Scripps RAs Go on Strike

Editor's Note: The Scripps College Resident Advisor (RA) staff hand-delivered the following list of demands to Scripps President Lara Tiedens at 12:30 p.m. April 13 announcing that they are going on strike, during which they will not perform the labor or duties expected of them. The demands were authored by sixteen RAs, whose initials are listed at the end of the article. 

Dear President Lara Tiedens,

We are writing to inform you that the Resident Advisor (RA) team is going on strike.

The last six weeks have been incredibly painful for the entire Resident Advisor staff. Following the passing of our friend and fellow RA, this pain has been worsened as we witness the continued operation of the college, as though nothing has happened. This day-to-day operation relied on the labor performed by Tatissa and other RAs, and we are now expected to continue to function in our roles while also grieving and trying to fulfill academic and other responsibilities. Furthermore, most of us are low income students of color, which further exacerbates the exploitation we are experiencing.

We have had no time to process or grieve, and efforts made by the administration to “support” us have been antiseptic and robotic, as well as delayed. While we have been told that we can take a step back from our duties if needed, undue burden is then placed on other members of our team, including our professional staff. Our direct supervisors, who were already overworked, are grieving alongside us. We demand that no retaliation should be taken against them as a result of this statement. Our actions are not a reflection of our supervisors’ performance, but instead a response to a broader lack of institutional support.

Lack of funding has been a constant excuse to avoid providing us with the financial aid or support that many of us - including Tatissa - needed and fought for. While airfare compensation has been helpful, it is far from sufficient. Now that the worst possible situation has happened, we are no longer able to give Scripps any more options. We demand immediate action.

Outline of Strike:

The purpose of the strike is: 1) to put pressure on Scripps to fulfill its obligation to students 2) to demonstrate the extent of the labor we perform on campus and 3) to break with our normal routine in recognition of the impact of Tatissa’s passing and illustrate our frustration with Scripps’ continued inaction.

For the duration of the strike, we will not perform any of the labor expected of us as RAs. This includes duties normally expected of the two RAs on-call per night, and the ongoing responsibilities of all RAs at all times.

On-call duties include:  

Holding the on-call phones

Responding to emergencies

Completing two full walkthroughs (2+ hours) of the residence halls every weekend evening and one (1+ hours) on each weekday evening

Unlocking doors for students who have locked themselves out

Ongoing responsibilities include:

Maintenance requests

6 office hours per week

Opening and closing hall meetings

Staff meetings

Committee meetings

Supervisor co-on-ones

Supervisor one-on-ones

Meeting with co-RAs

Small staff and All staff

Emergency meetings

Training, which requires us to spend four weeks of summer break on campus

Opening and Closing of the residence halls including room condition reports, checking students into and out of their rooms

Programming per semester to fulfill 10 community themes and 11 programming types

Meetings with residents

Roommate mediations

Crisis response

Conversations, social justice labor, advice

Enforcing policies such as pet, guest, contraband policies and others listed in the guide to student life

Providing catch-all emotional labor for residents

Administrative tasks such as responding to email, flyering, and providing condoms

To Students:

We recognize that this institution depends upon RAs to support students, and we understand the necessity to provide opportunities for support outside of the residential advisors. For emergencies or lockouts, call Campus Safety at (909)-607-2000. If students have an urgent maintenance request, they should email the Maintenance department (maintenance@scrippscollege.edu), or call Campus Safety for emergency maintenance requests.

Students can obtain resources we normally provide from HEO (wellness information, condoms, health supplies), Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault (support regarding sexual assault and Title IX), Academic Resources and Support, Academic Coaching, and from faculty, staff, and students who they believe are able to support them.

Though we will not be active in our roles as RAs, we are still extremely concerned about student safety. We want to ask Scripps students to refrain from exploiting our absence by engaging in unsafe behavior given that RAs will not be on-call. We also ask students to call Campus Safety immediately instead of calling the RA on-call number when an emergency arises.

While we highly believe in our communities’ self-sufficiency, we also recognize that students will continue to need emotional support. We urge all Scripps students, faculty, and staff with the capacity to provide emotional support and resources to do so in solidarity with RAs and in recognition of the labor performed by RAs. On this particular point, the RAs will not take the lead. Our labor should be picked up by all of the on-call staff, not just our direct supervisors.  

