More than 500 people have co-signed a letter written by a group of resident advisers that expresses concerns about compensation in response to a March 18 email in which Carolina Housing terminated them, effective April 1.
An RA who contributed to the letter, and asked to remain anonymous due to future employment concerns, said she started planning the response after receiving the March 18 email. The email stated that her position had been terminated and left questions about compensation unanswered.
She said the goal of the letter is for Carolina Housing to acknowledge the concerns of student staff and pay the remainder of their stipend.
The letter said RAs and Carolina Housing leadership team members rely on the monthly stipend payment and factor this additional income into their financial plans.
“We realize that these are unprecedented times,” the RAs said in the letter. “However, to leave us completely in the dark about whether we will continue to be paid or not is very demoralizing.
The RA letter of appointment states that RAs are at-will employees and “may be terminated at any time without additional compensation,” but the response letter said the responsibilities of RAs and other student staff will continue after their termination date.
Former student staff are still answering messages from former residents in need of support or advice, the RAs said in the letter. It also cited specific tasks that staff has assisted with, such as managing express checkout mailboxes or letting residents into their building if they forget their keys.
“We have been on the frontline of this process because we continue to be a resource to our residents,” the RAs said in the letter. “Although our official termination begins April 1, it must be considered that the semester does not end April 1.”
Emily Ashton, a former resident adviser mentor, said she especially resonated with this part of the letter.
“Just because we can’t fulfill a lot of what we are expected to do in our job descriptions, we’re still doing the most important part of the job, I think, which is supporting residents,” Ashton said.
The RA who contributed to the letter said she was shocked at the outpouring of support from the wider community.
“It just shows the people who we are trying to convince to pay us that people who aren’t even affected by this care a lot about it, and care about what happens to us,” she said.
UNC sophomore Megan Schneider received the letter in a GroupMe for her floor in Morrison Residence Hall. Schneider said she found the points in the letter compelling, leading her to sign it. Schneider also said her relationship with her own RA contributed to her decision to sign the letter.
“I have a lot of respect for her,” Schneider said. “And she’s really kind and cares about what she does.”
The RA who contributed to the letter said she sent it to Carolina Housing's senior director for residential education, J. Kala Bullett, and its executive director, Allan Blattner, the afternoon of March 23.
She said she sent the letter a few hours after receiving an email from Bullett and Blattner addressed to Carolina Housing student staff, to clarify earlier communications.
In the March 23 email, Bullett and Blattner first apologized for the confusion that arose from the email sent to student staff on March 18.
“I want to apologize for the emotional turmoil this situation may have caused. It was never our intention and hope you can understand the complexity of managing a situation of this magnitude,” Bullett and Blattner said in the email, provided by UNC Media Relations.
Bullett and Blattner then clarified that in accordance with a March 17 campus-wide email signed by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Carolina Housing student staff will receive paid administrative leave through March 31 for the hours they were scheduled to work.
Bullett and Blattner said the March 18 email aimed to provide clarity and answer questions about student employees’ status beyond March 31 but was “based upon guidance that has changed."
Bullett and Blattner said, in a change from the initial decision, that "No decisions have been made at this time regarding pay for student employees after March 31, 2020." They added, "When Carolina Housing receives guidance from the UNC System, we will update you with details."
Bullett and Blattner acknowledged that other schools have already announced that they will compensate RAs going forward. In order to provide a solution that is “equitable and student-focused,” they said Carolina Housing will await guidance from the UNC System.
Ashton said this part of the email made her question if other schools in the UNC System have already made the decision to continue compensating RAs.
The response letter written by student staff cited other universities such as UNC-Charlotte and North Carolina State University, which are part of the UNC System, that are continuing to pay RAs.
RAs at UNC-Charlotte do not have to remain on campus, according to the university's coronavirus frequently asked questions website. RAs who leave early will receive compensation until March 31, but RAs who remain on campus will receive compensation until May 10, the end of their contract.
Fred Hartman, executive director of university relations for N.C. State, confirmed in an email that RAs at N.C. State will be paid through the semester.
“They have been assigned some remote work to help assist housing in communicating with students and checking in with their residents throughout the semester,” Hartman said in an email.
Ashton said she appreciated that Carolina Housing's March 23 email apologized for earlier confusion.
“But I still don’t know if I’m getting paid,” Ashton said. “I still don’t know what the next step is, and now it’s just kind of a waiting game.”
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