Residence staff at Western are compensated for their work, but this compensation doesn’t begin to cover the high cost of living on campus given the weight of their responsibilities.
While many other universities across Canada fully cover the cost of living for residence staff, Western seems to be one of the few exceptions. Queen’s University, for example, fully covers the cost of living for their resident staff; Western fails comparatively.
The 2015-16 compensation for Western residence staff rests at $6,230 for RAs and $11,700 for Dons.
Upon first glance these numbers may seem reasonable. But considering the expense of their rooms, residence staff are essentially paying out of pocket to work for the University.
Total living cost on campus for eight months (including the mandatory meal plan) can be as steep as $14,815 in Elgin Hall, the most expensive residence. For some students who aspire to be residence staff, taking on this financial burden is simply out of reach.
Comparatively, the average price for an eight-month lease in London sits at $5,200 (not including food cost).
Having residence staff that are willing to take on this financial burden reflects a deep level of commitment; but if Western makes staffing opportunities more equitable through increased compensation, they should also consider changing the vetting process to ensure students are not taking advantage of the “free ride.”
While the support of residence sophs helps build community in residence, staff have greater accountability and training for their job. The nature of their job extends beyond being a mentor and can be a heavy weight on their shoulders.
Beyond logging weekly hours of duty, residence staff are expected to have open doors at all times: They are first responders to the needs of first-year students, regardless if they are on duty or not.
The University should not overlook the importance of this first point of contact; it is often RAs or Dons who initiate or listen to difficult conversations with first-year students and affect positive change. Trained RAs and Dons who see regular patterns of behaviour from students in their dorms can do mental health check-ins. Without these figures present in residences, that touch point becomes further away for first-year students.
For a university that champions its student experience, it seems odd to not value the staff that works so hard to create that experience. Why is Western the exception in this case? The University should get on board with the rest of Canadian universities and adequately compensate the hard work that goes into this job.