Scripps College RAs Strike to Demand Resignation of Dean of Students, Restructuring of RA Role

The Residential Advisors of Scripps College announced they were going on strike in an email sent to students on Thursday. The email contained an abbreviated list of demands from the RAs, who wrote that they will not resume their positions until the demands are met. The email sets the deadline for action from the administration as April 20.

The first demand is the immediate resignation of Charlotte Johnson as Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs. In an extended document advocating for Johnson’s resignation, the RAs claimed she failed to meet the needs of students, specifically after the death of Tatissa Zunguze SC ’18, a Scripps student who served as an RA in the 2015-2016 academic year.

“After the death of a prominent member of the community and employee of Student Affairs, Johnson was not available to meet with students and did not show adequate leadership or support," the document stated. "It was evident she was primarily concerned about the college’s liability and her own role in Zunguze's death, with her background as a lawyer overshadowing her current position as Dean of Students. Additionally, Johnson left for a week-long vacation without delegating responsibilities appropriately."

Caitlin Kim SC ’19, who thinks the administration inappropriately responded to Zunguze's death, offered her support to the RAs.

“I admire how the RAs have been able to call out the institution for neglecting their well-being especially in light of an unexpected/painful loss," she wrote in an email to TSL. "They need the time and support to heal, and our administration hasn't effectively or compassionately addressed that. I think there is a huge lack of accountability here and I hope the student body will be able to support the RAs in getting a response from the school.”

The second point in the document demands increased transparency in terms of financial aid, as well as the elimination of financial policies that penalize students for obtaining private funding for tuition in the form of merit scholarships and crowdfunding. The document supports this claim by citing that multiple Scripps students have had to terminate their enrollment at Scripps due to financial aid packages that do not adequately adjust to meet increases in tuition and room and board over the course of their four years.

Sofia Padilla SC ’19 said she has had her own experiences with inadequate financial aid.

“I believe that one of the most jarring aspects of attending an expensive private institution is entering the community and realizing that coming up with the funds needed to take care of everyday mishaps and even simply paying for tuition is is much harder than the school makes it out to be,” Padilla said. “Students should come to campus understanding [what] it’s going to take for them to stay here and succeed, and while some have this knowledge, it’s important that the school puts in more effort to fully support and educate students reliant on financial aid.”

In relation to mental health, the RAs demand that Scripps update emergency preparedness plans for when students endure life-threatening events, as well as establish an official procedure for supporting students in a mental health crisis.

They also demand an increase in subsidies for students seeking off-campus therapy given the eight-session limit, a requirement that stipulates that students are limited to only eight sessions with a therapist at Monsour.

Additionally, the document demands a restructuring of the RA role, and says the duties of RAs at Scripps do not embody the principles of restorative justice. The document condemns the fining of students for multiple lock-outs and for staying past the residential hall closing time for breaks, both of which are duties that RAs are expected to carry out. In the extended list of demands, the RAs expressed their willingness to take part in the restructuring of the role.

“The RAs believe that there are several ways to make sure that the time and energy of students and staff is better spent so that all programming and office hours can be beneficial for more members of the Scripps community," the document said. "We encourage you to reach out with suggestions, and listen to the ones we are willing to provide as well.  We will no longer carry out mundane tasks that are of no value to our community."

The Scripps Dean of Students Office is waiting to find appropriate coverage for the residence halls before addressing the RAs' demands, Associate Director of Media and Public Relations Karen Bergh wrote in an email to TSL.

“The College’s immediate focus is on ensuring we have appropriate coverage for the residence halls," Bergh wrote. "To that end, the Dean of Students is developing a plan to ensure the health and safety of our student body and to cover the critical functions of residential life for the duration of the semester. Once that work is complete, the president and leadership will review and respond to the RAs’ concerns.”

The Scripps RA strike comes on the heels of an open resignation letter from a Pomona College RA. In this anonymous letter, the RA cited the administration's failure to "value us or acknowledge our intersectional identities and struggles when making decisions and responding to our needs or your mistakes." The letter has sparked complaints from Pitzer College RAs about the Pitzer Housing Office's lack of transparency.