The Office of Residential Life (ResLife) announced plans to recreate the current Resident Counselor (RC) position in a meeting with RCs on March 3 in Alumni House. During the meeting, the college announced that it would discontinue the current RC job effective by next fall semester. Following the announcement, Senior Associate Dean of Students Dean Gendron quelled the RCs’ concerns regarding job security by stating that new positions will be available to them. The college will finalize the new RC position after considering input from meetings with the RCs, the President’s Office and other ResLife staff.
Over the past years, the college’s RC position has earned a reputation among the student body as inadequate. At the beginning of this semester, these frustrations culminated in the formation of an Organizer Team, which represents the interests of RCs. The team submitted a prospectus to the administration, enumerating its dissatisfaction with the RC program’s structure, accountability and monetary compensation. Of the total 70 RCs, over 50 of them co-signed the prospectus.
On March 3, RCs attended a meeting in the Alumni House with Gendron and Dean of Students Liz Agosto. During the meeting, Agosto and Gendron informed the RCs about the plans to revamp the RC program. The details of the new positions have not yet been enumerated by the college.
Gendron followed the meeting with an email to RCs containing more information about the change of position to current RCs and students who applied to be RCs for the upcoming academic year. Gendron’s email to applicants for the RC role stated that “The reapplication process to the [previous RC] role is terminated.” The email came days before students were expected to hear if they had gotten the position.
According to Gendron, Amherst’s administration had been looking for a way to reenvision its RC program for some time. “What we are looking to do is create a more modern student-staff structure that takes into account the needs of modern Amherst student life,” Gendron said.
The prospectus submitted by the Organizer Team of RCs served as a catalyst for this change in the structure of the RC role.
“What it provided for me was additional clarity and an opportunity in that moment to engage with students and to hear their concerns and to say ‘I knew it needed to get done,’” said Agosto. “Now we just need to do it. We need to find a way to make this happen as efficiently and effectively and quickly as possible.”
While it is certain that the role of the RC and the structure of student-staffing will change, it is unclear what it will look like at the end of the semester, when the college plans to have the currently nebulous roles defined and filled. Gendron noted that “we believe that we will be able to put together a structure between today and the end of this semester and we believe that those positions will also be filled by invested and enthusiastic students in that time.”
Before the Wednesday meeting and the announcement of the new program, many RCs had become quite frustrated by the poor management of ResLife and its inconsistent and lacking communication.
Once plans for a new program were announced, the frustration shifted dramatically. At the meeting, much of the concern was with the job security many of the RCs were expecting come next year. For many students, the monetary compensation earned from being an RC is essential to their livelihoods.
After the meeting, an email was sent out to returning RCs that stated, “For current [RCs] who are willing to accept the updated responsibilities (once completed) of the new position description(s) to which they demonstrate interest and investment, an appropriate position will be available to them.” This email provided more clarity and hopefully more sentiments of job security for returning RCs.
Moving forward, input on the new program will most likely come from three important groups: current RCs, who will input through online forums and face-to-face meetings with the deans; ResLife, which will be responsible for implementing most of the changes; and the President’s Office, which, in connection with senior staff, will have final input on any decisions.
Both the administration and RCs emphasized the importance of improving the residential experience of students. In an interview with The Student, RC and member of the RC Organizer Team Molly Sanderson ’22 stated that efforts to change the RC position come from concerns for the wellbeing of the student body.
“The restructuring process isn’t just about making the job better for us as student staff. It’s about creating a system that can benefit our residents the most,” she said. She noted that while job satisfaction of RCs is necessary, “the way that our residents are experiencing residential life” is her number one priority.
Agosto added that the support structures for ResLife staff are crucial to letting RCs “do their job effectively.” Though there is uncertainty about the new RC role, Peterson knows what she wants. “I think in essence what I want is a better ResLife. That’s what I want. That’s what I’ve wanted this whole time. I want more accountability for every level. I want a better contract that pays people fairly,” she said. “And so if this is the way that the administration thinks they can make meaningful change and accomplish that, then I’ll support them.”
Peterson added, jokingly: “I just want ResLife to not be the garbage fire that we all know and love.”