Feature photo by Owen Fidler
By Lindsey Babcock
On July 19th, while researching developmental neurobiology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, junior biology major Alister Orozco received a call from Assistant Director of Residence Life Leo Cruz. Cruz inquired about Orozco’s plan to return to campus for HA training. Orozco informed Cruz that their research and presentation, along with travel time, would make them a few days late to training — information that Orozco had relayed to all four area coordinators about their internship prior to their acceptance of the HA position.
According to Orozco, another call from Cruz came on July 24th, in which Cruz informed them that, if they could not return to Reed by 9 a.m. on August 10th, their job would be at risk, reportedly saying, “We’re trying to set a standard.”
Even though the mandatory dates of training were set in the HA contract, HAs have been known to complete training asynchronously if they have prior academic or career-shaping opportunities. Orozco had even missed and made up HA training the previous year due to scheduling conflicts and was allowed to do so under prior Residence Life staff, they said, and continued that, “[the prior ResLife director] told me that all of my academics and my career development would be prioritized over a job because I’m only going to be an HA while I’m at Reed, but I’ll be doing science the rest of my life.”
While Orozco was not immediately threatened with termination for the possibility of missing in-person HA training, others were. HA Emma Fan was living at home this summer in Beijing and then planned to study abroad their first semester in France — before serving as an HA during their second semester. Fan was contacted in early August about their plans for HA training, and said that “my [Area Coordinator] told me that if I can’t attend the training in person it’s a violation to the contract and that they will be ‘forced’ to terminate my contract, however before this exchange when I asked my AC at the end of spring semester 2023 about studying abroad for a semester and missing the training she assured me that my position as an HA wouldn’t be affected negatively because they didn’t want to punish me for my decision to study abroad.”
Fan decided to send an email to the Residence Life directors, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Dean of Student Life, and the Director of International Programs, “basically explaining to them the situation from my perspective and how ridiculous it is that they expect me on a week’s notice to fly across the earth to Portland for an HA training before I need to immediately leave for France.” Fan was then granted Zoom accommodations for the training period.
Leo Cruz redirected Orozco to his supervisor, the Director of Residence Life, Vanessa Guerrero. Orozco attempted to create a schedule with Guerrero in which they could remotely attend training while they were still at Cold Spring Harbor so that they could present their work in person in New York on August 10. Vanessa Guerrero then redirected Orozco again to the Student Work Office to inquire about work accommodations.
Upon meeting with the Student Work Office and telling them that Guerrero sent them to the office for the purpose of Zoom accommodations, Orozco said, “[the Student Work Office staff member] said she was going to have a talk with Vanessa because she felt that she was giving students false hope,” and that those kinds of accommodations were not handled by their office.
Orozco continued their attempts to create a compromise and convince Residence Life to allow them to stay in New York. Orozco told the Quest that, “my academic advisor sent a letter to Vanessa [Guerrero] and Claudia [Ramírez Islas] and was like, ‘please let Alister continue his research’ and they ignored it… they dismissed a tenured faculty member.”
Ultimately, Orozco was not granted Zoom accommodations and had to return to Portland prior to the start of training, missing the lab’s final research presentations, which they were able to participate in only virtually.
Once Orozco heard that Emma Fan was allowed Zoom accommodations, they questioned Guerrero about how Fan secured those accommodations: “Vanessa later told me that Emma did get accommodations through the Student Work Office, and she couldn’t disclose why.” Emma Fan however did not go through the Student Work Office — as they said, they were allowed to participate virtually after sending an email to various Deans and organizations on campus.
Returning HA Anie Kotha was asked about Residence Life’s expectations for her fellow student workers, Kotha said, “It was unnecessary to make training mandatory and take students away from opportunities that would have helped them further their careers.”
As training began, new and old HAs alike commented that their training was extensive but didn’t prepare them for the realities of their job. According to Orozco, “no new HAs were trained on like, how to fill out disbursement forms, like how to get reimbursed, how to do event planning, how to, like handle racial comments, or like discriminatory actions that are happening in the residence halls, which is what our training last year was solely focused on. And instead, they brought a bunch of like guest speakers, or like anti-racism speakers, which were really cool – but that’s all they did… no one was prepped at all on how to do the job.”
Sophomore HA Lina Eid said, “HAs did not receive any boundaries training. I talked to returning HAs and apparently, that was, like, a big thing that happened in previous years: training on establishing boundaries so that you know exactly what your job is and you aren’t put in an awkward situation [of] blurring the line between home and work. We didn’t get any of that. It’s like they don’t want us setting those boundaries.”
XiXi Dukes, an HA, and senator, remarked on how training this year made them feel, “As a BIPOC person, I see the world through that lens. I found training racist.” Additionally, Orozco said, “I would say, the HAs are 60 to 70% BIPOC. Like you forced this group of underrepresented students to like, go to anti-racism training, but you’re forcing their hand at being there in an authoritarian position, which doesn’t feel very anti-racist to me.”
