Staff Editorial: New CA operations challenge community-building initiatives

Returning students may have noticed a change at their residence halls. Resident Life Advisors (RLAs) have evolved into Community Advisors (CAs). Along with the name change, the way duty hours operate and how programs are defined have also been modified. While the name suggests that these new changes would create a better sense of community, some feel that it has the opposite effect. 

CAs spend fewer duty hours at the desk. There are still the same number of duty hours during the week; however, many of these hours are not spent at the desk anymore. CAs are available by phone to come to the desk. Grace Krueger, a junior CA in Hiett Hall voiced her concern with this change, “Some students are intimidated to call the duty phone and are afraid they’re bothering the CA, so they’ll wait until the weekends when there is a CA at the desk to ask for something small like toilet paper.” Because of this additional barrier, CAs may have a more difficult time fostering community and being there for the students who need them. Junior Plantz CA O’Ryan Brown weighed in as well: “The most traffic happens at the desk. So if I want to be visible while I’m on duty, I’ll stay at the desk. I don’t think it’s effective to just take the phone and stay in your room.” 

CAs have impacts, which are planned events with a set goal, which requires a lot of paperwork beforehand including pre- and post-program reports. There are lots of hoops for CAs to jump through before an impact can be approved. While it suggests that the activities that are being planned are well thought out and will likely have a larger impact on residents, it constrains the CAs and creates far more work. Brown explained, “Often, you’ll be deterred from doing something you think would be fun to do with your hall because it isn’t completely fleshed out. The alternative would be to do an ‘involvement,’ but that doesn’t count for anything. It feels weird that everything we get credit for has to meet the criteria of an ‘impact.’” This puts added pressure on CAs who are students first and are juggling this job along with classes, homework, clubs and potentially other jobs. If the required impacts that they came up with are not thorough or interesting enough, it’s back to the drawing board.

CAs also have involvements, which are spontaneous and less intentional. Krueger explained, “The addition of involvements is a positive change, because last year we’d have to fill out a program report for all our events, and involvements are a good way to get credit for what you’re doing without it being a big deal.” 

The third change is interactions. As a CA, you have to have an interaction with all your residents. You ask what’s been going on in their life and get to know them — it reminds residents that you’re available as a resource. While this is a positive change in terms of connecting with residents, Krueger commented that the lack of desk duty shifts makes this more difficult. “The new focus of the CA position is building personal connections with your residents, and I think that it’s a lot easier for me to do that when you I see students passing at the desk and they can come to me, rather than when I have to go to them and knock on their doors. That way, they can choose when they want to interact with me, rather than me pushing it on them.” These interactions are a positive change if students are open and comfortable with communicating with their CAs. However, it also has the potential to backfire and push residents away as well as puts strain on CAs to try and create conversations by interrupting students’ space and catching them off-guard. 

Lawrence has CAs to foster as a sense of community within its residence halls. However, these new changes currently seem to advertise the opposite. These differences may be especially jarring to those who are used to the old system. Perhaps CAs will become more effective as students acclimate.