AMANDA HAUSMANN ’21
Over the past few weeks, a number of Trinity Residential Assistants (RAs) have called attention to both the amount and the manner by which they are compensated for their work. Specifically, many international students who work as RAs began to take issue with this matter after they were sent an email on Sept. 17 by Trinity’s International Student Advisor Katie Clair in which she stressed that there is a specific amount of hours of RA work that every international student that is an RA must factor into their total hours worked per week. This is an important note as federal law mandates that all international students studying in the U.S. on an F-1 Student Visa are limited to working only 20 hours per week, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Many international students who have worked as RAs in the past assert that because the RA position is compensated through a yearly stipend of approximately $4,5000 per year, they were under the impression that this stipend was not divided into a weekly accumulation of hours worked. Instead, they say, they thought international students could safely work as an RA, receive their annual stipend, and additionally work up to 20 hours per week at another on-campus job.
In her Sept. 17 email Clair stated, “if you are an RA, please be aware that the hours per week of work for that position are considered to be 12 hours per week and this should be factored in to the amount of time that you can work elsewhere on campus. This is incredibly important for students to follow especially given how strict the government is regarding any potential status violations including employment violations.” In response to the confusion that many RAs expressed to Trinity’s Office of Residential Life, as well as payroll, after receiving this email, South Campus Area Coordinator Meredith Friedman sent an email on Sept. 18 stating, “for the purposes of allowing international students to work more hours at other jobs, we have lowered the RA position hours to be 10 hours a week. Your RA stipend is not affected by this.” As it stands now, international students that work as RAs are required to assign 10 of their 20 available working hours per week to their RA work. This is an issue for many students who say this will now impede on their ability to work multiple jobs on campus. International student and RA Divina Lama ’21 stated, “before applying to be an RA for this year, I was told by my older international RAs that working as an RA counted as a stipend not towards the 20 hour maximum that we have. I was under the impression that I would be able to work at other jobs and was planning on working at my two other campus jobs for around 12-15 hours per week.”
In response to this issue, some RAs met with Deans DiChristiano and Lukaskiewicz, as well as Katie Clair and Director of Residential Life Susan Salisbury on Monday, Oct. 1. In this meeting the RAs presented a document they had prepared in which they stated their qualms with this new reinforcement and proposed solutions such as increasing the stipend for RAs and changing RA compensation to a room and board grant, as is the norm at most U.S. colleges and universities. International student and RA Samia Khoder ’21 helped write and present this document in Monday’s meeting and concluded that it was a “productive meeting to an extent, there were some answers addressed to meet the short-term issues but I don’t like just knowing that things are being discussed, I want to know that something is actually going to be done.” Khoder says one point brought up in the meeting mentioned a potential study of how other NESCAC schools compensate their RAs to see what kind of changes Trinity could make to help remedy this issue. However, Khoder added, “I don’t think it should matter what Wesleyan or any other school pays their RAs’, the fact that they [Trinity administrators] acknowledged that we don’t get paid enough shows they should do something about it now. Things can be discussed for a very long time.” While presently there have not been any official changes made to RAs’ compensations, many international RAs are hopeful. Regarding what she hopes to come of these discussions Lama stated, “personally, I feel like Trinity should look at how other institutions are going about paying their international RAs because I know a lot of other schools will just cover or discount room and board or I feel like they should find a way to pay us through a stipend that doesn’t count as hours in payroll.”