“You’ll have 28 hours to contact all of your new residents.” This was one of the only instructions given to Cal Poly resident advisors in an email from University Housing on April 9th at 11:08 am. They were tasked with reaching out to all of their new residents with only the Cal Poly directory at their help. After it was understood who was staying on campus, the next step was the migration. All students and resident advisors had to move out of the dorms and into either Poly Canyon Village or the Cerro Vista apartments on the opposite side of campus.
Electrical engineering sophomore and resident advisor Weston Fitzgerald decided to continue working as a Resident Advisor instead of returning to his hometown, Palmdale Calif. Over the course of three weeks and multiple Zoom interviews, Fitzgerald discussed the challenge of balancing personal safety, school, and work while receiving little instruction from the university.
A Q&A with Resident Advisor Weston Fitzgerald
This has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What was your favorite part about school before all of this?
The ability to talk to people that you normally don’t get to talk to, especially at the beginning of the quarter when you are meeting all of these different people that are in your classes. Those daily interactions where maybe it’s not somebody you hang out with a lot but you still get to talk to them. We have reached this interesting point where we are all still taking the same classes, but because we aren’t seeing each other on the daily, there isn’t anyone to talk to, or complain, “Ah man, this midterm is going to be really hard next week.” Not having that has been one of the biggest losses for me. The ability to relate to other people. It’s causing an issue, on campus and off, where students feel like they cant relate to one another as much and it’s leaving them feeling more alone.
University President Armstong gave everyone on campus the opportunity to stay or leave. How come you decided to stay and continue to work?
I felt like I could be of more help to the community here than if I was at home. In terms of contributing to the community (in Palmdale) I didn’t have a specific role… and in SLO I do. I also knew that I would focus better at school. If they are going to still offer me free housing and dining to continue doing my job in an area that is way less packed, I knew that it would work better for me. Plus the internet is way better here than it is at home.
How has the transition been for you, moving from the dorms to the apartments on campus?
So every RA (Resident Advisor) has been assigned six to eight residents who are still on campus, which is weird because we are getting a group of new residents that you have no prior connection to, mostly because the majority of the first-year students went home. The people who have been an R.A. in the apartments have had a fairly easy transition, but it has been really difficult for some of the R.A’s who were previously working with first-year residents. They had to transition to a whole new layout and system, and also have new residents. It is a big step outside of the comfort zone which is good, but, it’s frustrating because on the administration side for housing and Cal Poly in general, they have been, for a lack of a better phrase, running around like a chicken with their head cut off.
What kind of additional training or support did you receive from the university? What are your responsibilities like now as an RA?
We have gotten a little bit but not much… The way we do our job has changed drastically. Administration gives us these changes they want to be done but in a time frame that is really hard to follow through. For example, the first week of spring quarter starting was also when the RAs got assigned their new residents. We were supposed to reach out to those residents to see if they were staying on campus and receive a response within 24 hours. It was difficult because we couldn’t really meet face to face, and because these were new residents, we had no given way to contact them. We had to be resourceful. Their numbers had to be found in the directory, or you could email them which isn’t the most effective. When we moved from the dorms to Cerro Vista and Poly Canyon Village, (PCV) some of the staff didn’t even get paired with an RA that had worked there beforehand, myself included. My colleague and I were thrown into on-call scheduling at the apartments with no prior training. We knew what needed to be done. Like exteriors. We didn’t know which buildings or entrances needed to be checked, and what we should even be looking for.
What do your disciplinary actions consist of now?
When we were in first-year residence halls if we wanted to find something like alcohol, and you were really looking for it, you could find it every day. Now when we are on call, and if we do get a call regarding underage drinking, we have to follow the protocol of social distancing, wearing a mask and gloves, and makes for a really different experience. We are only responding to the essential calls though like alcohol poising or someone getting locked out. Fortunately enough, since everyone has their own rooms and no one is really interacting we haven’t had any problems. The most common issue right now is noise complaints at night time because people are forgetting to close their windows.
If you could say one thing the students or on campus workers right now what would it be?
Humans naturally remember all of the positive things even if we have a negative mindset… So if we try to remember and understand the good that came with this situation, we will be happier. I can guarantee as soon as we start stepping outside and hanging out with people again, we will get that initial rush of dopamine and everyone will be super happy and excited, but we will look back on quarantine and realize, these are some of the things we took for granted— attending class in bed, having flexible schedules, playing a lot of video games. Do what you can to recognize that.