Staff Editorial: Fix the RLA Program

As the deadline of signing up to be a campus community leader—namely the Resident Life Advisor (RLA) and the CORE Leader positions for the 2017-18 school year—passed earlier this week, discussions around the merits of these roles as well as their drawbacks has surfaced. As seen from the previous year’s RLA and CORE Leaders selection, although there have been a lot of changes over the years, Campus Life seems to have a difficulty recruiting enough interested applicants, as well as having a high turnover rate for RLAs from year to year. This not only makes it stressful and difficult for Campus Life every year to recruit, build and train a well-chosen staff from a big enough pool, but it also further deepens the impressions and misunderstandings that many might have about these roles.

While the RLAs and Residence Life Manager’s (RLMs) roles are incredibly important in community building, they are often underappreciated by students. There is a pervasive perception of RLAs being “uncool” and unimportant. Meanwhile, RLAs and RLMs carry out many administrative as well as community-building tasks to maintain all the functions and perks of life in a residence hall or loft. Much of their work is behind the scenes and difficult—they have to tread the fine line between being a peer leader and being a part of Campus Life staff. Furthermore, the duties of RLMs—a cross between RLAs and RHDs—are even heavier because they deal with even more specific and difficult administrative tasks, such as taking care of meal plans in food-based houses.

More importantly, many RLAs and RLMs also feel underappreciated by Campus Life, citing not only difficulties and time lags in working with Campus Life on important matters such as loft meal plans, but the relatively much lower pay and benefits they receive compared to students who work in Resident Advisor (RA) positions at other colleges. Many colleges provide free room and board for RAs, which is a great help for many students. Considering how many students at Lawrence require financial aid in order to be able to attend the university, providing a higher salary for RLAs at Lawrence could help students in that position feel more appreciated and would increase interest in the position.

Another reason for a high turnover rate is that many RLAs might feel that the job has not been as professionally fulfilling as they have expected it to be. Therefore, many RLAs quit after just one year of working at the job. This signals a need for change in the way Campus Life manages and structures the program to make it more beneficial to RLAs.

On the other hand, a comparable program, the CORE program, has attracted much more attention and interest from the student body, both with regards to CORE participants and its employed CORE leaders. The school and the administration have spent a lot of time and resources on CORE due to a grant received for its specific purpose. There has also been talk of allowing students to get college credit for their participation in CORE. Therefore, CORE leaders are treated with more respect and as a result, more people want to be CORE leaders. These efforts and many others show that the CORE program is appreciated and sought after in a way that the positions of RLAs are not.

Interestingly enough, Campus Life markets the positions of RLA and CORE leader simultaneously when the jobs have serious differences. RLAs have to take on a role of near full-time responsibility when it comes to taking care of Residence Halls and their residents, while CORE leaders lead freshman in group meetings once a week and other bonding activities. Still, RLAs are absolutely essential to a satisfactory college experience, particularly at a school like Lawrence that requires students to live on campus in a Residence Hall or House for the duration of their study except under special circumstances. The CORE program, however, is something that is superfluous and unique to Lawrence. In the future, if more funds were appropriated to the use of RLA staffing and job salary increases in the same way that CORE received recent funding, perhaps the RLA program could start to see some more of the favorable benefits like the increased retention rate, job satisfaction and overall position interest like the successful CORE program.

Our campus has the capability to treat our RLAs and RLMs better. Campus Life needs to show RLAs and RLMs the respect they deserve by increasing position benefits and responding to inquiries and problems with considerate and timely administration. Taking into account the modeling of the CORE program could also make a positive difference in increasing interest in the RLA and RLM positions in the first place as well as increasing retention for students in those positions for years to come. Also, students should treat their RLAs with respect and recognize that their jobs are some of the most important ones on campus. Negative perceptions about the role of RLA can only be stopped and a higher retention rate of RLAs can only be achieved when people take the initiative now to start treating RLAs better.