For three weeks, about 670 student residents in the yakʔitʸutʸu dorms had limited access to filtered water at night, so some of them resorted to drinking sink and shower water.
This came after officials locked all common rooms containing water refill stations in the yakʔitʸutʸu dorms, walling off the residential community’s primary source of hydration.
After parents, faculty and resident advisors (RAs) vocalized concerns over limited access to filtered water, housing officials announced Wednesday, Sept. 23, that the second floor common room of each dorm will be opened so residents can access drinking water in their own buildings, according to an email sent to RAs and residents of yakʔitʸutʸu.
RAs said the university’s response, which came after three weeks, took too long. RAs initially alerted housing officials about the water accessibility issue before residents arrived on campus Thursday, Sept. 3.
Limited access to water was just one of many unprecedented issues that RAs said they did not see coming. RAs said they largely felt ignored and invalidated by housing officials, since they gave little to no response and took little to no action after hearing their concerns. This comes after housing officials stacked new responsibilities on RAs this quarter, which RAs said made them the primary enforcers of coronavirus safety guidelines and created an icy relationship between them and their residents.
Mustang News spoke with several RAs working at yakʔitʸutʸu who requested their names remain anonymous, as speaking with the media violated their work contracts and they feared retaliation from the university.
“When we bring up these issues and how we are concerned about these things, they just tell us, ‘Well, they’re not actually issues and you know, you’ll be fine,’” one RA told Mustang News. “I just don’t trust housing leadership, and I don’t trust whoever is making these decisions because it really seems like there’s this mysterious person making decisions and nobody knows who it really is because nobody can actually direct us to these people.”
“I just don’t trust housing leadership, and I don’t trust whoever is making these decisions because it really seems like there’s this mysterious person making decisions and nobody knows who it really is because nobody can actually direct us to these people.”
Residents had few options to keep hydrated
Located on the southeastern-most side of Cal Poly, yakʔitʸutʸu is comprised of seven dorm buildings, each with four to five floors. On each floor in every building, common rooms serve as the primary source of drinking water for residents, as they contain a refill station that dispenses chilled filtered water. The Department of Emergency Management, which has control over how Cal Poly reopens, had all common rooms locked when residents moved in, as they were identified as possible indoor areas where social distancing rules could be violated, RAs said.
While yakʔitʸutʸu residents lugged belongings to their dorm rooms during move-in week, San Luis Obispo got as warm as 120 degrees. In terms of staying hydrated, yakʔitʸutʸu residents had few options. They could walk to a touch-operated water refill station outside the residential community’s welcome center. They could also check out a key from the Welcome Center’s front desk to access a common room and get filtered water, but only between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekends.
That system restricted access to drinking water for residents, leaving them with few options to stay hydrated at night and in the early morning. The Welcome Center area also became a concentrated location for person-to-person contact, either at the outdoor touch-operated water refill station or at the center’s front desk, RAs said.
However, the Welcome Center and most dorm buildings are located on opposite sides of yakʔitʸutʸu, so many residents did not want to spend extra time trying to get clean drinking water. Ever since move-in week, RAs said they heard directly from residents that they were drinking shower water from their bathrooms or sink water located in communal laundry rooms.
When Vice President of Housing Jo Campbell heard of these concerns during a virtual meeting with Housing personnel on Friday, Sept.18 — that students were drinking water from sinks and showers — she questioned whether it was a valid concern and went on to say that she herself drinks water from her bathroom sink every day, implying that it would be fine for residents to do the same, people familiar with the meeting told Mustang News.
Mustang News reached out to Campbell for comment but was directed to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier. Lazier wrote in an email that University Housing is in regular communication with residents and RAs and seeks to “further adjust to create the safest and most comfortable and supportive living and working situations possible.”
When housing officials brush off RAs and dismiss their concerns, it cuts deep since RAs are “out on the front lines” and see firsthand the issues that residents are dealing with, RAs said.
“It’s something that sometimes we feel really gaslit and invalidated by housing because they’re telling us these aren’t issues when we’re bringing them up,” one RA said. “It’s like any reasonable person who hears what’s going on would also agree with us.”
“It’s something that sometimes we feel really gaslit and invalidated by housing because they’re telling us these aren’t issues when we’re bringing them up.”
