College students and Resident Assistants during these unprecedented times have been exposed to a drastically changing world; with that, alterations to the normal operations at Canisius. Anna Gullo and Brigit Reilly, two of Canisius’s resident assistants (RAs),provided an inside look at what occurs behind the scenes of Student Life, as well as the challenges RAs face during a pandemic.
Anna Gullo, a senior who has been an RA for the past three years, and Brigit Reilly, a junior who has been an RA for two years, explained how the coronavirus has changed life as an RA, and how well Canisius has adapted to these circumstances.
“During this time, the opportunities to be creative with programming have been limited by barriers such as limited occupancy, and resident comfortability levels,” Gullo said. She emphasized that — without any guidance — RAs have taken upon themselves the challenge of “creating an entirely new model of programming” to keep the residents engaged without funds for food and prizes or the ability to socialize openly in campus common rooms.
In addition to mentioning the difficulty she experienced with programming, budget and attendance, Reilly noted that “writing people up for not wearing masks and not following COVID-19 policies is frustrating and exhausting” because RAs are simply enforcing rules for the health and safety of all residents, which has made it more challenging to form deeper connections with residents in a non-disciplinary capacity, especially when the consequences for not adhering to new guidelines can be severe.
When asked how well they thought Student Life has been handling the past year, Gullo highlighted the fact that “it is easy to look back on decisions made the past few months and critique them or say things could have been done better. We are not in the shoes of the people who are making decisions in the moment, and it is unfair to expect everything to be done perfectly the first time around.” She also explained that “everyone at Student Life is trying their best to do what is right for all students,” and that this is as much of a learning curve for Student Life as it has been for RAs, professors and students; therefore, it is difficult to be critical during such odd times.
Additionally, she noted Student Life has thanked RAs for their flexibility through emphasizing days off, creating RA appreciation day and assessing how comfortable RAs are performing certain tasks that are new to the job, like delivering meals to quarantine rooms, enforcing mask policies and carrying out room inspections.
“Student Life has definitely provided RAs with the platform to vent concerns; however, sometimes we feel concerns could be acted upon more,” Reilly said. Although it is clear the concerns are heard, limitations involving policymaking, finances and public health decisions compromise their suggestions. In stepping away from their opinions of student life, Gullo and Reilly shared their opinions on the changes that other departments on campus are making to accommodate for the coronavirus.
Gullo commended Chartwells on how well they have handled quarantine meals to feed students. “Canisius has actually been more accommodating than most colleges, as some institutions are requiring students to pay for quarantine meals directly out of their meal plan, or even worse, charging up to $40 per day for meals,” she said. There are several attitudes toward every decision made in the past year, and the school — already financially strained — ensures students are safe, fed and monitored without extra cost, even if it means reallocating the budget.
Reilly mentioned two campus departments in particular, explaining, “The Institute of Autism Research listened to our concerns about possibly getting the children sick, and made accommodations to conduct studies in private rooms, being understanding about volunteers self-quarantining before seeing the children and enforcing a strong mask policy.” She also mentioned how her psychology professors in particular have been understanding about students’ stress. The professors, Reilly said, have met their students’ needs regarding asynchronous meetings, flexibility with due dates and reducing the number of many discussion boards.
The testimonies of these two resident assistants reveal there is more that goes into decision-making beyond students’ desires. Many departments, clubs and faculty are involved in the process, and all Canisius faculty — including your RAs — are working to make experiences memorable while accommodating for restrictions and stressors imposed by the coronavirus.