In the midst of one of the worst pandemics in history, universities across the country have allowed their students to return to campus.
The staff that keeps the dormitories up and running, known as resident assistants (RA), have more responsibilities this year than RAs in previous school years. More responsibilities, during the COVID-19 pandemic, mean that RAs are putting themselves at risk.
Now that COVID-19 is a prevalent issue, some RAs' concerns have shifted from misbehaving residents to residents who do not follow Texas State's COVID-19 policies. Some RAs, such as myself, live in a constant state of fear of contracting the virus from a resident or our dorm halls, and there is currently no way we can escape that fear without abandoning our job responsibilities.
Additionally, at the beginning of Texas' winter storm, RAs were still required to show up to work the front desk regardless of us having no wifi, water or power. We are still expected to go into the rooms of our residents for inspections or walk around the halls of dorms every night regardless of the COVID-19 risks.
RAs live and work in the same vicinity every single day. Therefore, most of the time, we are not able to get away from the hundreds of students we are responsible for. We are also exposed to many high-touch contaminated areas while completing our job duties.
For example, while working from the front desk, we are expected to handle each resident's package that gets delivered from UPS, FedEx, USPS or any other delivery service.
RAs also have first-hand experience with some residents not complying with the university's mask policy. Whether the task is walking the dorm halls, working the front desk or simply using the communal restroom, RAs are constantly faced with the risk of coming into close contact with someone who is not in compliance with the current COVID-19 policies.
There have been many instances when residents have come up to me, less than 6 feet away, to ask for assistance while not properly wearing their masks. I do enforce the COVID-19 policies, but it does not change the fact that encounters like these put us at risk.
A senior RA, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of losing their job, says sharing a communal restroom makes her uneasy due to residents simply not following health and safety guidelines.
"I think it would be great if RAs had the option to get the vaccine. I share a bathroom with 25 to 30 residents, so there is an exposure concern," the senior RA states. "I think it's important to get RAs to have that option if they choose to get vaccinated."
When a resident believes they have contacted COVID-19, RAs are likely among the first people they alert. Once again we, the RAs, are put at immediate risk of contracting the virus.
RAs are not the only ones who live in the dorm halls. However, we are especially responsible for anything that goes wrong in the building and must be on site for any crisis or if a resident requires assistance.
Our job duties also include not-so-pleasant tasks, such as stopping a leaking toilet during on-call duties or tending to a resident's vomit while a custodial staff member makes their way to the scene.
We are among the front-line workers for the university because we tend to any need of our residents at any moment. However, we go overlooked. We are often regarded as just students who are working at the mercy of the university.
The Department of Housing and Residential Life hires about 50-70 new RAs for the fall and 10-20 new RAs for the spring. RAs are highly exposed and at risk for COVID-19 each day we choose to do our jobs.
RAs are students as well, and the university needs to remember that dorms are not able to run without our help and efforts. We carry a large portion of the Department of Housing and Residential Life on our shoulders, and we are exposed daily to situations that put us at a high risk of catching the COVID-19 virus.
COVID-19 has raised the stress levels of our job. It is important that the university acknowledges its student workers and provides us the protection we deserve once the opportunity for vaccination on campus arises.
- Nadia Gonzales is a public relations junior
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