Some DePaul resident assistants left shaken after being forced to leave housing

Unlike most students living on campus, RAs could also be losing their job.


Screenshot from

Belden Racine Hall.

Like every other DePaul student, resident advisors (RAs) received a message on the evening of March 11: Spring quarter classes would be conducted remotely and those living on campus would have to move out amid COVID-19 concerns. 

But unlike students solely living on campus, however, this email had different stakes for RAs – they could also be losing their job. 

“For residents, you’re losing housing, which is already pretty stressful, and for some [RAs], you’re losing housing as well as a source of income,” said Sara Awaleh, who was previously an RA in Clifton-Fullerton Hall and now works in Belden-Racine Hall.

While some expected it was coming, as colleges around the country had made the switch, the email was the first formal communication RAs received. 

That evening, they were thrown onto the front line – in some cases, acting as the first responders to disoriented and stressed residents. 

“It was probably the most stressful thing I’ve had to deal with as an RA this year,” Awaleh said. “… I didn’t really want to show that I was stressed out or that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going on?,’ because if you see your RA panicking then what does that mean for you?”

Forgoing concerns about their own job and housing security, RAs provided support for residents — some ordering pizza and all attempting to answer residents’ questions — despite not having many answers themselves. 

“I felt really unprepared and really shaken up by all the news,” said senior Kelly Garcia, who has been an RA for three years. “We had a bunch of residents flooding down to the lobby having very similar questions, and I think that became overwhelming because we realized that we had also weren’t told before [that] any of this was happening, so we didn’t have any answers to the residents.” 

Residential Education, the DePaul department that manages the RA program, gave the RAs the opportunity to stay, offering them two optional forms to fill out. One was a general form, for residents wanting to remain on campus, where they explained why they wanted to stay. The second form, specifically for RAs, asked why they wanted to remain an RA. 

A total of six RAs were chosen to work in the Belden-Racine dorm housing roughly 55 students since the dorms closed to most students, according to a staff member in the residential education department. Awaleh and junior Jacob Reel, who was formerly in Sanctuary Hall, are among those chosen six.

Awaleh had a lab that at the time was not cancelled, and she did not want to take it remotely. Reel cited his second job at Starbucks, although it closed recently.

Garcia, a third-year RA, was not chosen to stay. On the form, she said she detailed the fact that, as an out-of-state student, she did not have anywhere else to go. 

She also had financial concerns. Outside of being an RA, Garcia works both as a marketing specialist for DePaul’s Office of New Student Engagement and a community peacemaker. She said the university wasn’t clear at the time if those jobs would still be functioning, so she didn’t know if she would be able to afford to find a new place to stay. 

“I didn’t think I had the financial means to find a place at the same time,” she said. “That wasn’t something that I had ever planned for.”

Garcia is currently staying with a friend in Naperville as she figures out her finances and hopes to eventually find an apartment in the city. 

DePaul has said RAs who weren’t chosen or didn’t apply still get paid through May 1: an $800-per-quarter stipend distributed biweekly. They no longer receive the housing stipend or meal plan. 

Garcia said there is still confusion as to what their job will look like.  

“We haven’t gotten any information if we’re still in this position,” she said. “Are we terminated? Are we expected to do programming? It’s like, no information on that?”

For Awaleh and Reel, their RA position in their new Belden-Racine dorms look very different than what they used to. They now have to find ways to connect with the residents while practicing social distancing. Their number of residents have been cut substantially. Floor meetings are conducted via Zoom. Programming is remote. 

“What it comes down to now is trying to figure out how to facilitate community without being able to actually have a presence,” Reel said “…It’s kind of figuring out how to make people feel like they’re a part of the bigger community while still being so far away from everyone.”

Reel also said there’s less pressure. Instead of facilitating community, he said it feels like he’s there for emergencies or to connect residents with resources. 

“I almost feel like we’re in a post-apocalyptic world, like [campus] is just so dead,” he said. 

DePaul has since answered many of the questions that plagued the initial rush of residents. For Awaleh, who remains an RA, things have felt seamless since she moved into her new dorm, she said.

Both Reel and Awaleh fault a nationwide lack of preparation for the lack of answers, rather than DePaul specifically. 

“This is something completely new for everybody involved,” he said. “It’s not like they have a protocol they’re following. They’re creating the protocol in the moment.”

Awaleh said both Residential Education and Housing worked to give answers to everyone as quickly as possible. 

Garcia, however, is one of the RAs that feels DePaul should have been more transparent about the decision-making.

“We shouldn’t have been blindsided the way we were, and by we, I mean students,” she said. “What really frustrates me is that I was in a lot of spaces as a student leader, where I suppose I could have known or had more students could have known about this.”

Rod Waters, the director of Residential Education, said in an email that RAs were offered support through their Residence Directors and campus resources, like the University Counseling and the Dean of Students Office as well as multiple communications to all residents with updates. 

“The COVID-19 public health crisis remains dynamic, and university officials continue to follow guidance from governmental and health agencies,” his statement said. “…The health and safety of our community is of utmost importance as we made decisions to promote practices and behaviors to try to reduce the impact of this global pandemic.”

Waters also said Residential Education worked daily to update the COVID-19 FAQ page. 

Like residents, RAs who weren’t rehired are now struggling with the loss of community. Outside of the free housing, Garcia originally became an RA to build a community coming from out of state. And while she found it beneficial in being able to receive the news amongst friends, it was a big loss. 

”It did feel good that I was with, you know, my closest friends when that news dropped because I don’t think I don’t think it would have been really good for me had I not had that,” she said.

She’s still waiting to see what the rest of the quarter will look like.

“I’m just shocked that there hasn’t been an apology from how they handled the situation,” she said.