On Jan. 21, Community Advisors (CAs) received an email from Vice President for Student Affairs Celestino Limas outlining several changes to the CA position, most notably a switch from hourly pay to a stipend of $10,000 a year, and the return of apartment CAs for the 2022-23 school year.
Kenyon used a stipend-based system for CAs until 2015, when it switched to the current wage-based system. At the time, CAs praised the move to an hourly wage, as the old stipend system created a situation where CAs could be overworked, and negatively impacted students receiving financial aid by counting against any need-based aid they qualified for.
CAs are currently compensated at employment Tier 3 rate — $11.94 per hour — for 18 hours a week, with an understanding that the precise number of hours they work may vary from week to week. Additionally, CAs receive a housing subsidy, as they are charged the cost of a double residence hall room though they are assigned to singles — a discount of $1,000 for residential halls, and previously $2,500 for CAs living and working in apartments. Now, they will be paid a stipend of $10,000 over the course of the year in 10 monthly payments of $1,000. According to Limas, stipends are the most common form of compensation for similar positions at Kenyon’s peer institutions.
Limas said the new stipend will be structured to avoid negatively impacting students on financial aid. “[Previously] the stipend and room credit were applied to a student’s account, which can impact a student’s financial aid award in some circumstances. In the new model, CAs will be paid directly,” Limas wrote in an email to the Collegian.
The email to CAs also announced the return of apartment CAs, just one year after the program was discontinued. There were CAs in apartments until last year, when the College suddenly announced they would be replaced by two graduate assistants. CAs at the time raised concerns, including that students living in apartments would lack the support a CA provides.
“In speaking with apartment residents and Community Advisors, we felt that students were better served by having more peer support,” Interim Director of Residential Life James Jackson wrote in an email to the Collegian. However, the apartment CA position will now be a distinct job, and the current Kent State University graduate CAs will remain for the 2022-23 school year to assist in the transition back to apartment CAs, according to Limas.
Limas explained the reasoning. “In returning CAs to apartments but in a differentiated way, we can feed two birds with the same seed – tailoring their roles to meet the needs of their particular residents while making sure that all students have access to key information and resources,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Croffoot-Suede echoed this sentiment, and said the return of apartment CAs may incentivize more people to stay in the job, as it provides an opportunity for advancement which currently doesn’t exist.
According to Limas, these changes came through an extensive process, including focus groups he held with CAs, students and administrators throughout the fall semester. However, some CAs felt caught off guard by the email. Ever Croffoot-Suede ’23, who has worked as a CA for the past two years, found the changes to be mostly positive, but was surprised when she got the email.
“We knew changes were coming, but we knew nothing about these specific changes,” she said. Croffoot-Suede also thought there should have been more discussions before final decisions were made. “A lot of CAs felt like there was a step — possibly missed — between asking for feedback, and maybe floating ideas to get approval or disapproval before making decisions,” she said.
Ilan Magnani ’24, who began working as a CA in the fall, was frustrated by the lack of specificity in Limas’s email.
“I saw one of the only numbers provided in the email being this figure of $10,000 per year. And I was like, ‘Oh, cool, that sounds like a lot of money,’” they said. “That initial feeling of positive changes sort of just quickly faded away into confusion because the email actually provided very few details.”
Magnani expressed frustration that they and their coworkers were left to figure out what these changes meant themselves. “I was left with a feeling of confusion, and frustration that my coworkers were literally taking out their calculators and doing their own calculations trying to figure out what the difference in our pay was going to be,” they said.
Magnani was also upset by Lima’s request that students be patient with specifics until a new director of residential life is hired, as they felt that it discouraged questions about a significant change, especially given that current CAs will be asked to reapply in early February.
Croffoot-Suede said the stipend system would accurately compensate her and other CAs because they don’t work regular hours. “The problem with the CA role now is that we’re paid hourly, which means that it’s really hard to judge how many hours you work a week because so much of it is just talking to students, or providing help, or answering questions — and it’s hard to tally that up,” she said.
According to Jackson, the move to a stipend is also in response to concerns CAs raised about their compensation being impacted by academic breaks. Limas’ email to CAs expanded on the logistical arguments, explaining that the move to the stipend is also reflective of the CAs’ role as leaders on campus. Croffoot-Suede agreed.
“Sometimes when you’re doing these kinds of very amorphous leadership responsibilities, you might feel like you’re not getting compensated, because it’s hourly, ” she said. “The difference of the pay systems will help make it more of a leadership role. I think it already is, but I think representing that in how it’s paid might help.”
Magnani, though, is concerned that this perspective will refocus the CA role away from being purely a form of employment. “I worry that the emphasis on the position as being an opportunity to develop leadership skills takes away from the fact that it’s a job that people are doing because they need a wage,” they said.
Katherine Crawford ’21, who worked as a CA, also expressed concerns about the implications of stipend pay. “Stipend pay inherently opens you up to exploitation, because you aren’t being paid hourly. They can make you work more hours, and pay you like $1 an hour, without any consequences,” she said. “That’s just a very dangerous way to define the role.”
Magnani also raised concerns that the move to a stipend might be a response to the fact that CAs and other student workers have organized to form a union of student workers, and suggested it could be a preemptive effort by the College to remove CAs from the collective bargaining unit. “CAs are being taken out of the normal mode of pay that structures student work for pretty much everybody else. I’m personally concerned about that,” they said.
Limas’s email to CAs also included the possibility of a reimagined head CA role. “Some Community Advisors have expressed an interest in taking a larger student leadership role within Residential Life, so we are looking into ways to provide those opportunities. While the Head CA role is an option, we are early in the process and will explore other potential options as well,” the email read.
Crawford said the head CA role is particularly beneficial given the high degree of turnover in the Office of Residential Life.
According to Limas, the CA role will continue to evolve under the new Director of Residential Life, who will be announced in the coming weeks.