As on-campus move-in takes place during the week before classes start in the fall, the first leader that first-year students encounter at USC is often their resident assistant.
RAs at USC have two primary mandates. The first is their responsibility of serving as the primary rule-enforcer in their residential areas. According to the Residential Education at USC website, they’re dutied to “enforce university policies, confront student behavior, and document student actions and/or situations when necessary.”
Their second and perhaps more influential job is to create a positive atmosphere in their residence halls and make themselves available as a vital part of their residents’ support systems. RAs “establish rapport with residents … through attentive listening, genuine care and support, awareness of student needs, and appropriate consultation and referral,” according to the Residential Education website.
Effectively executing these important jobs would itself qualify as a difficult, time-intensive proposition. However, RAs are also tasked with a variety of time-intensive administrative responsibilities assigned by Residential Education. One of these requirements is to compile detailed weekly reports on the lives of their residents, often requiring information about students’ academics, social life and extracurricular activities. Additionally, RAs must decorate the walls of their residential area with informative graphics and, at least in some residence halls, update the decorations several times each semester.
Needless to say, RAs’ obligations are often overwhelming. Exacerbating the stress RAs’ often all-consuming duties incur are job insecurity and inadequate compensation. RAs are compensated in the form of free housing and a complimentary meal plan for the duration of USC’s academic year. While these are helpful perks considering exorbitant housing prices and the $3,150 cost of an unlimited meal plan, they are outweighed by the stresses of long unpaid hours and job insecurity (and thus, housing insecurity).
If caught violating University rules, RAs can be fired and thereby ejected from their housing. Given the prevalence of minor rule violations on college campuses, many RAs live under the threat of losing their housing for engaging in standard social behavior.
For example, an analysis by the National Institute of Health concluded that 53.8% of full-time college students drink alcohol monthly and 34.6% binge drink. Because USC is a dry campus, engaging in these activities in USC Housing facilities is a rule violation. For regular students, consequences for drinking in their residence hall would be a standard write-up leading to no punitive action beyond a formal reprimand; however, if RAs are caught in such a violation, their job and housing are in jeopardy. Despite their status as leaders within their housing community, RAs are students too, who want a college experience that aligns with their peers’.
For the sake of RAs’ mental health and effectiveness as resources for their residents, USC Residential Education must give them more support. This support could come in the form of a stipend for their work, fewer hours, less onerous weekly requirements or the articulation of a more lenient policy for rule violations.
Instead of treating RAs as upright disciplinarians who must transcend the follies of standard college student behavior in order to properly do their job, USC ResEd should recognize that they are complex individuals capable of maintaining the University’s disciplinary standards without their employer levelling threats based on their personal behavior and constantly monitoring the fulfillment of their professional duties.
RAs’ position as students trained to serve as valuable resources for their residential communities and ease first-year students’ transition to college renders them indispensable to the effective functioning of USC on-campus housing. Supporting them will not only enhance their own college experience and mental health but also serve as an investment in the broader USC community.