The Department of Emergency Management granted permission to University Housing last week to unlock second floor common rooms, so yakʔitʸutʸu residents could have access to drinking water without having to leave their buildings. RAs said they were glad, but they said they could not ignore how long it took for progress to be made on such a simple issue.
“I don’t think it should take letters from faculty members or meetings with RAs over a couple of weeks and emails and calls from parents who are supporting their children and their students,” one RA said. “It’s just frustrating and it definitely feels like we’re not being listened to.”
Contradictions in COVID-19 safety policy
University Housing’s solution to this water issue means that student residents who do not live on the second floor of their dorm buildings will have to leave their floor to get filtered water. However, this is in direct violation of a standing rule University Housing has for student residents during the pandemic: They are not allowed to go to floors they do not reside in, RAs said.
RAs said they also encountered contradictions in COVID-19 safety policy that increased confusion among everyone living in yakʔitʸutʸu. At the beginning of move-in, protocols for enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines were changing daily, and RAs said they did not receive adequate answers from supervisors and housing officials.
They had many questions, including what to do when residents do not wear masks or how to break up large gatherings of up to 60 people, RAs said. Other times, they said they received information from direct supervisors that conflicted with what they learned during RA training.
“It was hard because we weren’t totally sure who to be listening to,” one RA said. “You know, who do we listen to, our direct supervisor or do we listen to like what the housing leadership over Zoom was telling us?”
Several RAs said training was inadequate since it consisted of six short modules in a Canvas course they completed in four to five days. Housing officials did not offer any hands-on training despite RAs’ jobs being completely in person, and there was only one COVID-related section of training despite COVID-related issues making up the most of what RAs currently deal with, RAs said.
Mounting responsibilities took RAs by surprise
Even though a line in their contracts said they are mandated to perform additional duties as assigned, RAs said they did not anticipate having to break up large gatherings of up to 100 people crowded on either the yakʔitʸutʸu lawn, volleyball court or other outdoor spaces. RAs also said they did not know they would have to deliver food to residents placed in quarantine inside their rooms due to a possible interaction with students who tested positive for the coronavirus.
That lack of communication from housing officials can be unsafe for RAs, one RA said. When they are on call for rounds, which refers to walking around dorm buildings to check resident safety, they are not notified about floors that are currently under quarantine in place following possible exposure to the coronavirus.
RAs said they heard that the first floor of tsɨtqawɨ, a dorm building in yakʔitʸutʸu, was under quarantine. However, RAs said they received no official notification from housing officials, and the people on call for rounds went about their “usual business” and were “unaware” of the potential coronavirus exposure on that floor.
“We are responsible to responding to situations throughout the community, so it’s something that we should be made aware of,” one RA said. “It’s not acceptable that they’re not making us aware of all the floors of the building that are quarantined.”
With having to police residents more this quarter than any other, RAs said they are noticing an icy relationship start to form with residents.
“It’s hard when my only interaction with my residents, for the most part, has been telling them to put their masks on and to social distance,” one RA said. “Housing, expecting us to do both, is pretty unrealistic because there’s kind of a negative sentiment when you’re being the mask police. People don’t like really being told, ‘Go put your mask on’ — and that’s all they think of RAs.”
For the last three weeks, RAs said they have been exhausted between having to enforce safety guidelines, attempting to build community and advocating for residents to housing officials. Stress, frustration, burnout and exhaustion — RAs said a combination of those four things tear away at their mental health.
One RA said after all that, it is impossible to then focus on academics.
“When the emotions of the RAs aren’t taken care of and aren’t taken into consideration or they are severely abused and neglected, we are not able to then take care of anybody else’s emotions and it affects our floors,” another RA said.
Several RAs said that regardless of how fluid the situation currently is, housing officials should have been better prepared for this quarter given they had a whole summer to figure out how to reopen Cal Poly. They also said that RAs are not given enough information and resources to better inform themselves and their residents to ensure safety. Inadequate communication has led to confusion over protocol and the new tasks related to enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines has put more stress on their shoulders, RAs said.
The least housing officials can do is listen to their concerns, RAs said.
“There have been situations where it’s just frustrating with housing,” one RA said. “They’re not the ones like living this, like they’re all remote. They check in for their meetings or whatever whenever they do, but they’re not the ones that are enforcing these policies and they’re not on the frontlines. They’re just like sitting back is like how I like to think of it.”