SIU Housing relocates resident assistants, makes University Hall overflow isolation unit

By Keaton Yates and Danny Connolly

Editor’s Note: The identities of some of the resident assistants in this story are anonymous and some use aliases because the RAs involved feared retaliation and losing their jobs due to University Housing’s media policy.

Resident assistants in Wall and Grand and University Hall were given less than 24 hours’ notice telling them they would be relocated to accommodate isolated students who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Daily Egyptian attempted to contact Jon Shaffer, the director of housing, for comment on this story four different times via email and left a message with his assistant. He did not respond as of publication deadline.

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According to the Housing Student Employee Agreement, housing employees are not to represent housing to the press or media unless they are told to do so directly.

Because of this agreement, RAs have been told not to speak to the media and have expressed a fear of retaliation for speaking publicly to the Daily Egyptian, and have asked to remain anonymous now and in the past.

An RA who asked to remain anonymous, “Mark Jones,”  said most of the 16 RAs working at Wall and Grand or University Hall were notified the afternoon of Sep. 18 that they would be randomly reassigned to a different unit on campus by noon the next day.

On Sept. 19, Housing assigned six RAs to continue to work at Wall and Grand, eight more will work at University Hall, and two RAs were relocated to Evergreen Terrace Apartments. 

“As the numbers in Jackson County were increasing, we decided it would be wise to have more isolation space available to students in the event that we needed them,” Lori Stettler, vice chancellor for student affairs, said.

The RAs in University Hall will not be in direct contact with quarantined students, Stettler said.

While Jones said Housing asked the RAs for reassignment preferences, he said no one wants to move at this point in the semester. 

“Asking us to list our preference feels like a slap in the face when the reality is they probably already know who is getting moved and who isn’t,” Jones said.  

Jane Doe, another anonymous RA, created a petition to ask University Housing to let RAs work their desk duty while living in their current housing assignments. It has been signed by over 200 people as of Oct. 5. 

“If you sign this petition, you are showing your support for WAG and UHall RAs to be allowed to reside safely in WAG while performing the newly expected duties decided by University Housing instead of being forced to relocate,” the petition reads.

This petition was sent to Travis Pierce, director of residence life, Jon Shaffer, director of housing, all hall directors, and assistant hall directors and they have not commented, Doe said.

The RAs were notified of the reassignment on Sept. 18, and were asked to give their preference by 9 a.m. on Sept. 19.

According to Max Murphy, an anonymous RA, the reassignment was announced at noon, Sept. 19, and they were expected to move to their new assignment by Monday, Sept. 28.   

“The refusal of not moving would result in job termination,” Murphy said. “They quoted that, more or less in those exact words.”

If they refuse to move, RAs will lose their housing package, which includes their room, meal plan, and monthly stipend, and they would have to pay to cancel the contract. 

While terminated RAs would not have to pay for the period they worked, they would have to pay for the remaining semester.

Doe said this meeting induced panic attacks in five separate RAs and mental health has yet to be addressed. 

Students living on the second, third, and fourth floors of University Hall have been moving into one of the towers on East Campus. This relocation is to make room for these three floors to be overflow for the isolation. 

Penelope Miller, an anonymous RA working at the towers who previously worked at University Hall before the Fall 2020 semester, estimates around 80-100 students lived in University Hall before they were forced to move to the towers.  

Miller said she had three University Hall residents move onto her floor. While having a resident move mid-semester is fairly common, a group of residents is rare.    

“It was frustrating to me, just to be dropped with all these residents and have no information about them and what the situation was,” Miller said. 

SIU Housing’s plan will include requiring all RAs assigned to work at University Hall to work the front desk instead of typical RA duties like rounds and weekends on-call. They are expecting them to live in University Hall in case of an emergency. 

Stettler said RAs were distributed based on need and their responsibilities have been changed. 

The professional staff are still responsible for the direct care of isolated students and RAs are not expected to have responsibility of direct care, Stettler said.

Murphy said, “The biggest concern is a lack of transparency and communication between the RAs and the housing administration, which has been an issue for many years.”

Murphy said Housing is allowed to move RAs in the case there is a departmental need, which he said is in their handbook.

 Stettler said this is not the type of fall semester that anyone could have envisioned.

“If we all continue to work together we can keep each other safe and healthy,” Stettler said.

Staff reporter Danny Connolly can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @DConnollyTV.

Staff reporter Keaton Yates can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @keatsians.

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