Resident Assistant Roles Cut Costs, but Take a Toll on Students
It is 6:55 p.m. as Resident Assistants across Marist campus sign on for a night of duty. Erin Gisolfi, a sophomore RA in the Foy townhouses, leans into her walkie talkie.
“This is Erin signing on for the night,” she says, reciting the rest of her tag line to signal that she is ready for her shift, “have a great night.”
It’s a Friday night, but Erin’s weekend will not begin for another eight hours. Weekend duty, which rotates among the RAs in each residence, starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 3 a.m. During the week, duty ends at 1 a.m.
Resident Assistants serve as a resource and mentor for other students in their residence areas, in exchange for free room and board. According to the 2015/2016 Marist Tuition and Fee Schedule, Erin’s housing and meal plan are worth $11,200 per year. This sum, divided by the roughly 282 hours she will spend on duty, makes $40 an hour.
For Erin, being an RA helps her put a dent in her overall costs of attending Marist, but the hefty financial reward comes with even greater responsibilities.
Erin normally spends the first two hours of duty on office hours in the North End Resident Director’s office. Tonight, with the walkie talkie clipped to her leggings, Erin goes door-to-door obtaining signatures for housing withdrawal forms. She then returns to the office and resumes her routine of laundry, homework, and laps around her area, or “rounds.”
While on office hours, Erin is very careful about her conduct. Her boss, Resident Director Joseph Trocino, lives in the apartment directly attached to the office and can hear everything we say.
“I am supposed to act like a role model,” Erin says. “I shouldn’t be cursing or listening to inappropriate music.”
Her first week on the job, Erin quickly learned to balance personal conflict with professionalism as an RA.
Within her own house, money was allegedly stolen from her wallet. The accused were her residents, whom she continued to live with, and the involved faculty were all her bosses. “[As an RA] I didn’t really know how to deal with it all,” she admits. At the cost of her own comfort, Erin did her best to remain impartial, and has since been able to put the incident behind her.
“We tell them that being an RA is a 24-hour commitment,” says Trocino, “You need to act and represent the college in a positive light at all times.” Any write-ups or behavioral slip-ups will likely result in an RA’s termination.
Erin believes this commitment is worthwhile. She lives 40 minutes from Marist and would have otherwise started commuting after her freshman year. Being an RA helps her afford to live on campus without taking out any additional loans.
However, RAs receive no tangible income and are not allowed to work another on-campus job. So payments for Erin’s current loans and daily living expenditures come out of her dwindling savings account.
Francesca Astino, an upperclassmen RA for the Fulton Townhouses, is in a similar situation.
“I don’t have a lot of money that I can just use for spending so I have been dipping into my savings,” she says. But she will be in a much better position when she graduates from Marist with “virtually no debt.”
Trocino knows that avoiding debt is a large factor for students applying for the RA position, but he says the housing staff “looks for people that show that that is not the only reason why they are doing it.”
Those selected for the job are subject to many responsibilities that require much more time than the relative 282 hours of duty each year. They must stay later before breaks for room checks and come back early before each semester for training.
RAs must additionally do “everything from making sure maintenance comes and fixes something [in the residence area], to helping people sign the paperwork needed to switch rooms or withdraw from housing, to being at someone’s side when they are going through the worst moment of their life, to dealing with people who have maybe had ten drinks too many,” according to Trocino.
“Every week you have to complete a program, headcounts, duty, meetings and special projects,” explains Colby Gray, who used to work on Erin’s staff but quit after one semester. “There are times when all of your RA deadlines align with your homework deadlines, so pulling an all-nighter becomes inevitable.”
The sacrifices that these students make are common at a time when tuition and living costs for college students are astronomical. The cost of higher education has put more pressure on students to make ends meat and sometimes, this pressure can make a student’s life extremely hectic.
Even in the dead of winter, Erin has to go on rounds. Her zone is the entire “North End,” which includes Upper and Lower New sophomore housing, as well as Foy.
We make our first trek at 8:20 p.m. It is 32 degrees and I am squirming from the cold and the wind, but Erin seems unfazed. Her ankle-length black coat billows behind her, which she bought in anticipation of harsh winter rounds.
After office hours, we return to Erin’s house in Foy, where she must remain on call in case of any emergencies. As soon as we arrive, Erin heads for her coffee maker.
“I’m feeling real droopy right now,” she says, piling grounds into her little red machine.
It’s barely past 9 p.m., but Erin has already been awake for 15 hours since crew practice. Once she gets off duty at 3 a.m, she’ll have just three hours to sleep before her alarm wakes her for Saturday’s practice.
“Waking up is dreadful, especially the mornings after duty, ” Erin says. She often falls asleep doing homework or hanging out with friends, but has recently developed a fool-proof method of making it through duty nights.
Erin primarily relies on caffeine to stay awake, but when coffee and the occasional mug of strong tea are insufficient, she scares herself awake with horror movies.
After a quick Google search for “scariest new movies,” we settle on The Visit and The Strangers.
She has a whole schedule figured out. We start off The Visit with popcorn, then pause for another cup of coffee, and make a big snack (in this case, pancakes) before starting the second movie.
“I just snack on pointless things,” she admits, “not because I am hungry, but because I am trying to keep myself awake.”
Around 11 p.m., a group of residents yell to each other from outside Erin’s open window, then another audibly gathers outside to catch a taxi to the bars.
With each disturbance, Erin whips around, grabs the walkie talkie, and cranes her neck, watching intently for the noise to stop. Eventually it does and Erin returns to her movie. The cab drives off or someone shushes their friends, only to disturb her again when they return in a few hours.
At 2:55 a.m. Erin is relieved, almost giddy as we realize that she has made it through another night of duty.
“This is Erin signing off for the night,” she says into the walkie talkie, “have a great night.” Within five minutes, she is asleep…but only for the next three hours.↑ Back to top