Tuesday, October 15

Housing administrators must give front-desk staff more in-depth training

Don’t be fooled ““ UCLA residence halls might look and feel like hotels, but their front desk services are hardly Hiltonesque.

After living on the Hill for two years, I am sorry to report that the front desks are only good for trash bags, toilet paper and room keys. I ““ and many others ““ have had poor experiences with the front desk personnel, ranging from their inability to cope with urgent medical situations to inaccurate answers to questions about everyday life on the Hill.

Despite their proximity, the front desks seem troublingly disconnected from the rest of UCLA Housing Administration, and I witnessed a prime example of this detachment.

At the end of the summer quarter, I had a medical emergency that prevented me from moving out on time, so I went to the Sproul Hall front desk to see if I could pay for an extended stay. I was quickly told that there was “no way” anyone could stay for more than one extra night because the building was to be cleaned.

I found this absurd (and I was desperate to stay until I was well enough to fly home), so I went to the adjacent housing administration office. At first, they directed me back to the front desk, and after shuttling between the two places, I finally found out that a stay over was not only possible, but indeed quite common.

The fact that the Sproul front desk, even the manager, was unaware of this implies, frighteningly enough, that some of the employees were unaware of students living in the building during the stay-over period. Were they under the impression that they were simply guarding an empty building? Did they not wonder about the people like myself using the elevators, or why there were access monitors at night?

Maria Chiara Ventura, an international summer student, also had trouble with the front desk when she tried to help a fellow international student get medical attention. International students cannot use the Ashe Center due to insurance restrictions, but that’s exactly where the desk employees directed them.

While she appreciated their willingness to help, Ventura said “they were lacking key information on the arrangements of summer session students … and suggested the wrong medical facility.” Many of the summer session students in Sproul Hall are visiting international students like Ventura.

She added, “Had I not insisted on checking, they would have sent my friend to the wrong place and she would have had to pay a lot of money.”

Kevin Wu, a third-year mathematics student, and his roommates were unable to enter their room late one night because their key reader was jammed, so they called the front desk.

“They basically said there was nothing they could do about it until maintenance was open,” he said. “That was it. They didn’t tell us what to do; they just told us to wait. … (They) didn’t really give us any options.”

According to Ben Sangthongkum, a third-year sociology and international development studies student who has worked at the De Neve-Dykstra front desk for three months, front desk workers only receive about one to two hours of training, none of which is medical.

“The only type of emergency training we actually get is for fire alarms, in terms of how to respond to (them), and not how to help people,” he added.

Instead, he said, training involves completing reception-like tasks such as answering phone calls, running the cash register and checking out room keys.

It seems that the front desk workers are simply the minions of a system that has been inadequately designed ““ students come to the front desk with countless inquiries, and many front desk employees do not have the answers.

Since the front desk system isn’t new, administrators should know what to expect from residents. Answers to frequently asked questions are already compiled on the Housing Web site so employees can use it as a valuable source of information.

Additionally, front desk workers should have routine meetings with their managers to discuss how things could have gone better in previous situations and get answers to questions they couldn’t answer.

Until administrators better equip the front desks, students will have to be resourceful and rely upon each other to solve both pressing and everyday problems.

Front desk turn its back on you? E-mail Nijhawan at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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