Students involved with Hill administration said they could be fired at any time for anything they say or do. If they were to get fired, they would have a few days to move out of on-campus housing.
They said this fear is one reason why they were afraid to speak up when administrators rewrote the Hill’s student government constitution over the summer without consulting students.
Administrators violated the On-Campus Housing Council Resident Government Constitution, eliminating roughly seven positions per Resident Government Council and reducing student representation from roughly 10 elected, stipended representatives per building to three. The seven positions were replaced with three new hourly paid programming assistant positions. Unlike the former positions, programming assistants are not elected but are appointed by Residential Life, the administrative entity responsible for advising and programming on the Hill.
Josh O’Connor, Residential Life assistant director of leadership and involvement, said in an emailed statement the OCHC constitution has not changed this year. He contradicted this statement, however, and added that constitutional changes were made with student input.
“Changes to the constitution were made in consultation with presidents, treasurers, other resident government council members and pro staff over the past few years,” O’Connor said in the email. He did not respond to a request to disclose their names.
He did not respond to a request to detail why these changes were made.
Students involved with Residential Life said they were not consulted about the change. Residential Life student employees and officers who spoke to the Daily Bruin asked to remain anonymous because they were concerned for their job security. They have been given false first names to preserve their anonymity and for clarity.
A New System
Ben, a resident assistant, said he found out about the changes early August at Resident Assistant training.
“It kind of seemed like it was broken to everyone then, not only the RA staff but also the association, the resident government council,” Ben said. “They were kind of blindsided.”
Ben added he believed no students were consulted in the changes.
“We were pretty much told ‘This is the new system,’ and not ‘Hey, this a proposal that we’re thinking of doing, do you have any comments or suggests?’” Ben said.
Alex, a student involved with Residential Life, added he also had no idea how the new positions were developed.
“The (RGC) applications come out and I’m like, ‘Well this is nothing like what it was last year,’” Alex said. “It’s completely revamped.”
George, a student involved with Residential Life, said administrators told students the changes were based on input from prior years.
“They’re using that input as validation for making these changes, even though these changes are so drastic and out of the question if you look at what input they actually got,” George said.
Alex said he thinks Residential Life is resistant to change, despite what professional staff may say.
“They’ll load you up with the It’s for the students, by the students,’” Alex said. “But in all honesty, if you actually try to implement something … it’s always repeatedly blocked by admin.”
Alex added he strongly believes administrators made the changes because they believe no student would eliminate positions or change pay structure, but also because no one else could make the change so anonymously.
“No student would do that and get away with it,” Alex said. “Only admin could get away with that.”
Betsy, a student involved with Residential Life, said she also believed the change came from administrators.
Alex, Ben, George and Betsy independently said they believed O’Connor played a significant role in making the changes.
Ben said he believed O’Connor is responsible for the changes because student governance on the Hill is under his purview as assistant director of leadership and involvement, which oversees student government.
“Not to throw this one person under the bus, but this is literally his part of ResLife,” Ben said.
Ben said students are denied requests such as funding for programming or new positions because of actions Residential Life perceives as dissent.
“Next time you have a funding proposal, you won’t get it. Next time you want to apply to be a president or RA, you won’t get it,” Ben said. “It’s really intimidating when they have so much power.”
George said he thinks no one is able to hold Residential Life accountable for the roughly $13,000 in student housing dues because of intimidation by administrators.
“Every single one of them is afraid to be blacklisted. Every single one of them is afraid of other repercussions. Every single one of them feels like they don’t have the power or the time or any of the resources to tackle the big issues on campus,” George said.
Blacklisting refers to ResLife withholding future resident assistant or OCHC positions from students who speak out against Residential Life.
O’Connor said as long as students meet basic employment eligibility requirements, they are considered for all positions to which they apply.
Alex, Ben, George and Betsy also said they were fearful of speaking out because O’Connor and Residential Life professional staff could fire them or block all their future programming.
George said professional staff have told students who want to become resident assistants their interactions with professional staff could impact their chances of advancing within Residential Life.
“They say, ‘Yes, the ResLife (professional) staff get to know you, but that could be a bad thing,’” George said.
Alex said anyone who speaks against Residential Life can be removed by professional staff and denied future positions. He added Residential Life implicitly uses future positions to incentivize students to cooperate.
“Like, ‘Hey if you don’t listen to us, we’ll blacklist you.’ Or, ‘Hey if you do something different from what we say, or speak out against us then we’ll fire you’ type of thing,” Alex said. “As unfortunate as that is, it’s the truth.”
Alex added he believes for a fact students resign, are forced to resign or are fired because they take stances that conflict with Residential Life, especially those contrary to projects spearheaded by O’Connor.
Justin Jackson, the former OCHC president and a fourth-year political science student, said he was forced to resign from the presidency due to clashes with Residential Life professional staff, including O’Connor.
“The backbone of ResLife is the paid professional staff,” Jackson said. “You don’t only get students that are elected to these institutions, you also get professional staff that has a very large stake in making sure they remain the advisor of (entities within Residential Life).”
Jackson added O’Connor said he would be fired if he did not resign.
“How do you fire someone from student government? That’s the catch-22 with (professional) staff,” Jackson said. “You’re held accountable to them instead of to the students.
Jackson also added professional staff took over many student chairing roles from within OCHC committees after his departure, including the programming board.
George said administrators want the benefits of student government, but do not want to respect its sovereignty. They added the fear of professional staff makes it difficult to make serious reforms or to speak out on issues.
“They want the advocacy that comes from RGC, but without the oversight and accountability that comes with it,” George said.
Betsy said the short terms of student government officers limit their ability to make meaningful changes to the constitution.
“We get one term and then we’re off to being RAs or somewhere else on campus, so it’s never enough time for us to get together to revise the structure of the constitution,” Betsy said.
Alex said he was concerned that people who do not interact with students on a daily basis and do not live in the residential halls were making decisions on behalf of Hill student government.
Ben said it bothers him, as a resident and a student, that student government was changed without consulting students.
“It just seems hypocritical that you could call this a student government, a resident government, when you completely cut them out of the equation,” Ben said.