Increased COVID Cases and the Reslife Hazard Pay Petition: What you Need to Know

COVID cases in Connecticut

Following an increase in COVID cases, several Residential Life student employees are petitioning for hazard pay. Here’s what you need to know:

  • On Thursday, Nov. 19, Dean Rick Culliton announced that due to a rise in COVID cases at Wesleyan, students were encouraged to leave campus as soon as possible.
  • Following this message, ResLife student staff received an email reminding staff that they are expected to “be available during emergencies to assist in assuring the safety and security of residents.” As a result, many members are expected to stay on campus until Wednesday, Nov. 25, when campus formally closes.
  • On Tuesday, Nov. 24 (that’s today!), a member of the United Student/Labor Action Coalition sent an email on behalf of numerous student workers to Fran Koerting, the Director of Residential Life. The email included a letter that argues for $250 hazard pay compensation due to the increased COVID risk involved in staying on campus. There is also a petition.

You can sign the petition here. Full text of Dean Rick’s email, the email to ResLife staff, and the email to Fran Koerting are below.


Dean Rick’s email (Nov. 19):

To the Campus Community:

I write today with an important update on Wesleyan’s operations, as we have seen a cluster of COVID-19 cases on campus in recent days. Given the community spread we see all around the country and our own new positive tests, we have determined that additional measures are needed to restrict interactions among those on campus.

Starting tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 20), those classes that were to meet in-person before Thanksgiving, will meet remotely. Faculty will be in touch with students about all relevant adjustments.

With Thanksgiving recess less than a week away, students who have received a negative result from their most recent test are advised to leave campus as soon as they are safely able to do so. Students who have not yet received the result of their most recent test should wait to travel. Students who receive a positive test result, experience any symptoms, or believe they may have been exposed to COVID in recent days should contact Health Services at 860-685-2470. Before leaving campus, students must return their keys to one of the key drop boxes (located at North College, Exley parking lot, and Admission parking lot), and follow the closing instructions.

For the safety of one’s family and home community, upon returning home, students should ideally quarantine for 14 days. However, some health authorities have recommended a four-day quarantine followed by a COVID test with negative results.

Immediately, we are implementing additional campus restrictions:

  • Gatherings are restricted to your ‘family unit.’
  • Organized athletic activities are suspended.
  • Dining is exclusively grab-and-go.
  • The libraries are closed, but contactless book pick-up is available.
  • Freeman Athletic Center remains closed.
  • Residence halls, program houses and wood-frame houses are open only to their residents.
  • Students are not to leave and return to campus other than for essential trips (e.g., to the doctor or pharmacy).

Students who have petitioned and received permission to remain on campus over break may still do so. These students are encouraged to take a test on November 24. Testing will be closed from Nov. 25–30 for Thanksgiving. If during this time, students remaining on campus become ill or are concerned about a COVID exposure, they should contact Health Services at 860-685-2470. Testing will resume on campus on December 2 and will operate on a reduced schedule: Wednesdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. All students and employees on campus will test once per week.

Cabinet members will continue to work with staff to determine positions that are needed on campus for student and faculty support and for other University needs.

As always, it is critical that everyone follow the COVID safety guidelines at all times, including mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, avoiding gatherings, and staying home when sick.

Thank you for your continued cooperation to keep our community safe. We will update you as necessary.

Sincerely,

Rick Culliton

Dean of Students

Chair, Pandemic Planning Committee

 

Email to ResLife staff from Maureen Isleib (Nov. 20):

Hey everyone,

Hopefully, you’ve all received and read the email below from Dean Rick. For those residents who are not staying over winter break, please encourage them to vacate campus as quickly and safely as they can. More importantly for people who are on campus, it’s critical that everyone be vigilant with the safety measures Dr. Tom has been repeating all semester: wear a mask, wash hands frequently and maintain 6 ft distance whenver possible. The additional measures of remote learning, grab and go meals, and not going into a residence other than one’s own will further reduce potential transmission.

If you remember from your job descriptions, there may be times that you are expected to “Be available during emergencies to assist in assuring the safety and security of residents… This means that while other students may be encouraged to vacate campus, ResLife student staff are required to remain at Wesleyan to assist in community response.”

Now more than ever, your residents need you to be a strong, calming presence in your community, and to ensure that everyone is being compliant with community expectations. If you feel that you have unique circumstances that necessitate and early departure, please check in with your area coordinator.

Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do for your residents. Despite the recent uptick in positive COVID cases on campus, most of them can be attributed to a single event, and over all Wesleyan has really done an amazing job of staying healthy. Much of this is a reflection of the work you have all been doing.

Those of you assisting with closing, I look forward to seeing you all on Wednesday.

