The DTH spoke with one of the terminated RAs, whose name and pronouns have been changed to preserve anonymity. Alex described their disciplinary process as confusing, inconsistent and “mentally taxing.”
“It was so convoluted, and we knew nothing,” Alex said of the process.
The factual statements within Alex’s version of events have been corroborated by two other RAs familiar with the situation.
The disciplinary process began two months after the party, Alex said. Another RA had seen the party happening, and several weeks later told Ehringhaus Community Director Gerson Lam that he believed there was a problem with staff drinking. It’s unclear why the RA waited so long to bring up the issue, Alex said.
Lam then asked Alex and other accused RAs to stay behind after a staff meeting.
“He essentially told us, 'Tell me what happened and if you lie to me, we'll fire you.’” Alex said. “We (didn't) know what our boss knew, or who told, or whatever (that person) might have known.”
Alex said they admitted to breaking the rules and told Lam everything.
About 15 out of 18 EhringhausRAs were involved in the questioning process, Alex said.
“It was very coercive.” they said. “It honestly felt like an interrogation rather than openly being like, 'Hey, this is what's going on.’”
Lam told the RAs that he would have his decision in a week. When that time came, Lam pushed the deadline back because he needed time to think, Alex said.
The new time frame included Halloween weekend, which Alex described as one of the “most important” weekends for Housing staff.
All of the RAs worked that weekend, and Alex said it bothers them that the decision was pushed back to include the holiday.
“If they wanted to fire us, that means we were deemed to be unfit RAs,” Alex said. “So if we were unfit RAs, we could have posed an extreme liability for the community and harm to residents if we were placed on duty.”
Alex said after the second deadline, Lam told the RAs that he wouldn’t be the one making the final decision.
One of the other RAs emailed Rick Bradley, associate director of Carolina Housing, to ask who would make the final call instead. Bradley replied, stating that the final decision would fall to Kala Bullett, senior associate director of Housing, Keith Jones, first-year experience coordinator, and Lam.
It was unclear why Lam told the RAs the decision wouldn't be his, Alex said, although Bradley informed them that their CD would be at least partially in charge of the outcome.
On Nov. 2, the RAs were terminated, with the option to appeal. Alex said it was suggested that they keep the details from their residents, so as not to involve them in a personal matter.
“They were like, 'Once you get fired, during this process, tell your residents that you're taking a hiatus right now. And then once you go to the appeal and the appeal doesn't go through, then tell them you're fired.'” they said. “What the hell? Why not just be honest with them?”
Alex and other RAs asked residents and others to send in letters of support for their appeals, hoping to get a second chance. The RAs averaged about 10 to 15 letters each, Alex said. One RA amassed more than 25.
During their appeal, Carolina Housing Director Allan Blattner read aloud the notes that Lam had taken on his conversations with Alex. Alex was never made aware that these notes would be passed on to other officials.
“I asked to see if there was some sort of formal report. But there was no formal report," Alex said.
There were only notes from the conversation between Lam and Alex.
Alex said much of the information in the notes was incorrect, such as the fact that the resident at the party had been given alcohol. Alex said they had assured Lam that this wasn’t the case.
The appeals were rejected. The RAs had the option to resign and four days to move out.
Several RAs, including Alex, had been depending on the residential adviser position and its subsidized housing costs to afford their academic year at UNC, a fact Alex thought housing officials would consider more.
“I specifically stated to them multiple times how this was a huge wake-up call for me, how I couldn't let something like this risk my job,” Alex said.
Blattner told the DTH that the Housing department works with terminated RAs to discuss and find alternative housing options following termination. Alex said they were offered help searching for on-campus housing at the regular price, but that was the extent of the assistance.
"Right now I'm probably going to live on a futon in my friend's apartment to finish off the semester. I don't have a plan right now for next semester. I don't know what I'm going to do,” Alex said.
Drawing the line
During their appeal, Bradley told Alex that because RAs aren’t full-time employees of the University, a formal disciplinary procedure is not applicable.
UNC Media Relations Manager Jeni Cook said via email that in disciplinary procedures RAs are treated as employees of the University and subjected to the disciplinary processes of UNC Human Resources. In addition to their role as UNC employees, RAs are expected to abide by the criteria outlined in the RA job description set forth by Carolina Housing.
“Our resident advisers are expected to be role models for our students and are held to high standards of behavior, which are detailed in their employment agreements,” Blattner said in a statement. “By signing those agreements, they promise to comply with conduct outlined within departmental and University policies and therefore are held accountable for any behavior that does not meet these standards.”
Blattner did not comment further on the reasons surrounding the decision, citing privacy concerns surrounding employment matters.
According to the UNC Department of Human Resources, certain UNC employees are protected by state law and have predetermined disciplinary guidelines. Others are exempt from such requirements. RAs fall into this category.
In addition to serving as University employees, RAs must abide by the guidelines set forth in the Community Living Standards, applicable to all Housing residents. It includes the University Alcohol Policy, which forbids underage drinking on campus, and residence hall-specific rules.
In a letter to Alex explaining the decision to reject their appeal, Blattner explained that he had to draw the line in regards to underage drinking in residence halls.
“In addition to finding no grounds to reverse the original decision, I also base this decision on the opinion that I do not believe that the entirety of our RA program (240+ RAs in 17 communities) can withstand the impact of not addressing this breach of trust in a firm manner,” Blattner wrote in the email.
'Save the Ehaus RAs'
Alex said the decision was consequential for more than just the fired RAs. For example, the remaining staff of Ehaus, now seven employees short, is struggling to manage the workload.
“I see them bickering (in the group message) and being like, 'Who's going to take what shift?’” Alex said. “Everybody that I've talked to so far has either been M.I.A. or had enough (and) is just tired of all this work.”
Though not immediately informed by the Housing department, several residents knew of and opposed the terminations. One created a “Save the Ehaus RAs” online petition that garnered 350 signatures.
The most important part of being an RA is engaging with the residents, Alex said. Residents used to talked to them about personal issues like self esteem or academic struggles.
Now, sleeping on a friend’s futon and wondering how they let a dorm room party jeopardize their academic career, Alex said it’s still one of the most difficult things to stomach about their termination.
“Who understands my residents more than I do? No one,” Alex said. “No one more than me.”