By Mel Gilcrest ‘19
On Thursday, April 13th, the Scripps student body received an email from the Scripps Residential Advisor team declaring the RAs’ intention to go on strike effective immediately. The initial email began by outlining sources of non-RA support for students, including Campus Safety, the maintenance department, Health Education Outreach, Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, and other resources.
The RAs asked that students “refrain from exploiting [their] absence by engaging in unsafe behavior given that RAs will not be on-call,” and urged for “Scripps students, faculty, and staff with the capacity to provide emotional support...to do so in solidarity with RAs.”
The RAs released a detailed list of demands in conjunction with their initial email to the student body. The document was addressed to President Lara Tiedens, outlining the reasons for the strike, the demands being made, and the context and motivation for each demand. The reasons cited for the strike included administrative neglect, the undue demands placed on students (especially after the death of fellow RA Tatissa Zunguze in March 2017), lack of sufficient financial aid, and lack of mental health resources on campus.
According to the document, “The purpose of the strike is: 1) to put pressure on Scripps to fulfill its obligation to students 2) to demonstrate the extent of the labor we perform on campus and 3) to break with our normal routine in recognition of the impact of Tatissa’s passing and illustrate our frustration with Scripps’ continued inaction.”
The document lists five demands, requesting that “a timeline with actionable steps be presented...no later than April 20th.” The letter attests to the urgency and validity of each demand in turn.
In the first demand, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Charlotte Johnson is described as having “shown that she is incapable of acting in an appropriate manner during crisis,” citing instances both before and after Tatissa Zunguze’s death when Johnson failed to adequately support students and RAs; the letter describes how Johnson was not available to meet with RAs after the tragedy, and “expected Residential Life staff to promptly return to work two weeks or sooner after the death of their co-worker and friend, without checking to see if the staff was ready to return to their roles.”
Without giving names or exact dates, the letter details other instances of Dean Johnson’s neglect of student affairs, citing one instance of an RA diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness and unable to eat in the dining hall who waited three months for Johnson “to find a sustainable and accessible accommodation” and who was “unable to receive remuneration for their work due to a disability” as RAs are paid in room and board.
On the second demand, the document declares that “Scripps College states that it will support the demonstrated financial needs of all students; however, several students have been forced to terminate their enrollment at this institution due to 1) financial aid that does not adjust to annual increases in tuition or to changes in a student’s family’s financial circumstances and 2) inadequate information about their financial aid packages prior to and during enrollment.” It goes on to discuss anonymous cases in which students who sought additional funding to support their tuition payments were met with a decrease in financial aid offered by Scripps.
The third demand discusses a lack of coherent emergency plans in response to the various incidents that have left students feeling unsafe on campus. The letter cites “multiple cases where students’ names, identity, location, emails, and other contact information have been leaked by the Claremont Independent and other media sources to outside parties that proceeded to threaten the life and safety of Scripps students,” attesting that the Scripps administration claimed they could do nothing in response. The letter also cites lack of preparedness and tact after the death of Tatissa Zunguze, claiming that “the college disrespectfully informed the student body using insensitive language, as well as displaying a distressing inability to provide concrete ways of supporting affected students.”
Demand four takes issue with the intense emotional and physical requirements of the Scripps RA position, detailing the many unnecessary and unjust actions the Scripps RAs must perform in order to police their fellow students, and discussing how lack of adequate financial aid sometimes forces students to take on the RA position despite the enormous demands of the position and lack of administrative support.
Demand five outlines the insufficiency of mental health support on campus, a sentiment echoed in the Harvey Mudd sit-in on April 12. Currently, Monsour Counseling only offers 8 sessions a year, and while students who seek off-campus therapy may petition for a co-pay subsidy from the Dean of Students office, the letter states that the administration can “cover only up to $75” even though “therapists in the Claremont area can cost up to $175 a session.”
On April 13, after the list of demands was released, the 2016-2017 and 2017- 2018 Scripps Associated Students Boards released a statement of “solidarity and loving support” with the RAs.
The following day, the Office of the President issued a response from President Tiedens, expressing that she is “disappointed that the RAs have chosen this method of engaging the administration, despite our ongoing attention to issues of financial aid, residential life, and mental health, and our good faith efforts to be accessible, responsive, and supportive.”
On April 14, The Student Life published a brief article from the Editorial Board “In Solidarity with Scripps RAs.” That following Sunday, April 16, the Scripps College Admission Ambassador Team (AAT) sent an email to the Scripps student body declaring that they were “taking action to support the Resident Advisor (RA) Team in their strike” by using their guided tours “as a platform to share with prospective students and families the toxic and frustrating climate that Scripps has created and perpetuates against marginalized students.”
The Scripps RAs responded with an email thanking students for “the enormous amount of support we’ve received,” asking that the student body boycott Dean Johnson’s office hours on Monday the 17th and inviting students to reach out with “concerning stories about their interactions with Dean Johnson and the DOS department overall.”
The RAs also expressed concern over “the Scripps administration’s decision to hire outside security guards during the RA strike,” claiming that the action “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of student needs and of the RA role...which had the effect of frightening students and in no way represents our work on campus.”
An email from Associate Dean Sam Haynes on the 15th had clarified that “the additional staff is assigned to monitor the perimeter of the residence halls and to act quickly if there should be a high-level emergency.”
On April 17, the Scripps Resident Advisor Staff of 2017- 2018 sent an open letter to President Tiedens, the Scripps administration, and the Scripps student body, affirming their support of the 2016-2017 RA team and their strike. The 2017- 2018 team declared that though “we are not RAs yet, but we can speak to personal experience with the demands that the 2016- 2017 RAs have made. Some of the members of the 2017-2018 team depend on financial aid to stay at Scripps, and some of us have been personally impacted by poor treatment at Monsour. In addition, the RAs are demanding improvements to the position of the RA, and we value their efforts as they will directly and significantly affect our lives in the upcoming year.”
Statement from the Editors:
We, the Editorial Board of The Scripps Voice, declare our solidarity with the Residential Advisor staff in their protest against the administration. We believe that while reporting is our primary mission on campus, the paper--as well as the students who create it---have a duty to support all ethical efforts to radically improve the lives of 5C students, especially those who have been uniquely affected by actions and inactions of the administration. TSV stands in support of marginalized students on all campuses in their actions against racism, ableism, sexism, and institutional violence.