OpinionBeing Black in Residential Life

Co-written by Ryann Williams and Jessica Jennings
Ryann WilliamsOctober 17, 20193823 min
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Photo by Mona Mirpour

When you are hired as an RA, you are told that you have a responsibility as a leader on campus and a integritous reputation to uphold. You are told that your position as an RA is a position that stays with you at every hour, in every condition. It is an honor to be selected and a heavy responsibility to accept. RAs are held to an incredibly high standard compared to the rest of their peers, and last semester we found that black RAs are held to an even higher standard. We found that in order to be black and work for Residential Life, you must be even more dedicated and compliant than your non-black counterparts. Anything less than that may result in your termination.

This past semester, Residential Life terminated two black RAs and requested the resignation of two other black RAs.

This rate of irretention seems absolutely unprecedented, and has clear racist implications. It is difficult to ignore the fact that more than half of the black RA staff was released within one year—a year following an administrative change, no less. The issue here seems to go beyond individual blunders or breaches of contract. We would be hard-pressed to believe that within one semester, four appointed RAs (two of them in their second year on staff) would be found unbefitting of their positions, and that their blackness merely be coincidence. When you look around and see four other black staff members lose their jobs, you wonder if perhaps something more insidious could be occurring.

This is not a phenomenon that is unique to Trinity. It can begin early on in our education. Across the nation, black students are subject to higher rates of suspension, expulsion and arrest in comparison to their white classmates. In fact, black students are suspended at three to four times the rate of their white peers. This discrepancy continues as we enter higher education and leadership positions. A study exploring the experiences of black male RAs in predominantly white universities finds that the black RAs in the study reported higher levels of scrutiny from their white supervisors. The black RAs in this study assert that they are held to a higher set of standards compared to their white peers, citing several examples of their fellow black peers being terminated due to “unfair and racially inconsistent enforcement of standards.” Trinity perpetuated unequal treatment of their black students in leadership positions.

Up until this point, these events have remained unbeknownst by the general Trinity population. Those we have spoken to off-handedly about the releases have been surprised and incredibly concerned by our experiences. It is advantageous to administration to keep the nature of these events under wraps. It does not speak highly of their record with black students on campus and proves to be deeply harmful to their image, which seems to be of the utmost concern.

However, there are more important issues than image. This lack of retention black RAs should not be ignored or hidden. It must be addressed and discussed for the future of black RAs, and more generally black students and staff at this university. This is not the first time Trinity has held their black students and staff to a higher standard than their white counterparts. We saw this with the termination of Stacy Davidson not long ago, an issue which was also deceptive. This speaks to a larger trend of Trinity’s deeply strained relationship with their students and staff of color. As more issues arise (and are subsequently hidden) students and staff are forced to face these incidents without any administrative accountability. This cannot continue.

Editor’s Note: For news coverage of the four black RAs who are no longer employed by Residential Life, click here.

Ryann Williams

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