Between last spring and this summer, Residence Life was affected by the high turnover rate for staff seen throughout the college and returned this school year with many new members. Orozco characterized the management under new Residence Life staff as, “operating without student input.” Orozco also recalled that new staff referred to previous forms of HA training activities as “hazing,” even though student workers found it to be a helpful exercise in evaluating how to handle the intense situations they might encounter.
Residence Life has also added “rounds” to House Advisors’ responsibilities. Rounds involve HAs walking around their assigned area groups in the evenings in order to check that fire extinguishers and Narcan kits are not in need of replacement, talk to students residing in communal spaces, and, as Senator Dukes emphasized, “look for residents who might be in a medical crisis.”
When the Quest asked Dukes what she thinks the college’s motives are for implementing rounds, they said, “Reed College is trying to rebrand … trying to break away from the image of drug culture.”
Returning HA Anie Kotha stated, “[rounds] were added to the job to build community, but they don’t do much, and in a lot of students’ eyes, all we’re doing is patrolling.”
Orozco and fellow HAs said that they had asked Residence Life staff members why rounds were added to their contract, and that the department responded, “Well, it’s subject to change.”
Rounds Hours (as of 08/25):
Weekdays: Sunday – Thursday
Round 1 starting at or after 10:00 p.m
Weekend: Friday – Saturday
Round 1 starts at or after 9:00 p.m.
Round 2 starting at or after 12:00 a.m.
Student workers were informed of the implementation of rounds in the spring when the clause was first added to their contract. However, the Residence Life department has repeatedly described that contract as a “living document.”
“The living HA contract is a phrase we all are very unhappy with,” said Kotha, “With the contract being signed in the spring, things are still being changed about the position. Rounds were specified on the contract, but many assumed they would be conducted in a safer/more organized way.”
XiXi Dukes voiced specific concerns about HAs that belong to marginalized groups, “HA demographics do not entirely line up with the college’s [demographics].” They acknowledged a large portion of the HAs are BIPOC and low SES students and that, “These are some of the most desperate people to stay on campus, and [Residence Life] knows that.”
“Our hours have absolutely increased,” Dukes said, “There has been no increase in pay and we did not get paid for training.”
Another source of concern for HAs has been the possibility of rounds altering the way that residents view their HAs. Dukes said that “[rounds are] not only making a culture of fear but making a culture of fear of the HAs.”
“Implementing rounds, making us mandatory reporters, CSA training, it makes us unreliable,” said Dukes, “I have to tell my residents ‘before you come to a person you thought you could trust, I have to tell my boss’.”
Rounds could also threaten the well-being of student workers. There have been multiple instances of violent crimes on the streets bordering campus, streets some area group HAs will have to walk across at night to perform their jobs. Dukes said, “I shouldn’t be put outside where I could get hurt,” and questioned whether these responsibilities should be a part of a, “job for a student.”
Orozco also spoke on how rounds could impact notoriously busy Reed students, “[rounds] prohibit the times that we’re allowed to work other jobs and also do extracurricular activities. They also diminish like self-care time, which wasn’t emphasized in our training at all this year when last year, we had to create a whole self-care plan.”
Parents of student workers collaborated on an email outlining their concerns for the safety of their children and sent it to college president Audry Bilger, Vice President for Student Life Karnell McConnell-Black, and other administrators and faculty members.
Dr. McConnell-Black sent the parents a response email on August 28, a copy of which was forwarded to the Quest. In that message, McConnell-Black wrote, “While concerns regarding rounds have been expressed, data from our Community Safety Department does not fully corroborate these concerns. Nevertheless, Community Safety officers are prepared to accompany House Advisors (who already operate in pairs as a safety measure) between buildings. The presence of a CS officer does not eliminate the need for the HA. It is important to emphasize that the purpose of rounds transcends building safety; it also encompasses community engagement and presence.”
McConnell-Black continued, writing, “We are not asking HAs to be security personnel. They are being asked to engage actively in the community and to simultaneously alert the appropriate staff members to issues as they observe them.” However, the Quest has received information from an HA that they have no way of knowing which Area Coordinators are on call at any given time.
Towards the end of McConnell-Black’s email, he says, “I want to emphasize that I have deeply considered these concerns and engaged in discussions with my team … our commitment to upholding the highest standards of conduct within our community remains unwavering. Hostile, bullying or unkind behavior is deemed unacceptable, and this applies to all members of our community.”
When asked about the phrase “bullying and unkind behavior,” Orozco said, “I don’t understand how you can bully someone who is in a position of power over you … These people have been actively dangling termination over multiple of our heads.”
Alister Orozco commented on how rounds were changed post McConnell-Black’s email, “After so much backlash on it from like parents and students and everyone, they were like, ‘okay, so now rounds are going to be implemented over four phases.’ And we’re in phase one. So by the time I graduate, it’ll be fully implemented, so that the students that are speaking out now won’t be there to speak out. Yeah. Interesting.”
McConnell-Black’s email ends with the statement, “This e-mail message is intended only for the person to whom it is addressed and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message,” although the Quest has concluded in consultation with the Student Press Law Center that this is not legally binding.
The Quest reached out to Residence Life via email with several questions related to this story 24 hours before going to print but did not receive a reply in time for publication.