Some Residential Advisors and Graduate Associates are considering quitting their jobs, prompted by the University's repeated dismissal of their concerns regarding the fall semester.
Shortly after over 135 RAGAs sent a letter to the University's College Houses and Academic Services and Deputy Provost Beth Winkelstein demanding a new contract with hazard pay and a clear outline of their responsibilities, Winkelstein scheduled a Zoom information session during which RAGAs said their requests were yet again dismissed.
At the Aug. 5 virtual meeting, Winkelstein presented an addendum to the RAGAs’ 2020-21 contract which addressed some of their demands — such as providing access to kitchen spaces and personal protective equipment — but did not acknowledge others. All RAGAs must sign the new contracts by Aug. 10 and there is no room for negotiation, Winkelstein said.
The amendment requires a mandatory RAGA training and a later move-in date to on-campus housing. Although enforcement of students following the Student Campus Compact will generally be "on the honor system" this fall, as Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian, Winkelstein said that RAGAs will, in fact, be required to follow the Compact.
During the meeting, which was attended by about 120 RAGAs, CHAS administrators, and several College House deans, RAGAs said they were given little opportunity to voice their concerns.
Winkelstein announced at the beginning of the information session that all RAGAs should be muted and that questions would be answered through Zoom's chatbox function. But rising Nursing senior and second-time Riepe RA Kaylee Arndt said Winkelstein ended the meeting before taking any questions.
RAGAs who were present at the session also claim Winkelstein purposefully muted their mics when they tried to speak.
Winkelstein declined a request for comment from the DP.
Rising College junior and returning second-time Riepe RA Sophie Bowe said she felt “pretty awful” that RAGAs did not get anything they wanted from the information session aside from the promise of a new contract. She had hoped the meeting would have been more of a conversation rather than a lecture, and expected CHAS to be more transparent with the students.
“Knowing that [CHAS was] treating us with the amount of disrespect and frankly just gaslighting us was really gut-wrenching,” Rowe said. “I had to leave that call and just take a minute to do some deep breathing cause I was so heartbroken over the way we were being treated.”
Rising Annenberg Ph.D. fifth year and three-time Quad GA Prateekshit Pandey tweeted about the incident, writing that the meeting was a “complete train wreck.”
Some RAGAs interviewed in this story requested anonymity in fear of repercussions from CHAS for speaking to the DP.
“[CHAS representatives] were saying that if we don’t feel comfortable working in the jobs we should just quit and let them know which felt very dismissive of the concerns that people had,” a first time Quad RA and rising College junior said.
A second-time Quad RA and rising College junior said that after viewing their new contract for the upcoming academic year, more RAGAs are now debating quitting their job.
One of the RAGAs’ concerns outlined in their letter was that they would become the enforcers of the Student Campus Compact. During Wednesday's Zoom session, Winkelstein said RAGAs should help educate students about the Compact if they do not understand the importance of its guidelines. Although RAGAs must follow the Compact themselves, she did not specify if RAGAs must enforce the Compact among students.
RAGAs have previously told the DP they are worried RAGAs will be forced to "police" the public health and safety guidelines outlined in the Compact.
Winkelstein is a part of the Recovery Planning Committee announced by Penn President Amy Gutmann in mid-March, which works to ensure the University will operate safely this fall despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Winkelstein said all of the policies established by CHAS have been approved by members within the Recovery Planning Committee, but the second-time Riepe RA said no RAGAs were directly represented in the Recovery Planning Committee’s working groups, which include groups regarding academics, health policy, and staff and faculty among others.
“I was deeply disappointed and alarmed [about the information session],” a returning Riepe GA and rising third-year Ph.D student said. “I know that some of those emotions in the RAGA community have boiled over into anger, frustration, and outrage. And I feel my temper rising.”