List of Demands:

We demand the immediate resignation of Charlotte Johnson as Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs.

We demand the following changes to financial aid:

The creation of a publicized emergency fund to accommodate fluctuating financial circumstances, that includes funding for direct and indirect costs

Increased transparency in the formulation of financial aid packages to ensure that they appropriately reflect increases in tuition, room, and board, and;

The removal of the financial policies that penalize students for obtaining private funding, such as through merit scholarships and crowdfunding.

We demand that Scripps College update emergency preparedness plans for life-threatening events against their students, including when students receive online threats and/or their personal information is made public without their consent.  

We demand that Scripps College restructure the Residential Advisor role so it is more sustainable for students, and more closely embodies restorative justice.

We demand student mental health and safety be supported through:

Increasing subsidies for off campus therapy and the 8-session limit

Creating a specific and public policy on the official procedure for supporting students in a mental health crisis.

We invite all Scripps students and students from the other colleges  who support our demands to join our strike, and share with us instances where they have not felt supported by the institution.

Demand One: On Charlotte Johnson’s Resignation

In her role as Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs, Charlotte Johnson has repeatedly failed to support students.  Johnson has shown that she is incapable of acting in an appropriate manner during crisis and has been described by a student as “neutral at best and abusive at worst.”  In the role as Dean of Students, we expect an advocate. Charlotte Johnson has repeatedly demonstrated that she is incapable of fulfilling this role and thus has left us without the advocate we need, deserve, and expect.   

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. From first contact with Johnson, it was evident she was primarily concerned about the college’s liability and her own role in Tatissa’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. She equated her grief to that of many close friends of the late student, and callously assured students that she would be taking necessary steps to take care of herself. Johnson also expected Residential Life staff to promptly return to work two weeks or sooner after the death of their co-worker and friend, without checking to see if the staff was ready to return to their roles.

Johnson has long been aware of students’ mistrust of mental health services that have been offered by Scripps College, and did not present alternative support for grieving students.

She also failed to provide sufficient off-campus housing to students who requested - and were granted permission by Lara Tiedens - to move off campus to improve their mental health. The students were asked to wait until Johnson returned from vacation to discuss what sort of emergency housing they would be able to receive, which is unacceptable.

Johnson has a long history of denying students access to adequate mental and physical health resources and accommodations and has been documented for lashing out at students who requested such support. When an RA was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness and no longer able to eat in the dining hall, it took Johnson three months to find a sustainable and accessible accommodation. Since RAs are compensated for their labor through room and board, this RA was unable to receive remuneration for their work due to a disability.  In an email sent on February 28th, Johnson stated that “this will not go on much longer”; however, this RA did not receive accommodations until May 20th. The power dynamics between this student and Johnson, as a supervisor and a professor created a toxic working atmosphere and caused immense physical and mental duress. This RA had to carry the additional financial burden of feeding themselves while advocating for their needs, while still performing the everyday tasks of an RA. These accommodations were only granted after the student tirelessly self-advocated, placing an additional burden on their physical and mental well-being. This student is one of many disabled members of the community who have had to fight the institution in order to survive at Scripps, and is not alone in their experiences with Johnson.

Johnson has created an unhealthy working environment for several of her employees, forcing several of them to leave their jobs. She has shown to be impossible to work with, and has made it absolutely clear that she is not here to serve Scripps students, but to further her own career. Johnson has, on several occasions spoken of her desire to become a college president. We wish her well in those endeavors, but request that she no longer be a member of the Scripps community due to her negligence and abuse of students and staff members.

Demand Two: On Financial Aid

We demand that the college allocates publicized emergency funding to accommodate unexpected changes in student finances and a comprehensive review of financial aid.

This includes:

An emergency fund to accommodate fluctuating financial circumstances;

Financial aid packages and scholarships that appropriately reflect increases in college expenses, encompassing tuition, room, and board, and;

The removal of the financial policies that penalize students for obtaining private funding.

