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Credit: Isabel Liang

While resident advisors and graduate associates will be able to live on campus this fall, many RAGAs are left confused about their job responsibilities and possible termination of their contracts if COVID-19 conditions worsen.

Penn President Amy Gutmann announced in an email to all undergraduate students on Aug. 11 that Penn is closing on-campus housing for the fall semester following a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country. Some RAGAs said they received mixed communication while others said they received none at all from College Houses & Academic Services about what to expect for the upcoming semester.

After The Daily Pennsylvanian reached out to CHAS for comment on Aug. 13, CHAS updated the RAGA Fall 2020 FAQ on Monday informing RAGAs that while they will be able to live on campus this fall, off-campus housing will not be subsidized if worsened COVID-19 conditions prompt Penn to de-occupy campus further and force RAGAs off campus. CHAS also confirmed RAGAs will be responsible for virtual programming for students who would have been in on-campus housing this fall.

"Although the University decided that students would not return to campus this semester, we will continue to support and employ any RA or GA who wants to continue their work — while also releasing any RA or GA who does not feel comfortable doing so," Deputy Provost Beth Winkelstein wrote in an email to the DP. "We have exciting plans to sustain our College House communities virtually, and the great work of RAGAs will be important to those plans."

RAGAs are calling on CHAS to be more transparent and forthcoming with communication as they navigate this unprecedented semester.

A first-time Quad RA in the College said some emails he had received from house deans and associate directors of CHAS even contradicted the FAQ, at one point receiving three different answers to whether RAGAs who decide not to live on campus are able to work remotely.

RAGAs are required to live on campus this fall in order to maintain their positions as RAGAs. RAGAs who do not return to campus can contact their House Dean to see how they can remain involved in their College House as a volunteer, according to the FAQ. 

Fourth-time returning GA in Riepe College House and fourth-year School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. student Hector Kilgoe said he is not sure what his job will entail given the lack of communication from CHAS.

“At this point, we don’t even have hall rosters. We don’t know which students we’ll get. We haven’t been able to reach out to anyone. We don’t know how many students we’ll deal with. We don’t even know if we’ll stay in the halls we’re assigned to," Kiloge said.

Before CHAS updated their FAQ on Monday, second-time returning RA in Riepe and rising College senior Zoe Osborne said that RAGAs returning to campus did not know if they were responsible for creating virtual programming to engage students who would have been their on-campus residents in the fall.

"RAGAs will [be] assigned a group of students, either virtual or on-campus, and will have to follow their House programming plan," the FAQ now reads.

Despite having received no information about virtual programming directly from CHAS, Osborne said that Penn Admissions sent an email to incoming first years on Aug. 12 stating that RAGAs would reach out to first years about "house traditions, mentorship, activities, and virtual communities."

According to the FAQ, RAGAs can terminate their contracts, but those who do not accept their job for the fall semester will not be guaranteed a RAGA position in spring 2021.

Fourth-time returning GA in Riepe and fifth-year Annenberg Ph.D. student Prateekshit Pandey and Kilgoe both said, however, they believe RAGAs who resign from their positions in the fall should be guaranteed a position in the spring. 

“I would prefer if [CHAS] gave preference to the students who had to step off for the fall semester, because they were already selected, went through the process, were already bound to come, and they had to resign or leave their job for reasons beyond their control," Pandey said.

Over 135 RAGAs sent an email to Winkelstein and CHAS administrators on July 31 outlining their demands for more detailed job descriptions for the fall and increased compensation due to the pandemic. In response to the email, Winkelstein scheduled an information session over Zoom attended by CHAS administrators, about 120 RAGAs, and several College House deans.

RAGAs told the DP they were given little opportunity to voice their concerns and that Winkelstein ended the meeting before taking any questions. RAGAs who were present at the session told the DP that Winkelstein purposefully muted their mics when they tried to speak.

Osborne said, however, she is grateful that CHAS is allowing RAGAs to live on campus this fall unlike spring 2020 when all students were required to move off campus in March.

All RAGAs will be tested for COVID-19 in Houston Hall when they return to campus on Aug. 19, according to an email sent by CHAS Director of First-Year Houses and Paraprofessional Staff Training Licinia Barrueco Kaliher on Monday.

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