I spent two years working as an RA. They were challenging and enjoyable — I learned, made friends, and got to be the face that welcomes first-years to campus. And I was paid less for it than my coworkers.

It’s been a regular complaint of my former colleagues that they are not compensated fairly for their work. Usually this is framed in the context of RAs being paid more at other schools, but I think that argument is unproductive and is dubiously supported by evidence at best, dishonestly so at worst. However, RAs are compensated unfairly relative to each other at this school.

For those who don’t know, RAs are not paid directly; instead ResLife covers their housing cost. Returning RAs receive a nominal bonus, but the overwhelming majority of their pay is only that free housing. Let me be clear, both as an RA and in my retirement I have had no issue with this — the cost of eight months of housing was certainly fair compensation for the work I did. But not all housing is created equal.

At one point, all housing on campus was priced equally. Then, Southside became discounted, and eventually Riverview and Brooks became more expensive as ResLife sought to balance the demand for dorms with more appealing amenities and less appealing locations, among other considerations. Now, pretty much every area comes with a different price tag and differently priced dining options. RAs do not select their housing — they can only request — and once you are placed in an area one year, it is unlikely you will be transferred to another the next. 

This means an RA who works in Southside is paid less than one who works in Riverview or Brooks. These positions require roughly the same number of hours, and are both upperclassman areas with upperclassman problems. Paying for housing for all RAs seems fair at face value, but it results in uneven compensation for the same amount of work.

This isn’t even accounting for first-year RAs. First-year RAs have additional responsibilities (when I was one, I was expected to hold two additional programs per semester, in addition to assisting with Orientation) and have residents who, by virtue of their age, are more likely to require more frequent assistance from an RA. None of those responsibilities are unreasonable to expect from an RA. 

I was well trained, well qualified, and applied knowing that I would be expected to perform those duties and others that were more emotionally and professionally difficult. But as a first-year RA that extra time is not rewarded with any extra pay. I was paid the same amount that I paid to live in a first year dorm; that is to say I was paid less than a Riverview or Brooks RA is paid to live and work in the most sought-after on campus housing.

I have no personal issue with this. I signed up to be an RA because I wanted to help students handle the sorts of issues my RA helped me with when I was a first-year. But to argue that all RAs at the University are compensated equally, to argue that working in a more desirable area (which generally costs more to live in and therefore includes more compensation) is not a promotion, or to argue that the unequal compensation between RAs is fair to all of them is disingenuous.

Tagged: housing ra wages

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