THose of you staying after Wednesday, I hope we can continue to provide a safe environment of ryou and others staying on campus.

Everyone else, I wish you safe travels and a restful and healthy break with your families.

 

ResLife petition (Nov. 24):

Dear Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting,

We are writing to you to address the circumstances of closing for the Fall 2020 semester. As ResLife student staff, we have concerns about our safety and adequate compensation for this task during a pandemic, especially after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases on Wesleyan’s campus. For the added health and safety risk of our closing responsibilities this semester, we are asking that you grant Resident Advisors, House Managers, and Community Advisors who are working closing during the height of the pandemic in Connecticut (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/connecticut-coronavirus-cases.html) a hazard pay of $250.

The US Department of Labor defines hazard pay as “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship” (https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/wages/hazardpay). Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the implementation of “hazard pay” has expanded to include not just physically hazardous jobs, but also numerous jobs that have become dangerous due to the necessity of in-person interactions amid a public health crisis. “Essential workers” such as grocery store employees, post office workers, bus drivers, etc. encompass this recent category of worker that requires hazard pay for dangerous jobs during the pandemic –– and this includes RA’s. According to Wesleyan’s ResLife website, “While Residential Life is one of the most important offices at Wesleyan, the student staff are what give the office its heart and drive.” Thus, it goes without saying that ResLife student staff members, whose duty is to ensure safety and build community in residential halls with upwards of thirty residents, are among Wesleyan’s most “essential workers”. Further, ResLife student staff –– and RA’s especially –– are predominately BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) and FGLI (first-generation, low income) students. Wesleyan prides itself in being a progressive institution; in order to live up to these values, Wesleyan must protect its most marginalized students and its most vulnerable workers. Providing hazard pay for ResLife student staff, who are facing essential responsibilities amid Wednesday’s hazardous closing procedures, would be a concrete first step for Wesleyan to live up to these values.

Last Thursday, the Wesleyan community received an anxiety-inducing email from Rick Culliton stating a number of new restrictions. For example, “students who have received a negative result from their most recent test are advised to leave campus as soon as they are safely able to do so,” and “gatherings are restricted to your ‘family unit’ (or roommates).” Both recommendations conflict with the responsibilities we are tasked with during closing procedures: entering multiple residential spaces multiple times throughout the day, gathering with other ResLife staff outside of our family units, and potentially encountering residents who are still in the process of moving out. Also, many of us are leaving campus immediately after closing, therefore running the risk of infecting our family members we come home to after carrying out this essential hazardous work.

After receiving this alarming email and experiencing the school-wide panic that followed, ResLife staff received an email about our closing responsibilities. In particular, we were struck by the following element of the email: “If you remember from your job descriptions, there may be times that you all are expected to ‘Be available during emergencies to assist in assuring the safety and security of residents’… This means that while other students may be encouraged to vacate campus, ResLife student staff are required to remain at Wesleyan to assist in community response.” While this sentiment was indeed written into our student staff handbook, the term “emergency” is quite vague and none of the specific examples offered in the handbook include pandemic-related protocol. Also, the looseness of this statement could allow for dozens of hours of extra labor to be heaped onto the backs of the already underpaid and overworked Reslife staff without a penny in additional compensation. By signing our contracts, we agreed to be present in emergency situations, but we did not consent to being deprived of financial compensation for the health and safety risks this specific emergency situation is demanding of us. It’s important to note, too, that Reslife staff have already been required to undertake additional responsibilities – which we haven’t been paid for – in the wake of this pandemic, including enforcement of pandemic safety guidelines and helping with the exacerbated mental health concerns of residents.

Finally, we would like to raise concerns regarding our overall compensation as RAs. To put this into perspective, most universities –– at the very least –– pay residential student staff by covering the costs of room and board, and sometimes offer additional payment beyond this. In contrast, Wesleyan room and board costs $18,626 for upperclassmen, while our yearly stipends amount to a little over half of this sum: $9,787.68. The fact that the cost of room and board has increased, meanwhile the stipend that RA’s receive has not been accordingly adjusted, just goes to show that RA’s are one of the most heavily exploited campus workers. Since the pandemic, RAs have been told by residential professional staff that Wesleyan’s relative success with COVID-19 prior to this outbreak has been attributed to the essential work that RA’s carry-out. As students and essential workers at Wesleyan University, we ask that you grant us $250 hazard pay for this semester’s closing procedures as a first step in ensuring the care, equity, and protection that a progressive-identifying school should offer to its most vulnerable student workers amid this unprecedented public health crisis.

We look forward to hearing back from you by Tuesday, November, 24th at 5pm.

Sincerely,
Wesleyan University Residential Life Student Staff and concerned community members