COVID-19 has changed Resident Assistants’ role ‘immensely’

Christer Maxine Schmidt, Reporter

The residence halls welcomed around 620 students back to California Lutheran University in a socially-distanced climate for the spring 2021 semester.

Permitting more students to return to the residence halls comes with additional restrictions on student conduct, all aiming to keep students on campus safe.

“It has changed our jobs immensely,” said Graduate Resident Director (GRD) Jaynessa Lopez in a Zoom interview. “We are the ones here on the grounds doing the work, enforcing the community compact.”

The Resident Assistants (RAs) have largely become both community builders and enforcers during this time as the protocols they enforce include COVID-19 restrictions.

“We always tell our RAs the core of what their job is is building relationships and creating communities that are safe,” Lopez said.

Social distancing at the university, while necessary for safety, is not always followed by some students and community members.

There have been reported cases of off-campus parties during the fall 2020 semester alongside other violations on campus of rules like the mask policy–where a mask is required on campus at all times.

The full list of restrictions is available within the Cal Lutheran Compact, which is signed by and agreed to by everyone who has returned to campus in any capacity–whether for residence or learning.

“A lot of [protocols] were determined by the [university] cabinet,” said Christina Hanna, assistant director of Residence Life and Student Conduct, in a Zoom interview. “Mainly it was decisions made above us that we then implemented.”

Lopez said implementing these restrictions has “been a little difficult.”

Students have largely followed the rules during the pandemic, but in some cases confusion about regional differences in COVID-19 guidelines has affected compliance.

“There’s differences of opinion with the pandemic. The spectrum is very wide,” Lopez said. “Students are coming from other states, they’re coming from their homes with their parents. You walk out of your room, you forget to put your mask on. In some locations even in California you’re allowed to go out and exercise or maybe they have a home where they can do that. Some students have had a harder time with that. That has been tough with RAs.”

It can be hard to balance community building and enforcement.

“It has tainted some relationships,” Lopez said. “There’s not a wide gap between enforcer and community builder anymore. There have been times where I’ve had to approach community members or even students. I try to be as friendly and as respectful as possible, but I may not get that reciprocated.”

Many issues seem to involve rules regarding protocols for outside campus buildings, as opposed to inside.

“I think it’s just a mindset shift,” Lopez said. “When they leave the buildings they might not be as strict for themselves, cause they’re leaving campus or [going] outside. Sometimes even with community members they’ll walk around campus or they’ll have basketball games and they don’t respect the protocols in place.”

Students who are caught violating the Cal Lutheran Compact are first given warnings. Repeated violations lead to documentation of the incidents.

“We include basic information like date, time, location, people involved, the alleged policy violation, and description of the incident,” said Hanna. “We then send each student a letter asking them to schedule a meeting with us.”

After students are documented, they are scheduled to attend a Zoom meeting with a GRD or staff member who determines sanctions.

Students caught violating the guest policy are put on probation. This rule will be in place till the end of 2021, at least. It’s spelled out in the COVID-19 Addendum of the current Student Handbook on page 5, which states that “Residents are not permitted any visitors inside their suite or residence hall building for any period of time.”

“For us, it’s really hard to put students on probation, and it feels really heavy,” Lopez said. “We didn’t make the rules, we’re just upholding them. As should every other community member and student who agreed to those standards.”

In addition to the compact, the KNOW campaign has pushed for widespread awareness of COVID-19 restrictions and mitigation measures. It gives guidelines, updates, and statistics on known cases. It notably lists 44 cases of COVID-19 in the Cal Lutheran community to date, and three currently in quarantine on the Thousand Oaks campus.

These protocols are ultimately in place to keep students safe and help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection.