With USF Housing and Residential Education facing “financial concerns” this semester after a significant drop in occupancy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the livelihood of its residential assistants (RAs) is up in the air with the department unsure of whether it can compensate RAs as it has in past semesters.
On-campus living has decreased 41 percent between this year and last year, with 57 percent occupancy for the fall 2020 semester compared to 98 percent occupancy for the fall 2019 semester, according to university spokesperson Adam Freeman. The drop in occupancy has left Housing and Residential Education with “financial implications from this pandemic” that could potentially affect its operations in the spring semester.
Due to the potential financial setbacks, Housing and Residential Education sent RAs an email on Aug. 25 stating that a meal plan is not guaranteed for the spring semester.
In the same email, RAs learned that their fall semester meal plans would be reinstated to the “Any 15” plan after RAs voiced their concerns about receiving what they considered a meal plan for students who would usually commute to campus — the “Bull Block 60” plan.
“I want to be clear with you today that this does not mean there has been any change to our financial concerns,” Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Education Julie Leos said in the email regarding the reinstatement of the Any 15 plan for RAs for the fall. “It also does not mean this or any meal plan is guaranteed for spring 2021.”
Assistant Vice President of Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez declined multiple requests sent by The Oracle to respond to the issue. Assistant Dean and Director of Residential Education Julie Leos did not respond to questions sent by The Oracle by the time of publication.
Many RAs would have suffered financially if the Bull Block 60 meal plan had been maintained for the fall semester, according to a second-year student employed as an RA who has chosen to remain anonymous due to a portion of the RA agreement that forbids communication with the media.
“It’s scary because I can afford going to the grocery store and dropping $100 every two weeks, but not all RAs can do that,” said the political science student. “I mean, I called my parents when I found out about it — the first thing my friend did [who is also an RA] was start applying for food stamps.”
A second-year student and RA, who has chosen to remain anonymous, expressed the same concerns regarding the financial security of their peers, saying that the security of food and housing through the RA position is what draws many to apply.
“It was very confusing to us that we were provided with meal plans intended for commuters when we’re on campus basically 24/7,” said the engineering student. “A lot of us take this position to lessen financial hardships, so we didn’t really understand why our leadership would do that.”
In response to initially being given the Bull Block 60 meal plan, the engineering student wrote a letter to news outlets seeking to reach a wider audience.
“Many RAs have been upset by this development considering this meal plan would only provide RAs with three and one-half meals per week over the course of a semester not taking into account the $350 allowance also provided,” the letter said.
In the 2019-2020 agreement, it was specified that RAs would receive a “partial meal plan,” which “typically” includes “15 meal swipes per week and $300 dining dollars per semester.”
However, the 2020-2021 agreement lacked any detail on what meal plan the RAs would be provided, aside from retaining the description of a “partial meal plan” from last year’s agreement.
“This rushed part of the [2020-2021] agreement neglects to specify that the ‘partial meal plan’ RAs would receive as compensation was inadequate to even provide a meal a day as compensation for willingly working on campus during a pandemic,” the letter said.
Within the four-day period where RAs thought they would be using the Bull Block 60 plan, residents caught word of RAs’ concerns as well and offered help.
“Those two days were crazy,” said the political science student. “A lot of our residents were saying that they would bring us food if we needed it.”
While their meal plans for the fall semester were reinstated to the expected Any 15 plan, some RAs remain concerned because a spring meal plan isn’t guaranteed.
However, some of the staff don’t plan on letting up as the next semester nears.
“I do know that some of the RAs are still trying to stay organized around this and hopefully secure a meal plan for next semester as well,” said the engineering student.