Working in a pandemic, community assistants face a slate of new challenges

By Tatyanna Carman

many employed persons worldwide and Rider University is no exception.

Being a community assistant (CA) on campus has changed as a result of the pandemic and that change came with some new troubles, according to senior communication studies major Giavanna Troilo, a CA in Ziegler-Moore Hall.

“There are a lot of new policies we have to enforce in the halls. The biggest issue we have been having is specific residents who consistently do not wear their masks,” Troilo said. “My staff always has to tell some of our residents to wear masks or wear them correctly.”

Troilo said that enforcing the coronavirus policies is “difficult at times,” especially around differing opinions when it comes to the coronavirus guidelines.

“I have residents who feel strongly about all of their floormates adhering strictly to the guidelines, while elsewhere in the building, there are residents who I often see without their masks,” she explained. “I never know how people are going to respond when I tell them to wear their masks, but regardless of opinions, these policies are in the housing contract they signed.”

However, Associate Dean of Residence Life Roberta Butler said that to her knowledge, “staff have not had difficulty enforcing the policies.”

“Students who are not opting to follow the policies are addressed by staff for compliance. Residence Life continues to remind students about the policies through various means,” Butler said.

Senior musical theater major Tessa Douglas is a former CA who resigned her position on Aug. 12. She made this decision because she did not feel 100% safe returning to campus.

“While I know there are policies in place and Residence Life would have done the very best to ensure my safety, there still was a chance that I would be put in an unsafe situation,” Douglas said. “Rider is making their best effort to ensure all students are committed to their Ready and Resolved plan, however, there is always a slight uncertainty that all students are in fact following the guidelines and working to protect others. Ultimately, I felt that it was in my best interest to put my health and well-being first.”

She also said that another factor that led to her decision was “the number of people deciding to return to the position.”

“Throughout my years as a community assistant, I have made lifelong friends, and to hear how they were not returning most certainly made me question my original decision,” Douglas said. “To tie it in a little bow, a few days before I sent the letter, my grandpa was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia. While I would have loved to be on campus to support my Rider family and my Residence Life family through this unprecedented time, I needed to be at home supporting and caring for my family.”

Butler said that the residence halls are fully staffed with CAs this semester, based on the smaller residential housing capacity.

“Some CAs chose not to return to campus this fall because their classes were fully remote,” Butler said.

In contrast, Troilo said that Residence Life has “definitely lost staff,” but for no other reason than “uncertainty about the semester as a whole.”

Douglas explained when she was a CA in Lake House, it was heartbreaking to “watch as friends said goodbye to each other and leave campus,” when asked about her experience during the start of the pandemic and if she was under more pressure.

“I just moved into Lake House after Omega House was closed in December, so it was a lot. Also, because I was the first line of communication with residents, even after I was ‘released’ from my position did I receive texts and calls from residents such as coordinating move-out times and dates,” she said. “I always responded and coordinated with the Community Director of Lake House. Additionally, I had control of the Lake House Instagram so I was fielding questions from incoming residents as well as keeping up the social media presence.”

Troilo shared that she was concerned about her freshman residents and their residential experience living alone.

“As a freshman, I felt alone often even with a roommate, and so I’ve been worried about the loneliness factor for them with socially-distanced room placement,” she said. “But many of my residents seem to be having a positive and connected experience.”

Troilo also said that CAs had some staffing issues as a result of a new housing form, which resulted in some CAs getting “moved around.”

“Ziegler-Moore usually has six CAs, we were supposed to have five this semester, but one of us got moved and now there’s four of us,” Troilo said. “As a result, some staff have more residents than usual, but with reduced capacity, a lot of us also have fewer residents than usual.”

Both Douglas and Troilo gave advice to other CAs.

Douglas complimented the creativity of the programs that CAs are putting together and said to “take care of yourself.”

Troilo said, “Set boundaries with your residents and leave time for yourself when you need to. I know that I’ve had to work on this plenty, because our CA hat never comes off. When we see residents on campus, we’re never just fellow tired students, we’re always CAs. But it’s absolutely necessary to set boundaries and communicate them. I don’t know that we’re encouraged to do that enough. We’re students first and foremost.”

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