On Monday, the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) sent out an email to Community Advisors (CAs) announcing that next semester, two graduate students from Kent State University (KSU) will replace apartment CAs, CA staffing will increase in the First-Year Quad and CAs will need to reapply for their positions via a virtual presentation.
These changes in the rehiring process came as a shock to many CAs. Though the Office of Residential Life has encouraged CAs to be in contact with them about concerns, CAs felt as if there was not a constructive dialogue about the decision.
“It was kind of out of left field for everyone,” April Murphy ’22, a current CA, said.
Many CAs were especially frustrated with the decision to hire graduate assistants to serve in apartment communities. CA Katherine Crawford ’22 explained that upperclass CAs — who have typically been in their positions for the longest time — usually serve as CAs for apartments, and she worries that those CAs will now quit because graduate students are taking over.
“I think that ResLife is going to lose a lot of their most experienced CAs because of this,” Crawford said.
This news comes a week after members of Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) went on strike against unfair labor practices. While Murphy was unsure of the impetus for this decision, she noted that it felt related to recent organizing efforts on campus.
“It’s difficult for us not to feel retaliation for unionizing, because CAs are so organized,” Murphy said.
In an email to the Collegian, Director of Residential Life Jillian Yoder explained that the decision to hire graduate assistants was made in collaboration with the Division of Student Affairs “in an effort to provide additional support for student life at Kenyon.” The graduate students are in their first year of the Higher Education Administration at KSU, and were selected through a two-tiered interview process facilitated by KSU. They will work in conjunction with the Office of Student Engagement and the Department of First-Year Experience.
Yoder also explained that, in order for the CA staff to return to the full, pre-pandemic size, the Office of Residential Life would be increasing CA presence in the First-Year Quad, with first-year CAs being assigned 20 students instead of the typical 40-45. She added that this decision was made, in part, due to the housing study from program management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey, which found that students highly value their relationship with CAs.
“It is our hope that first-year CAs will connect more often, and on a more individual basis with their residents if they are serving a smaller group, creating vital peer connections for first-year students,” Yoder said.
Professor of Anthropology Edward Schortman sent out an all-student email expressing concern at the news of the new graduate student hires. He argued that, if the College wanted to foster community relationships between students and their CAs, this decision was reductive.
“The CA system is, as I understand it, premised on students helping students to navigate the logistics and culture of Kenyon. This makes a lot of sense as the CAs know the College’s culture, its distinctive ways of learning and being, that outsiders would struggle to grasp,” he wrote.
Other CAs were confused about the virtual presentation component of the rehiring process. According to Crawford, CAs have not had to reapply for their position in previous years — they would merely have to express interest in returning. She explained that the Office of Residential Life would typically send out a form that contained questions about the experience, asking if current CAs were interested in being rehired for the next academic year.
In response to criticisms regarding the implementation of presentations, Yoder explained that the presentation was not meant to be a “make or break evaluation” for CAs who are currently in “good standing” with the Office of Residential Life, but rather an “interactive version” of the form they received in years past.
“We hope that the presentations (which are intended to be valuable, but not high-pressure!) will give CAs a similar opportunity to reflect on their experience and share about their hopes for continued work,” Yoder wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Despite Yoder’s claim that the presentations will not be “high pressure,” many CAs expressed concerns that they will be. Some were intimidated by the added requirement of a 30-minute meeting, in addition to a 5-10 minute presentation that is meant to include the highlights of being a CA, two qualities that CAs must have to succeed in the position and three goals for next year. They must then present it in front of two ResLife staff members.
“It feels like they’re trying to push some of us out,” Murphy said. “It’s very scary for someone that depends on this income for medication, travel home and things that are very necessary for me. I love getting to know my residents, and I love my little niche in the Kenyon world. But this [decision] feels a little disconnected from that.”
CAs wished that they were given an opportunity to weigh in on these decisions as they were being made, rather than give a presentation on their experiences after the fact. The issue of unilateral decision making is a point of concern for many student workers, and a major point in K-SWOC’s official list of demands.
“It’s frustrating to not be included in these conversations when we’re the ones that know what it’s like to be a CA,” said Murphy. “We know what a community is like and what it needs. To be left out of that is disappointing.”