Scripps President, Resident Advisors Discuss Demands During Strike

Scripps’ Balch Hall, housing the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Student Affairs, is hauntingly empty after Dean Johnson’s office hours following the RA strike. (Austin Huang • The Student Life)

The Scripps College Resident Advisors strike, which began April 13, elicited responses from the administration this past week, as well as statements of support from a number of campus organizations and RAs at Pitzer College and Pomona College.

Scripps President Lara Tiedens expressed her disappointment at the RAs’ decision to strike in an email to students on April 15. In the email, Tiedens addressed some of the RAs' demands and cited reforms that Scripps has pursued in order expand resources for financial aid and mental health resources.

Organizations expressing solidarity with the RAs include Scripps Associated Students, TSL's editorial board, Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, the Scripps Residential Advisor Team for the 2017-18 academic year, and Scripps' Admission Ambassadors Team. In addition, Pomona and Pitzer RAs published letters in solidarity with the Scripps RAs. 

The Admissions Ambassador Team wrote in an April 16 email that they would begin to read a message on Scripps admissions tours detailing the current Scripps climate and listing the demands of the RAs.

“We will no longer give students our refined tours where we share mostly positive sentiments of Scripps," the statement read. "As a team that is mostly made up of students of color, we understand the need to provide a realistic, critical and honest image of what Scripps provides and does not provide students so that prospective students can make an informed decision.”

As a result of this statement, Admissions Ambassadors said they were instructed not to give tours to students. The Ambassadors said they would boycott this week's admitted students wekeend if the RAs do not receive a response from the administration by April 20.

Victoria Romero, vice president for enrollment at Scripps, wrote in an email to TSL that she understood the Ambassadors' decision to strike.

“We understand that different student groups on campus want to stand in solidarity with the RAs who are on strike," Romero wrote. "We hope that while our guests are here on Friday, staff who are assisting with the events of admitted students day will make our guests feel welcome as we provide information and activities to help them learn more about Scripps College.”

In their letter to Tiedens, the RAs demanded that financial aid packages demonstrate increases in tuition and room and board, as well as the creation of a publicized emergency fund to accommodate the fluctuating financial circumstances of students. Additionally, they demanded an increase in mental health support services. 

In her April 13 email, Tiedens wrote that this year, Scripps "expanded the financial aid budget by $400,000, increased the emergency fund by more than $25,000, and ... supplemented existing 5C mental health resources with additional staff support and funding for off-campus therapists."

Tiedens wrote that she intends to engage students in dialogue about the issues expressed in the demands. In response to the email, the Scripps RAs sent an email to students with a Google form that encouraged Scripps students to anonymously share their experiences with Scrips Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson and the Office of Financial Aid.

Tiedens sent a second email on April 19 that detailed a sit-down meeting that occurred with the RAs. The letter directly responded to the demands, suggested initiatives to further support students, and listed resources that are already available. For example, Tiedens wrote in response to the RAs' demand that an emergency fund for students be created: 

"This year, more than ever, we observed the importance of having a student emergency fund to cover students’ incidental or unusual costs that arise out of unexpected crises. The Scripps College student emergency fund was established in 2015, and the amount available has depended entirely on designated gifts from donors. Effective in the 2017-2018 academic year, the College will allocate $20,000 to this fund at the beginning of each academic year and continue to solicit donor funds to further augment it.”

In response to the demand that the RA position be restructured, Tiedens said that Johnson will be leading a committee to work with RAs to restructure the role. In a message sent out by the RAs on April 20, the RAs suggested that Primary Contact Dean Chris Dennis lead the restructuring instead.

Sam Martin SC ‘19 expressed her anger at the decision to appoint Johnson in an email to TSL.

“To appoint Dean Johnson as the head of the committee in charge of restructuring the RA role is, frankly, a bit rude," Martin wrote. "There’s already a lack of trust between the students and Dean Johnson, and this really isn’t helping mend that divide. I agree with the recent update from the RAs that Chris Dennis should head the project instead.”

Though the RAs remain on strike, they encouraged students to volunteer for admitted students day and to engage prospective students about the campus climate.

“We are humbled by the outpouring of support we have received from our community, current students, faculty, staff, parents, alum, and admitted students," they wrote in an email to Scripps students. "We are committed to continuing this work with you. We will be continuing our strike, but encourage students to take part in admitted students day by engaging students critically around issues of mental health, financial aid, emergency preparedness, and the lack of institutional support for students by the Dean of Students office. This transparency and work should not stop at the end of this semester but continue for years to come.”