UC Santa Barbara resident assistants, who were told a month before the start of fall quarter that they would no longer have jobs in the 2020-21 academic year, formed a coalition in early September against the university to demand the housing and benefits promised to them in their severed contracts.
Under normal circumstances, resident assistants (RAs) are provided room, board and a monthly stipend between $80 and $220 for the entire school year, according to UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada. Several RAs who spoke to the Nexus said that the university told them to continue submitting paperwork throughout the summer in preparation for moving on to campus in September.
But in August, a campus-wide email from Chancellor Yang instilled heavy doubts in RAs’ minds whether they would return for fall quarter, in which he detailed the UCSB’s plan to “offer nearly all undergraduate fall courses via remote instruction” and to limit student housing only to those with special circumstances.
UCSB confirmed to RAs on Sept. 2 that they would no longer be employed for fall quarter but that if the campus opens in winter, they will have the “opportunity to accept or decline an offer to return to the RA role before hiring other students as RAs,” according to an email that was sent to RAs and obtained by the Nexus.
In a statement to the Nexus, Estrada said that during RA orientation on April 22, RAs were repeatedly told that plans for fall quarter were being “formulated based on information available at the moment and were subject to modification,” and that students were given updates “as plans continued to develop.”
While a limited number of students will be living in campus apartments during fall quarter, only 18 of 99 RAs originally offered positions still have jobs, according to Estrada.
UCSB’s RAs are now fighting against the dismissal, arguing that they should receive the housing and financial security of the job they were promised.
“[You can’t] just tell us weeks before we’re supposed to move in that the housing and food that we were going to rely on for a year is gone,” said Cecilia Hulett, a third-year communication and film and media studies double major. Hulett, a member of the coalition who was an RA during the 2019-20 academic year, was set to be an RA during the 2020-21 academic year before the dismissal.
In response to the layoffs, the UCSB RA Coalition created a Change.org petition that called for the university to provide them with the “stipend and rent-free room and board agreed upon when offered the Resident Assistant position.” The petition has been signed by 941 people as of Oct. 5.
The coalition also created a list of demands that they sent to Chancellor Yang and housing services, including that the university “honor the stipend and rent-free room and board,” “provide room and board by Sept 19” and “provide a monetary stipend to accommodate RAs who are unable to return to the position.”
Their demands included “transparent communication” from housing services, a support system given to food-insecure and financially insecure students and a plan to “rehabilitate the […] organizational shortcomings of the university and housing department.”
According to a survey created by the students in the UCSB RA Coalition, of 43 RAs in September, 65% face financial insecurity, 33% face housing insecurity, 28% are impacted by mental health concerns and 26% are impacted by their “inability to succeed academically.”
Prior to Chancellor Yang’s email at the end of August, Lea Toubian, a former RA and fourth- year political science and environmental studies double major, said that her supervisors in the housing department continued to mislead her with reasurances.
“I kept emailing my supervisors,” she said, “and they kept reassuring me, ‘You’re going to be fine… even if they closed the dorms, the apartments will still be fine.’”
In an Aug. 14 email obtained by the Nexus, housing services encouraged RAs to prepare to move to campus in September.
“Our recommendation is that all RAs move in on Sunday, September 20th,” the email read. “We are all excited for the year to begin and are looking forward to starting [Student Leadership Development] in a few weeks.”
Some RAs have said that the sudden cancellations of their employment have impacted their mental health and jeopardized their access to educational needs during the remote quarter, such as a quiet place to access online classes.
Bryanna Macias, a third-year psychological and brain sciences and communication double major, said that the sudden change in her schedule became a source of “fatigue” and “stress” for her.
“The fact that we have to stress about more than just our education just shows that our administration doesn’t seem to care enough,” she said.
Coming from a low-income family, Macias said she doesn’t have quiet study spaces at home — something previously guaranteed to her as a RA.
Hulett said the lack of time to prepare for her unemployment created problems for her family, who was already in the process of moving to another state and didn’t expect her to be joining them. She said she is unsure how she will balance moving and taking courses online this fall quarter, especially without reliable internet access.
The UCSB RA Coalition met with several university officials in early September to discuss its demands.
In a discussion with Interim Residential & Community Living Director Marian Bankins and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services Mike Miller on Sept. 11, coalition members said they felt that the officials were shifting the blame to other departments and addressing the members in a dismissive tone.
“I feel like it was their duty to think ahead and to create a plan, and instead they […] didn’t,” Ava Kargosha, a fourth-year double majoring in psychology and political science and UCSB RA coalition member, said.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Housing, Dining and Auxiliary Enterprises Willie Brown emailed a letter to RAs on Sept. 18, thanking them for sharing their “personal stories regarding the outcomes from the decision” and directing them to the Financial Crisis Response Team for additional financial help. The letter stated that it was not “financially feasible” for the university to provide free room and board or rent to all RAs; however, they would be providing RAs a “one-time lump sum payment” of $750.
Multiple RAs said they felt dissatisfied with the $750 payment, citing other UC expensive projects, such as the $2.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, as evidence of the university’s financial capability.
“It’s an institutional problem [with] money,” said third-year psychology and film and media studies double major and coalition member Vidhisha Mahesh. “They have [it], but they don’t want to use it to protect student workers’ rights.”
Hulett said that the “pattern of miscommunication” since being fired has deterred her overall trust in UCSB’s housing system.
“If they had come to the decision that they weren’t going to have RAs … in June or July,” she said, “it wouldn’t have hit anybody in the same way that it did.”