questions and concerns. Another event is scheduled for the RAs on Oct. 5.
S, a second-year RA, said that while the University can have as many rules as it wants in place, it is ultimately up to the residents to follow them, which he said some are not.
“Say someone doesn’t wear a mask, say someone doesn’t quarantine — they have a meeting then they go right about their day,” S said. “The consequences for not following [safety procedures] are pretty much a slap on the wrist.”
S said that information trickles down from officials in Residence Life to residence hall coordinators and then to RAs, with information sometimes getting lost in translation.
“If we have a policy, we have to ask our RHC, and then our RHC has to ask their boss, so it has to go up the chain then it has to come back down until we get our answer,” S said. “We never get that immediate response.”
One of the biggest challenges S said he has faced this semester has been putting his own safety first.
“We are constantly told, ‘Yes you are a student, but at the same time, you are an RA, so you need to be there for your residents',” S said. “It’s always a catch-22 of is this going to be the time that I’m infected? Is this going to be the time I have to isolate? You never really know.”
S said if someone is quarantining, it does not mean their roommate is required to quarantine as well.
“Their roommate can go out and just do whatever, they are by no means mandated to do anything,” S said. “It makes me a little uneasy, I’m not going to lie. This person could very well have COVID and they just haven’t gotten their results back. They could be infecting that person.”
S said that while he’s not sure that it’s disappointment, he really hoped that the University would be doing more at this point to keep residents safe.
A, who is in her first semester as an RA, said when it comes to whether or not the University has done enough to keep them safe, she believes that they have done all they know how to.
“We're definitely really quick to harp on them if we think we're doing something wrong, but I'm constantly reminding myself that I haven't done this before and they haven't either,” A said.
A said that as the semester has continued, more steps and precautions have been taken to ensure residents’ safety, the most effective being the weekly testing of RAs.
“We are pretty much a sample size of our floors, so if I have it, there is a very high chance that someone else would,” A said.
With the added responsibility and precautions necessary to keep others safe, A said she has struggled with remembering to make sure that she is okay, too.
“I've kind of neglected myself a little,” A said. “It's been kind of remembering if I'm not doing okay, I need to take my own advice and take a minute, take a breather and relax.”