Open Letter: RAs Demand Equitable Pay

Open Letter: RAs Demand Equitable Pay

To the Macalester administration:

As your Residential Assistants (RAs) at Macalester College, we deserve better pay. Currently, we are only compensated for the price of our room which is equivalent to $7,272 a year. While this may seem like a large amount of money, the majority of RAs living on campus are also required to be on the meal plan which costs $6,270 a year. Unlike many other institutions, Macalester does not pay for their RA’s board (meal plans). This means that a requirement of our job as RAs is to pay Macalester $6,270 for our meal plan in order to be employed as an RA. The difference between room and board is $1,002 — meaning we work long hours for nearly ten months to receive the equivalence of $1,002. This is not only unfair, but it is also unethical. The Associate Director of Residential Life, Marian Aden, recently was quoted in The Mac Weekly saying that  “They [RAs] have the compensation of room because they are required to live on campus. Part of their job requirement is to live and be present, and if we’re asking somebody to live in a certain place, then we are going to provide them with coverage.”  Another requirement of living on campus is being on the meal plan. If they are asking us to live in a certain place that has associated costs, they must provide us coverage for all of it.

Residential life claims that as RAs we work 15 hours a week and are compensated accordingly. This could not be further from the truth. We are never not an RA. Macalester’s Student Employment Program states that as RAs, we are the “highest paid student employee position at Macalester.” While this is true, every other on-campus work study job is capped at around ten hours a week — paling in comparison to the time and dedication we put into our roles. From planning different events for our residents, to finding time to meet with each resident individually (sometimes upwards of 50 students), to dealing with student crises at any hour of the day, RAs on campus find themselves sometimes working upwards of 60-70 hours a week.  The RA position is much more than student employment claims it is and we deserve to be paid for all the work we do.

As Macalester students, we know everything costs money, but Macalester can find the money in their $894 million endowment to pay their RAs’ board. There are currently 35 RA positions on campus. To pay for a meal plan for all of us would cost approximately $219,450 a year. This equates to 3.64 students’ tuition. Let us say that again: to pay all RAs what they deserve would cost less than what Macalester gets in tuition alone from four students. As Macalester’s RAs, we deserve to be compensated fairly for the dedication we are putting into our jobs, and Macalester can afford it.

Additionally, there is a distinct lack of equity in the responsibilities of various RAs, yet we are all compensated the same amount. There are several equity problems facing RAs. There are inconsistent numbers of residents across building areas with some RAs currently having over 50 residents while some have less than 10. There is an inconsistency with the meal plan requirement: RAs in “specialty housing” are not required to pay the $6,270 to be on the meal. Finally, there is an inconsistency in expectation of days of being “on-call.” Last year Dupre Hall was short two RAs, and its RAs were forced to be on-call at least every other weekend, if not every single weekend. Each of Dupre’s RAs were doing the work of 1.5 RAs, but instead of paying them more for their work or finding other RAs to help cover shifts, all the weight fell on the shoulders of the Dupre RAs.

The consequences due to Macalester’s failure to fix the problems associated with how RAs are compensated and expected to work are already appearing only three weeks into the semester. In the 30 Mac, Wallace and Bigelow staff area, they are short an RA and unfairly being forced to pick up the extra on-call shifts and handle additional residents without extra compensation. Every RA on campus should be expected to do the same amount of work, or receive more pay for their extra work.

Finally, RAs deserve a stipend for the work we do (the calculations behind these numbers can be provided upon request). Currently, only returning RAs and senior RAs get a stipend for their work, which is a miniscule amount when compared with the amount of work each RA is doing. The toll of the RA job makes it difficult to find time to work another job, particularly an off-campus job, to support ourselves. We deserve to be paid a stipend of at minimum as follows: $500 a semester for new RAs, $600 a semester for returning RAs and $750 a semester for senior RAs.

The work we do is paramount to the success of residential life, and all we ask is to be paid fairly for our job. For too long RAs at Macalester have been paid far too little for the work they are doing, and it is time this stops. Macalester is known for its commitment to justice and leading the way in changes benefiting its students. When it comes to this issue of paying employees a livable wage, Macalester’s perspective should not be any different. We deserve to be compensated with board. We deserve equitable expectations and responsibilities. We deserve a livable stipend. Currently, Macalester is unable to find RAs to work on campus because word of mouth has spread about how overworked and underpaid we are. Additionally, many current RAs have already decided they will not return next year due to the inadequate compensation we are given for all the work we do. We deserve better, and will fight until we get it.