Resident assistants to strike beginning Dec. 3

The exterior of Cale Residential College.
Resident assistants will indefinitely strike beginning Friday at 6 p.m., advocating for increased compensation and improvements to their financial aid packages. (Sarah Cortina | Daily Trojan file photo)

Resident assistants will indefinitely strike beginning Friday at 6 p.m. after launching a petition demanding increased compensation, improvements in their financial aid packages and the creation of a Resident Assistant Advisory Board Nov. 17.

“Fix our financial aid! We will not work for free,” the RA Organizing Committee wrote in an Instagram post Sunday.

In the petition and in interviews with the Daily Trojan, RAs said their financial aid packages were lower than in previous years, causing some RAs to lose money despite working long hours. Other RAs reported registration holds because of late fees they accrued due to higher tuition costs they were unable to pay. 

The strike is an option that some RAs have been “compiling and playing with for a while” said Makayla Howard, a junior majoring in fine arts and an RA at Pardee Tower. After receiving communication from Residential Education that said nothing else could be done, Howard said “there was no other option.”

Sofija Radulovic, a senior majoring in civil engineering and an RA at Webb Tower, said while the petition received attention, nothing had changed — leading to their decision to strike. Radulovic said there has not been further communication with ResEd since the RA Organizing Committee launched its petition.

“Our Instagram posts got a lot of attention, but we haven’t received any kind of thing from ResEd, like any kind of discussion from ResEd,” Radulovic said. “Nothing has changed, basically, with the exception of more attention being brought to it.”

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, the University wrote that, based on a review of its practices, it needed to “change the way it determined eligibility for need-based financial aid and the treatment of the room and board provided to RAs.” 

Students lose eligibility for certain sources of need-based aid if “gift aid provided exceeds a student’s demonstrated need,” the University wrote, and the financial aid office will continue to work with students who have issues with aid.

However, Howard, Radulovic and ​​Felanté Charlemagne, a senior majoring in sociology and an RA at Webb Tower who has a hold on their registration because of overdue fees, said conversations with financial aid — which ResEd director Grant Burlew recommended to RAs in a Nov. 11 letter responding to their concerns — have not led to changes in their financial aid packages. 

In their meeting with financial aid, Charlemagne said the officer cited various reasons they received a lower financial aid package, including health insurance, parking costs and stipends for research fellowships, they started after the semester began. After refuting financial aid’s explanations for the lower aid, they said, the officer cited leadership opportunities that come with the RA position.

“Leadership skills are not paying my tuition, or getting me registered for classes next semester,” Charlemagne said. 

Out of 212 RAs, 16 initially had collection holds and 4 currently have them, according to the University. 

After releasing the petition, RAs researched similar actions at other private universities, including Stanford and Pepperdine, and reached out to RAs at those schools to ask about insight they’ve gained by navigating similar issues. 

“We’ve done a lot of research on what other schools and institutions are doing about these issues, because there are other schools with RAs that have petitioned, and we’ve decided that this is the one way that we can really let ResEd know that we’re serious about this,” Howard said.

RAs went on strike at Stanford to protest coronavirus regulations and called for increased compensation, particularly for work during orientation and training periods. The strike ended without resolution, with RAs returning because of concerns for their residents, according to CalMatters

Howard said RAs have discussed communicating with residents about the upcoming strike and ensuring they are aware of emergency numbers and protocols. 

“[Residents] can also speak for us, and they act on our behalf,” Howard said. “Really making this a community thing, is another hope. That this is not just RAs against ResEd, but this is not such a local issue as it is a really greater issue within the USC community.”

There is currently no timetable for the strike and RAs who have spoken with the Daily Trojan said they are willing to strike until their demands are met and an agreement is reached.

“I’m hoping [Residential Education] resolves our issues. I hope they fix our financial aid packages, or give us a stipend — whatever is needed to remedy the problem,” Charlemagne said. “They weren’t really taking us seriously or didn’t really care. They kind of just brushed this off, so I’m like ‘You can’t brush this off.’” and can we double check the audio to see what the bracket for the last they is for?

Clarification: This article was updated to specify that Felanté Charlemagne referred to Residential Education in the final quote.