Campus Living at Lewis & Clark was forced to alter many of its policies over the summer in light of the coronavirus. Many students and resident advisors (RAs) voiced concerns about policy implementation and communication leading up to the start of the school year and beyond.
RAs moved in on Aug. 16. Shortly after, 19 RAs and the co-chairs of the student-led COVID-19 Response Task Force endorsed a letter sent to the college’s Executive Council with concerns and demands about LC’s campus policies concerning the COVID-19 virus. Cas Mulford ’23, Nathan Oakley ’22 and Kaylee-Anna Jayaweera ’22 were the three RAs who drafted the letter. It was made public after administrators did not meet all the demands outlined by Aug. 25.
The students who wrote the letter were concerned about transparency between the college and students, as well as what they referred to as “ambiguous policies.” They demanded a meeting with the Executive Council via Zoom before Aug. 25 and that all classes be online until COVID-19 testing results came back for all undergraduate students living or taking classes on campus. The three RAs met with members of the Executive Council over Zoom before the deadline and continue to meet with members of the administration.
“We ask the Executive Council to ask themselves, under the current circumstances and with the current policies in place, would they feel comfortable and safe living in the residence halls during this term?” the students asked in the letter.
One of the RAs’ concerns was that many policies were not announced until Aug. 21 via email, after tuition was already due and some students had already moved onto campus, including some athletes and New Student Orientation (NSO) leaders. Mandatory testing was announced in this email, but was scheduled during the first week of school instead of during student entry.
RAs demanded entry testing for students, but Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan said the campus was encouraged by health officials to delay testing.
“The folks we consulted with felt that the optimal time to test was actually after the students had been here for five to seven days because of the incubation period of the virus,” Holmes-Sullivan said. “We felt that we would get the biggest bang for our buck to test students (during that) period.”
Before RAs moved in there was one case of the coronavirus associated with the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). There have been two additional cases associated with CAS since, and the virus has been detected in wastewater tests from Copeland Hall, West Hall and Forest Halls.
During RA training, 15% of RAs resigned, according to the letter, with more resignations expected because of LC’s handling of reopening during the pandemic.
Copeland RA Maddie Piotrowski ’23, who co-signed the letter, sympathizes with the RAs who resigned.
“They didn’t even know if the RA job was really worth it if we’re gonna have to be, like, risking our lives for it.” Piotrowski said.
In the letter, RAs also listed concerns about the formatting of the website, claiming that it does not highlight prominent information and that the webpage reporting COVID-19 testing result data is not easily accessible. One of the demands was a reformatting of the website, which LC has done since the release of the letter.
Manzanita Hall RA Aneliese Baker ’23 said the website was insufficient, pushing RAs to make their own COVID-19 guidelines and communications for residents.
“The RAs took it upon themselves to create a master document of policies for the campus and residents,” Baker said. “I distributed that via email to my residents and they feel a lot better now that we have that document of streamlined information because I know my residents told me the website was not very clear.”
Copeland RA Keara Lea Cooney ’23 said she was frustrated that RAs had to do this.
“I shouldn’t be making bathroom and kitchen guidelines,” Cooney said. “I should be doing normal RA duties.”
All interviewed RAs also had concerns that they were instructed to call Campus Safety more often to deal with COVID-19 policy violations, though many are uncomfortable about their safety in enforcing these policies.
“I definitely don’t want to be that person that is using punitive or carceral behaviors,” Baker said. “At the same time, I feel my position has been vastly altered and raised. So, I do feel responsible for other people’s safety and that makes us have to use more harsh standards.”
Holmes-Sullivan said she understands these concerns from RAs, but finds this practice necessary in extreme situations.
“We do not want campus security showing up every five minutes and telling students to put on masks,” Holmes-Sullivan said. “We just want students to put on the mask in the first place so we don’t have to do that.”
RAs were also concerned that the college has no public campus closure plan, though Holmes-Sullivan has assured that there is a plan and that safety is the top priority.
“If we need to, because our resources become depleted or we just cannot keep people safe, of course we would have to close the campus, and we would do that,” Holmes-Sullivan said. “We think that we have a shot at keeping the campus open.”
Jayaweera said lack of student involvement in the reopening plan forced the RAs to send this letter, though it was not ideal. She said the letter was sent not to create opposition, but to facilitate communication.
“We didn’t want to escalate it; we just wanted to get answers,” Jayaweera said. “And it just got to the point where we felt we had no other option.”
Response from the letter has solidified her feelings.
“Since the letter has been released, we have gotten emails from students saying this is the most clarifying and informative piece of information that we have gotten all summer about the true policy on campus,” Jayaweera said. “I think that speaks volumes about how communication with the student body has been completely unacceptable.”
Robin Holmes-Sullivan said she felt the RAs’s letter was justified and has opened more channels for communication. She said she was surprised when she first received the letter.
“My first reaction (to the letter) was, ‘Oh shoot!’” Holmes-Sullivan said. “My second reaction was, ‘everything they are saying is completely reasonable and we need to respond to this.’”
Despite criticism of many members of the Executive Council, several students praised the efforts of Holmes-Sullivan.
“Robin has been steadfast in her support for students and we have all seen how hard she has been working to get us answers and setting up office hours,” Oakley said. “She proves time and time again that she is putting students first.”