Since Welcome Week, Community Advisors (CAs) at Lawrence have been negotiating with the administration about working conditions and pay. A CA council is currently being formed, in which a representative of the CAs from each residence hall will meet with Vice President for Student Life Christopher Card on a regular basis.
These negotiations began during CA training, conducted during the two weeks before classes began, for which they were initially supposed to receive a stipend of $200 ($2.50/hour for 80 hours). Many CAs were frustrated by the low stipend, long working hours (about half of the days were 10-12 hours long), and lack of adequate breaks according to junior Gideon Lucard, a CA from Sage Hall and a leading organizer of the CAs. Safety conditions were also an issue, Lucard said, with trainings in the Wriston Amphitheater where some students were stung by wasps, as well as unnecessary in-person trainings where students were called into classrooms to watch Zoom presentations, according to junior Gordon Nakayama, a CA from Hiett Hall.
To address these complaints, Lucard sent an email to Card, Assistant Director of Residential Education and Housing Bonny Sucherman, Associate Dean of Students for Residential Education Amy Uecke and President Laurie Carter, with all other CAs CCed, demanding changes, such as a $650 stipend and a day off before classes, and threatening to strike if these were not met.
The administration set up meetings the same day to negotiate with the students. Sucherman and Card were able to raise the stipend to $500, which is short of the requested $650, but that along with the day off given before school started was seen as a sign of good faith and the strike was ultimately called off.
Sucherman said that demands such as raising the stipend and a day off were reasonable and able to be provided. As to the other concerns raised, Sucherman said long days couldn’t be avoided due to the necessary Suicide Prevention, Event Planning, and Title IX training, although she did try to minimize additional supplementary information.
Since Welcome Week, the negotiations have shifted to focus more on long term goals, particularly full Room and Board coverage. In many other colleges, the RAs (the equivalent to Lawrence’s CAs) have their room and board fully covered, while at Lawrence, they get a single room at the price of a double. Lucard, Nakayama, and the other CAs who led this effort feel that this is unfair, and Lawrence should cover room and board fully for CAs. They will also be pushing for hourly wages during CA training and a 40 hour per week cap. Sucherman said that even though it’s true that RAs at other schools get room and board fully covered, they usually work 20-hour weeks, while Lawrence CAs work 10 during the school year.
Although many CAs have been organizing, Sage Hall CA and second-year Lucian Baxter said that some CAs they’ve talked to still feel cynical about the process and didn’t want to organize because they don’t feel like they have the power to change anything, and things won’t improve. Other students went further, including senior Kylie Zajdel, a CA from Hiett who said that many CAs, herself included, felt satisfied with the current working conditions and were uncomfortable with the tone of the initial email. She also said that the problem isn’t the administration, but the low minimum wage of $7.25 per hour in the state of Wisconsin.
As negotiations continue, Sucherman wants CAs and student workers to advocate for themselves if they feel mistreated.
“Keep talking to us,” Sucherman said. “We need to get to the root of where this frustration is coming from. We can only drill into these things if CAs keep talking to us. My door is always open.”