SIU changes housing employment policy, allows RAs to have second job

By Rana Schenke, Managing Editor

After struggling for months for the ability to get a second job, Resident Assistants at SIU have gained the ability to hold a second on-campus job next fall with a change to University Housing’s policy.

The updated policy allows RAs to work up to five hours a week at an on-campus job, while still receiving their housing, meal plan, and $600 per semester stipend according to Lori Stettler, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.  

Stettler said the university chose to change the policy for the next school year because the switch to single rooms will make the residence hall floors less dense and lighten the workload for individual RAs.

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(See more: SIU offers single rooms for price of doubles, plans to reopen Neely and Mae Smith)

“We will still hire as many RAs as we always have and we think that their duties will be a little lighter given that there will be less people on the floor,” Stettler said. “We felt like it was fair to start this year by allowing them to work five hours in an on-campus job.”

Jon Shaffer, SIU’s housing director, said the policy changes are on a pilot basis and the impact will be assessed throughout the semester.

The most important part of the assessment is the impact on RAs, according to Shaffer. He said they will look at how the RAs are performing in their role as an RA and whether they are keeping up with coursework.

“We’ll have that assessment really on a weekly basis as they meet with their supervisors,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said another test of the effectiveness of the policy will be what kind of community the buildings have.

“A lot of what the RAs do and when they’re most effective is just being present on their floors […] whenever their resident needs them,” Shaffer said. “Residents usually don’t make appointments to find their RAs, they want their RA there when they need them.”

Shaffer said when the community starts suffering, either with poor behavior or students not doing well, those are signs that RAs are not spending enough time on their floor.

“Conversely, if […] we don’t see a dramatic change from previous years in terms of how the communities were operating and coming together,” Shaffer said, “then that would indicate that it’s probably going okay and we’re doing all right with it.”

Colton Newlin, Undergraduate Student Government president and leader of USG’s Housing task force, said he spoke with Shaffer about the policy changes.

“[He said] if it goes well and if things progress nicely and it works well with student schedules, […] they would look at extending that opportunity to more hours outside of the university,” Newlin said.

The housing task force Newlin led was formed in January after several RAs came to USG for support in seeking a change to the policy last year.

Newlin said a big part of what the task force did was reach out to RAs and Academic Peer Advisors (APAs)  to understand what they wanted USG to advocate for, how they felt about their jobs and what changes they wanted beyond just being able to hold a second job.

(See more: RAs seek ability to get a second job, gain student trustee and GPSC support)

“We relayed all of that information to Jon Shaffer […] and he was more than willing to listen to all of it,” Newlin said. “I think a lot of it leading up was just kind of understanding the situation in its current state and where they wanted it to go.”

Newlin said he has spoken with some RAs on the changes and the reviews were mixed.

“They were happy that they are giving them the option to have a limited time of extra employment, but at the same time, they wish it was more,” Newlin said.

Shaffer said he has talked to some RAs about the policy changes as well, and he also received mixed reactions.

“There were some staff that just felt it was completely unnecessary, didn’t really want to see a change, to some on the other end of the spectrum [who] were like ‘heck yeah’ and ‘I’m glad that you did this,’ to some folks in the middle who I would probably summarize by saying it’s nice that people have a choice,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said the reactions were in line with the results of the survey Housing conducted of RAs and APAs to see how they felt about whether or not the policy should be changed.

“We definitely had quite a bit of face-to-face conversation [about the issue] and then the survey […] was kind of the thing that capped it and we had enough interest and it provided enough feedback that I think that we came up with a decent plan,” Shaffer said.

Stettler said the policy change only allows for five hours because the university only allows students to work 20 hours a week at on-campus jobs.

(See more: Provost proposes 20-hour work cap)

“Minimum wage is going to change, and so when that kicks in, […] obviously the value of those five hours will raise pretty significantly because that first jump is pretty big,” Stettler said.

(See more: Governor signs minimum wage increase; SIU projects cost of $6.9 million in 2025)

Stettler said there will also be changes to the APA policy.

“The APAs are going to go down to 10 hours a week which means they can work 10 hours a week,” Stettler said. “They will get their housing paid for, but not their meal plan.”

Stettler said APAs will be able to purchase a meal plan if they so choose, but they will not be required to.

Stettler said another thing the university wanted to do with the policy change was make sure students understood that they were willing to work with them individually.

“We’re really big on pushing internships and externships and experiential learning that helps you with your career choice,” Stettler said.

In the past, Stettler said the university has been very rigid on not allowing RAs and APAs to accept these positions during the school year.

“Over the past several years we’ve been on a case to case basis as students have come in and said ‘hey, I have an opportunity to do field work or to do a small internship, maybe at Touch of Nature or in one of the local schools,’” Stettler said.

Stettler said they can’t make exceptions for everything, such as if an RA needed to student teach in Chicago.

“That’s not going to work obviously because it’s not local and it doesn’t keep them in the community,” Stettler said.

Stettler said before this change, the RA policy had not been updated in years.

“We’re thankful that someone brought to our attention that the policy wasn’t working for everyone and we needed to update it and think about not the students of yesterday but the students of today and tomorrow,” Stettler said. “Things cost a lot more today than they did however many years ago when that policy went into effect.”

Shaffer said Housing is planning on setting up an RA-APA council or something similar for next semester so RAs and APAs can have a direct line of communication with himself and other Housing officials.

Shaffer said there was a council last year that met every three weeks, but it fell apart towards the end of the semester.

“I didn’t like that we lost that direct communication because it was a really great tool to be able to provide information up and down the chain within Housing,” Shaffer said. “We will have something in place [next semester] that will continue the concept of the RA-APA council.”

Newlin said communication from the university and Housing could have been improved with the RA situation.

“I think from the lack of communication from the side of the university housing’s point of view, it kind of made the whole situation seem like the university was out to get the RAs and that they weren’t willing to work with them,” Newlin said.

Newlin said because the university did not put out statements or talk about the issue, students didn’t know what to think.

“Their main flaw is they wanted to do something, but they just weren’t communicating that with students, so it created a bad image,” Newlin said. “I think that’s the only thing the university could have improved on.”

Newlin said USG is not going to give up on advocating for RAs and APAs.

“I think [the policy change is] the right step in the right direction,” Newlin said. “I don’t think it’s a hundred percent where we wanted it to be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not good at all.”

Managing Editor Rana Schenke can be reached at [email protected].

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