Scripps College states that it will support the demonstrated financial needs of all students; however, several students have been forced to terminate their enrollment at this institution due to 1) financial aid that does not adjust to annual increases in tuition or to changes in a student’s family’s financial circumstances and 2) inadequate information about their financial aid packages prior to and during enrollment. Additionally, students who experience increased financial burdens due to changes in familial makeup or increased personal financial responsibility for college are often met with indifference and little institutional support. Aside from unsubsidized loans of very small amounts and the possibility of financial aid review, Scripps fails to support the financial needs of students.

After finding it difficult to make tuition payments, some students have sought outside financial support through private grants and funding. In response to this, students who were awarded money were met with decreased financial aid packages, which penalized their efforts to supplement their financial aid. In various one-on-one meetings that students have conducted with Scripps’ senior staff, administrators have highlighted the institution’s decreased endowment as a reason that Scripps cannot offer more aid to students who need it. This excuse inadvertently concedes that Scripps does not have the capacity to fulfill all of the financial needs of all the students it admits. Therefore, we believe that students should not be penalized with decreased financial aid packages when obtaining the necessary funds to compensate for the institution’s inability to support them.

To reiterate, Scripps College’s current financial aid office discourages students from seeking external support to pay for their education, but does not provide the necessary funding to support said students. One example includes a student who decided to hold a personal fundraiser after her family experienced financial hardship. Upon receiving these funds, the student was contacted by the financial aid office and forced to sign a contract stating that she would never seek out funding so publicly again. Scripps College feared the sort of damage such publicity could bring after advertising their ability to support the financial needs of all students.

Demand Three: On Emergency Preparedness

Scripps College currently has insufficient plans in place when it comes to life-threatening events against their students. As an institution of higher learning, Scripps is a place where many challenging conversations and ideas are fostered. In the past two years, these challenging conversations have led to the multiple cases where students’ names, identity, location, emails, and other contact information have been leaked by the Claremont Independent and other media sources to outside parties that proceeded to threaten the life and safety of Scripps students. The college’s response to this has been “our hands are tied, there is nothing we can do.” Since Scripps College is an open campus at risk of potential shootings, the lack of institutional support when intimate student details are leaked to a hostile public is highly concerning. Scripps operates in a highly problematic “best-case scenario” mindset, steering away from publicly addressing issues that have legitimate dangerous ramifications for the sake of maintaining a positive image to the public.

In addition, Scripps College has also demonstrated lack of preparedness when Tatissa unexpectedly passed away in early March. The college disrespectfully informed the student body using insensitive language, as well as displaying a distressing inability to provide concrete ways of supporting affected students. While grief counselors were made available, these counselors spoke using placating, condescending language, explaining the five stages of grief in unhelpful, patronizing terms. These counselors were also contracted externally and were unavailable to meet with students if they needed a follow-up meeting several weeks later.   These short-term solutions were detrimentally insufficient and we have yet to hear of a long-term plan regarding student support and preventative measures.

In the event of an emergency, students should feel confident that they will be protected by this community. In the same manner that fire and earthquake drills are meant as practice and planning for these scenarios, emergency plans to deal with as many threats to safety as we can anticipate should be made public and implemented as additional drills.    

Demand Four: On Changes to the Residential Advisor Job

The Residential Advisor position is a leadership role that demands a lot of time and emotional strain from its student employees. Each pair of RAs is expected to support halls that can be comprised of upwards of 100 residents. The responsibilities of each RA take an average of 15-25 hours weekly, and requires students to be on-call to exert additional emotional labor for their peers at any time. These responsibilities can become draining for even the most capable RAs. Due to the high stress nature of the job, several colleges have put caps on the number of semesters each student can be an RA during their time as students. Scripps, however, does not have a cap, and students can be RAs for up to 6 semesters, beginning their sophomore year. As a result of the lack of financial support from Scripps College, several students have found the RA position to be the only job that can adequately supplement their financial needs in addition to other on campus jobs. This job should not be the only way that students can afford to be at Scripps, and no student should feel obligated to endure the stresses of the job due to financial constraints.

We demand that students no longer be constrained by the way that financial aid incorporates the RA job into their estimates of student need. If a student becomes an RA any year before their senior year and decides not to continue for subsequent years at Scripps, their financial aid is then negatively impacted. The room and board credit each RA receives as compensation is classified as income, reducing the amount of financial aid students are eligible for in the following year. This classification of the RA role has forced several students to continue a job that they have found to be unsustainable.

