Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh
In March of 2019, then-juniors Kievan Boudreaux-Bostic, Jessica Jennings, Simone Washington and Ryann Williams were offered positions with Residential Life for the 2019-2020 school year. By mid-May, none of those four students still had the offer of resident assistants (RA). The situations for each of the students were unique. The common factor? All of the students are black.
Of the four 2019-2020 appointments, two were terminated and two ended in resignation. Each student was given a written confirmation of the termination of their contracts by Deb Tyson, director of ResLife.
Now-senior Boudreaux-Bostic had been an RA since he was hired the summer after his first year at Trinity. Prior to his final termination, Boudreaux-Bostic had been put on probation once before as an RA for being kicked out of an intramural basketball game and because one of his residents said she didn’t feel comfortable talking to him.
However, Boudreaux-Bostic was terminated this past spring because he was arrested and charged by the Olmos Park Police for possession of marijuana.
“When I got out of jail, the residential life staff was very friendly and seemed genuinely concerned for my well being. I understood that due to these circumstances, I’d probably be fired,” Boudreaux-Bostic wrote over email.
According to the contract all RAs sign at the start of their employment, termination is effective immediately if there are any incidents of gross misconduct or if there are violations of ResLife or university policies.
Boudreaux-Bostic explained that ResLife staff told him they would look at his case to make a final decision on his status as an RA. Though Boudreux-Bostic wasn’t surprised by the termination, he explained that the handling of the process was unexpected.
“Throughout the whole process, [Tyson] had been very encouraging and uplifting, however that had disappeared,” Boudreaux-Bostic wrote.
According to Boudreaux-Bostic, Tyson gave him a letter of termination that included language describing him as not a man of character or leadership and that he needed to work on himself in those areas.
“I have held leadership positions in football. I am the president of the [Black Student Union]. I have held down two jobs for the entirety of college,” Boudreaux-Bostic wrote. “Somehow … I now had a flawed character and was unfit to lead. I took personal offense to that.”
For senior Washington, the situation was different. When she accepted the position of RA in March, it was her first time as a member of the ResLife staff. Unlike Boudreaux-Bostic, Washington was not terminated; rather, she resigned in May, after signing the ResLife contract but before her official appointment began.
“This occurred as a result of nearly constant pressure from campus administrators displeased with my speaking out against a practice I thought ineffective, headed by the dean of students,” Washington wrote over email.
Washington explained that last year, a friend of hers suffered multiple difficult mental crises. She believes Trinity’s process for addressing those crises left her friend feeling isolated and unheard. Washington contacted a trusted campus administrator about what she described as as an inept handling of situations concerning student support by David Tuttle, dean of students. Later, she was told she had insulted the senior official.
This occurred after Washington had signed the RA contract, so Tyson was considered Washington’s supervisor. Tyson requested that Washington apologize to Tuttle to ensure a professional relationship. Though Washington didn’t intend to apologize to Tuttle, she requested to meet with him, provided that a third party attend. Tuttle declined the invitation. Eventually, Washington’s case made its way to Sheryl Tynes, vice president for Student Life.
Washington provided the Trinitonian with an email sent to her by Tynes after they met to discuss the situation.
“As an RA, you will be an employee of the university, and it is essential that you follow university policy and protocol in carrying out your duties. It is also critical for you to maintain professional and respectful relationships with the administrators with whom you will work. It is for this reason you were asked to meet with Dean Tuttle to apologize and discuss a path forward for rebuilding trust,” Tynes wrote in the email.
In the same email, Tynes explained that because of Washington’s expression of commitment to operating within ResLife expectations, she and Tyson decided not to rescind Washington’s RA contract. Despite this, Washington decided to resign.
“I made the decision to resign from my position because it was not an environment I felt comfortable working in. Instead of addressing the core of the issue — the processes in place to care for students that have suffered severe mental health crises — I was met with defensiveness, my position used as leverage, and my attempts at reconciliation were denied,” Washington wrote. “I stand by my decision to resign and belief that higher-ups are not above reproach by virtue of their being higher-ups.”
Senior Jennings explained she resigned under pressure from ResLife. In an informal email sent to Jennings before her official meeting with Tyson, housing assignments coordinator, Michael Logan suggested Jennings resign after being on ResLife staff since the end of her sophomore year.
“I don’t want to leave you guessing about anything, so I am just going to be forthright about my opinion. Based on how much stress this job has caused, my advice would be that you choose not to return to staff next year,” Logan wrote in the email.
In April, senior Williams’s 2019-2020 appointment was rescinded due to behavior that was not in line with the RA contractual agreement. At the same time, her 2018-2019 position was suspended.
Williams provided the Trinitonian with the official letter of her termination sent by Tynes, which was described as a rescission of her appointment.
“Ryann, while it is understood that you were under a great deal of stress and strain, your failure to act in accordance with the training and expectations set forth regarding your role as a Resident Assistant has left me with serious concerns regarding your judgment during critical situations,” Tyson wrote in the letter.
When Residential Life staff members hire students to fill the positions of RA, they do not take race into account.
“We don’t ask people to identify racially or by gender or to pick a category,” said Tyson. “We don’t ask students to bring that to the table. We ask them to bring to the table their skills, their talents, their commitment to leadership. Some diversity is obvious and some diversity is not obvious.”
According to Tyson, ResLife aims to reflect the demographics of the greater campus, but there is no objective process to aid with this.
“Residential Life seeks to hire, train, supervise and support a diverse and vibrant leadership team, and we believe that we do that with intentionality and respect for the uniqueness of individuals,” Tyson said.
Despite this, ResLife doesn’t collect the demographics of their employees.
“We interview every single person, and so we know from our introductions to students who they are, or who they choose to present to us in that process,” Tyson said. “What really kind of differentiates candidates is maturity, like are they ready?”
Ultimately, Tyson denies that senior ResLife staff members acted unprofessionally during any of the situations.
“All I can say is that all resignations last year were by choice and not affiliated with any performance or contract-related concerns,” Tyson wrote in a follow-up email.
Tynes were unavailable for comment; Tuttle declined to comment. Most of the communication between the former RAs and the ResLife staff happened verbally, and the students received a physical copy of an official letter of dismissal.
Williams and Jennings wrote a column regarding their experience.
| Class of 2020 | Major: English