Housing & Residence Life copes with COVID-19

Life+as+an+RA+during+COVID-19

Life as an RA during COVID-19

Amy Nankin, News Editor

Monroe Residence Hall stands 12 stories high as the tallest building in all of Uptown New Orleans. Jam-packed with roughly 600 eager first-year students who flew in from all around the world, the dorm is typically an epicenter of activity, but it looks very different this year. With mask mandates, social distancing and limits on social gatherings, housing and resident life has changed for students and Resident Advisors alike as they navigate through living on-campus during a pandemic

To prepare for student arrivals, Housing and Residence Life updated their community guidelines to reflect the city of New Orleans’ public health mandates. These include wearing a mask in all areas except when inside their own room, practicing good hygiene by washing hands often, implementing a one guest per resident rule and COVID-19 testing twice a week. Due to these new guidelines, the training for HRL staff members was much more thorough than in years past. 

“All of training was conducted virtually and via small groups by RA staff teams,” Monroe Residence Hall Director Shawn Gaines said. “COVID-19 protocols were threaded throughout training and highlighted in specific sessions. A key component of training was sharing with RAs the COVID-19 guidelines and providing an overview of the university testing model. Our RA team had the opportunity to hear from Campus Health during the first day of training. I think this was critical to help frame to our RAs how this year would look and feel different as a student.”

RAs are required to meet with all of their residents on a weekly basis. Whether this is holding community hours in their room or hanging out in the common area with their residents, RAs are expected to have a strong presence among their residents.

“The most difficult part of being an RA during a pandemic is the lack of in-person involvement with my residents,” Josephine-Louise Residence Hall RA Anusha Rahman said. “It’s really hard to get to know people socially-distant while wearing masks, and Zoom conversations don’t have that same level of connection as in-person meetings do. In past years, I used to offer my residents tea, hot cocoa and candy when they came to see me, which was a great way to release tension. This year, I obviously can’t do that.”

In addition to enforcing public health mandates on their floors, RAs also must monitor their residents for any infringements upon these new guidelines. To ensure students comply with the new HRL community guidelines, the Office of Student Conduct added a clause in the Code of Student Conduct about residents who fail to meet the expectations. This has led to a large overall increase in the number of student conduct meetings. 

“Because the restrictions are stricter for on-campus student guests, via the res life guest policy, meaning only one guest per resident, there have been more reports of students violating guest rule social gathering limits on campus,” Christopher Zacharda, director of the Office of Student Conduct, said. “As that number [of meetings] has been growing by the hour, it is hard to give an exact number, but it is safe to say that since the beginning of school, Aug. 8, there have been a few hundred cases resulting in formal warning and/or conduct meetings.”

RAs are required to submit any concerns to the HRL office, which they review and pass on to the Office of Student Conduct for any further actions, Associate Director of Residence Life Matthew Tombaugh said. 

“Allegations of misconduct are assessed by the gatekeeper, me, to assign the case to the appropriate conduct path: educational conference, administrative hearing or investigation,” Zacharda said. “These case types are outlined in the code. It is then assigned to and adjudicated by the assigned hearing officer. This process is the same for any conduct case and is also outlined in the code.”

Although the on-campus experience is very different this year, freshman Wall resident Lindsey Friedmann said she feels safe and has gotten used to dorm life during a pandemic. 

There are always people cleaning the halls and elevators and our bathrooms get cleaned once a week as well. My RA has been great with enforcing mask wearing and she politely reminds people to stay six feet apart,” Friedmann said. “The RA and RD have planned a few successful covid safe events such as tie dying and an ice cream social with trivia. It is hard during a time like this to plan engaging events especially with the majority of them being on Zoom but my RA and RD have been working hard.”