Additionally, RAs are asked to police our peers with a system that does not actually model restorative justice. We are expected to implement a justice system that affects marginalized students more than students with money and privilege. For example, students are given two free lockouts per year, and after these free lockouts a student is fined $25 per lockout. RAs are expected to record these lockouts so if a student surpasses their number of free lockouts, they are charged; this is a classist practice that serves no concrete purpose.

Charging residents who stay past closing time for breaks is yet another classist practice that we are asked to implement as RAs. Some students can afford to pay the fines and believe that they are simply buying extra time in their room, while some are charged because they got in line too late. This does not allow any consideration of individual personal circumstances that leave students with nowhere to go. These, and all other fines used to disproportionately punish students must be removed.

We also take issue with rounds, which police and surveil our community without creating meaningful connections or a sense of security for our residents. Rounds also require at minimum 2 hours per weekend night in addition to any serious incidents or lockouts, and we have on occasion been required to complete rounds after multiple exhausting incidents, such as facilitating a student’s transport to the hospital. The Alcohol and Drug Policy also needs to be revised, as it creates an unsafe culture on our campus, encouraging students to engage in the use of substances behind closed doors and creating greater issues for the Scripps Community. Overall, we are concerned about the wellbeing and safety of our residents.    

In addition to unjust policing and enforcement practices, we are concerned with the programming and advising requirements RAs are forced to fulfill every semester. Scripps College demands that RAs create programs that are often redundant and unengaging for other students. Furthermore, six hours of office hours per week are excessive and do not help us connect with our residents. 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. 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.

Demand Five: On Mental Health:

We demand that Scripps increase the subsidy for off-campus therapy. Since Scripps only provides students with eight sessions a year for inadequate short-term therapy at Monsour, many students have taken care of themselves by seeking off-campus therapy. Although the Dean of Students office has begun to subsidize students’ visits to off-campus therapists, they offer to cover only up to $75. Therapists in the Claremont area can cost up to $175 a session, and students are asked to pay the difference. Even when students are able to submit paperwork for an insurance reimbursement, they still must front the remaining cost. This financial burden should not be put on any student who seeks to improve their mental health.

We demand that Scripps create a specific and public policy on the official procedure for mental health crises. One of the biggest barriers to people asking for help during a mental health crisis is a lack of transparency. Scripps has not implemented or listened to suggestions from students and organizations who have presented possible ways to address the problems associated with its crisis management. There is no transparency around the official procedure taken when a student expresses any desire to self-harm. This is especially apparent to us as RAs, who are only told to “report up,” and given no information about what might happen to a student based on their words. We demand the college to also commit to doing recovery work for students returning from a hospitalization and to ensure crises doesn’t occur repeatedly, as opposed to neglecting these students or forcing them to leave.

We demand that mental health crisis trainings be made available to all students and faculty, and be made mandatory for all student affairs staff. These trainings are imperative to ensure that staff members are able to properly support students in times of crisis, and it is troubling that these trainings have not been mandatory in the past. The NAMI Pomona Chapter and The Village in Long Beach have been suggested by DIDA, and we urge Scripps to follow their advice and consider a long-term partnership with these organizations. These trainings would help administrators and professional staff understand what sort of transparency is necessary when trying to support a student during and after a mental health crisis.

Conclusion

Contact the members of the RA team with questions and to talk further about how these demands can be implemented as effectively and quickly as possible. You can reach us via email at scrippsras@gmail.com. We ask that administrators only use the above email, rather than our individual Scripps emails, to communicate with us about these issues. We ask that no staff members contact individual RAs to discuss these issues, in order to to communicate our shared views effectively and to avoid any unnecessary emotional labor. Please keep in mind that we are full-time students who are extremely overworked and emotionally drained.  

We expect the institution to address the demands that have been presented above in a timely manner. Though we understand that these demands cannot be met immediately, we request that a timeline with actionable steps be presented to us no later than April 20th. We expect that you come prepared to act.   

Best,

Scripps RA Staff 2016-2017

LM, RB, NG, AC, EG, SS, CF, TP, MS, RJ, GG, SC, MG, VZ, KR, NS