Scripps College RAs no longer permitted to serve as primary crisis responders

Mary Kimberly Hall and Wilbur Hall do not have a live-in resident advisor, but there are three community coordinators. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

CW: Mention of suicide

As part of the Scripps College Residence Life student staff restructuring initiated at the end of last year, resident advisors and community coordinators are not permitted to be on the scene of crises on campus, according to multiple Scripps students.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson wrote in an email to TSL in April that the Residence Life restructure was related to an RA strike that took place two years ago “[o]nly in the sense that some of the feedback we received during the strike was that the former configuration of the RA role was too demanding.”

In the strike, prompted by a suicide of one of the RAs, the RAs demanded an increase in mental health support services and financial aid. The college responded by promising changes including increased emergency funds and a re-evaluation of RA responsibilities.

Scripps’ 12 residence halls are now staffed by six RAs and 27 community coordinators, Johnson wrote. Last year, before the CC position was added, there were 20 RAs.

Johnson wrote that the CC position was added to focus on building “a thriving, connected residential community.” By adding CCs and shifting responsibilities to professional staff, Johnson said fewer RAs were needed.

Because of the shift, RAs live in only half the dormitories on campus, though some are responsible for a “cluster” of up to three residence halls, according to Johnson.

Susan Miller Dorsey Hall, Cecil & Bessie Bartlett Frankel and Mary Routt Hall, Mary Kimberly and Wilbur Hall, and the Senior Routt Apartments do not have live-in RAs, though all of them have CCs living within the hall.

As part of the resulting restructuring, crisis response duties are no longer in the purview of student staff members.

“Professional staff and Campus Safety have primary responsibility to respond to crises in residence with support from the College’s Safety Operations Specialist and other emergency support services as necessary,” Johnson wrote in an email to TSL.

Meera Kolluri SC ’20, who has several friends working for Residential Life, said that though RAs receive calls on the RA on-call phone during the weekend, they are not permitted to be on the scene of any crisis situations like alcohol poisoning or emotional breakdowns.

“RAs are not first responders, so they are not allowed to come to the scene [of an emergency],” Kolluri said. “If there is a call, they have to defer the call to the professional staff.”  

In the past, Kolluri said, “the student RAs were allowed to physically be present.”

Cecil & Bessie Bartlett Frankel and Mary Routt Hall are two more of the dorms that do not have live-in RAs. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Johnson wrote that RAs are trained in building evacuation procedures, but the primary responses for emergencies should be led by professional staff. According to an email from Johnson in April, Scripps does not anticipate the student staff restructuring to impact existing policies.

“In an emergency anywhere in The Claremont Colleges, students should always call Campus Safety, who will respond and access additional resources as necessary.” Johnson wrote. “Campus Safety immediately notifies the on-call Dean and the Dean of Students in the event of an emergency that impacts Scripps students or the Scripps campus.”

Melody Chang SC ’22, who lives in Eleanor Joy Toll Hall, values the personal connections she has made with the RA and CCs in her hall. She wasn’t aware that RAs aren’t crisis responders, but feels that professional staff may be the best people to handle emergencies.

“I always thought the RA was in charge of [handling crises], but at the same time I guess the immediate response for an RA is to call someone who can professionally do it,” Chang said. “In a way, it feels safer.”

The shifting role of the RA can be confusing to returning Scripps students. Kolluri said that students aren’t as comfortable seeking emotional support from professional staff.

“If I was in need of help of support, I would be more comfortable with someone my age coming and talking with me, consoling me, and taking care of me,” she said. “Of course if it’s critical and other measures needed to be taken, I wouldn’t mind extra support. [But] in the culture I was raised in, I’m … not comfortable with an adult that I don’t know showing up to help rather than an RA I’ve been seeing in my dorm regularly.”

Sohni Kaur SC ’21, who lives in Dorsey, has not interacted with the RA or CCs for her dorm, except for calling the RA-on-call when locked out of her room. She felt that it was good that students are able to avoid high stress situations with the new structure, but echoed Kolluri’s concerns.

TSL reached out to several past and current RAs who declined to comment.

CC Sam Norrito SC ’21 thinks the Scripps community needed more time to grow into the new Residence Life system as the student staff roles have changed.

“There’s no tension in between the people in the roles in any way, so it’s not a reflection on the members of the Res Life team,” Norrito said. “There is just some tension in getting used to this new system, like the CC calls the RA, who then calls the Dean on Call, [which adds] a couple of extra steps. Adjusting to the new dynamic is creating some confusion.”

Norrito said that despite the time required for the students and professional staff to settle into new roles, residence hall culture has improved since adding the CC role.

“I think the purpose of restructuring was to shift [the] community building onto a different role so that [the CCs’] sole focus is [getting] people to focus on the dorms and how do we get the Scripps community to be a vibrant place,” Norrito said.

“Both [RAs and CCs] are student leaders positions whose primary focus is to help build a vibrant residential community where every student feels a sense of place and connection,” Johnson wrote.

Dorsey resident Kayley James SC ’20 believes this year has been an improvement in regard to community-building in residence halls.

“Scripps is still lacking in dorm culture, but it is getting better. … I think that there’s potential [with the new structure]. Scripps hasn’t fully realized its potential but it’s getting there.”

This article was updated at 9:22 p.m. Oct. 23 to reflect that information delivered by Scripps spokesperson Carolyn Robles is attributed to Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson.

Elinor Aspegren contributed reporting.

 

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