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RAs to replace House Managers in interest houses

On Thursday, January 2, the Office of Residential Life sent out an email to all Residential Peer Leaders informing them that Residential Assistants (RAs) will replace the role of House Managers beginning in Fall 2020. Currently, each interest house’s House Manager is chosen by residents or by offices associated with the interest house when students apply to live there. Although House Managers have historically been supervised by Area Directors, this decision will alter the training process for Residential Peer Leaders and broaden Residential Life’s role in interest houses.

Why the change? “It’s a way to streamline processes to create more consistency across campus housing,” said Tanya Hartwig, Associate Director for the Office of Residential Life (ResLife).

ResLife’s plan is to spend the next term integrating this change into the current RA hiring process for Fall 2020. Hartwig noted, “There won’t be an RA in every house, so it’ll operate similarly to how Geffert, Allen, Prentice, and Wilson operate now. It’ll be more likely that there is an RA that oversees a couple houses.” Other adjustments include a change to Area Director supervision and greater access to RA resources that House Managers haven’t had in the past.

Hartwig acknowledged some of the questions that might arise during this process. “We want to make sure that we very much honor the identities, the themes, and the interests of all of the houses, and so our hope is that through the process we will be able to find people who are excited and passionate about the different interest areas that will serve in those areas.”

Hartwig further stated that she hopes that anyone who is looking to provide leadership in one of the interest house communities will consider applying for the RA position by communicating that during the interview process.

Brisa Zubia, Director for the Office of Intercultural and International Life (OIIL), said that she was optimistic about ResLife’s decision, noting that there has been good communication between both offices. In the past, OIIL has conducted interviews with students for the House Manager position, with an Area Director present during the hiring process as well.

Zubia noted, “We do target and work very closely with our domestic students of color and our international student population, which tend to be the students who apply to live in these houses. As much as ResLife supports all students as well as we do, they understand that they wouldn’t necessarily know who comes to our OIIL talks, who’s on our Cultural Programming Board, who’s in the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), who’s in Black Student Alliance, and all of our organizations.”

Zubia also said that OIIL was previously trying to decide on a way to enhance the position of House Manager, because House Manager training was “less than was being offered to RAs.”

Some students have reacted to the news with confusion and concern. Zoe Pharo ’21, a student living in Farm House, said “The challenge I see with this change is that we have a separate application process, so we decide on everyone who comes into the house as a community.” While there are still questions about how this change will impact individual houses, Pharo noted that combining the Farm application with the RA application would be important.

Another important piece of the House Manager role at Farm and other interest houses, such as Wellstone House of Activism (WHOA) and Carleton Association of Nature and Outdoor Enthusiasts (CANOE), is that people who assume the House Manager role have traditionally lived in the house for a number of years and observed the living patterns of their peers.

Jacob Isaacs ’20, a House Manager for WHOA, had similar thoughts. He stated, “I think when it’s a matter of students’ identities and experiences, that’s something that students should have a say in, especially with houses that are an alternative to the dorms. I think students should be able to decide for themselves.”

Isaacs added that programming, assigning chores and accepting students into houses requires someone with “knowledge of their institutional memory.” In the past, the House Manager position has been a way to mediate that. Isaacs further noted that for cultural and religious housing, basing someone’s eligibility for an RA position on their identity could lead to profiling and tokenizing.

Emma Goidel ’20, a former RA who considered applying to interest houses, expressed some concern over the decision. She said, “The role of the RAs is to make sure everyone’s safe and included, and I think those things would carry over. But I’m more concerned about the upper-level ResLife having a stake in an interest house.” Goidel further explained, “I think when someone makes an active choice to be in an interest house, they don’t need extra authority. I think the dynamics would change.”

Pharo, Isaacs and Goidel also agreed that more training for Residential Peer Leaders could be valuable, but questions still remain over how this process will be facilitated and who will be consulted. Communication between students and ResLife has been limited, although offices associated with interest houses, including OIIL, the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) and the Chaplain’s Office, have felt well-informed. Isaacs noted that the decision was not communicated with his housemates, and that ResLife should prioritize communication with the entire Carleton community.

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