Open Letter to Administration

Personal letter from two former RAs explaining their resignations over winter break

Bea Bouman and Demi Reeves, Guest Writers

Bea Bouman (left) and Demi Reeves (right) photographed at SPU’s 2020 Winter Quarter First Friday.

To the elusive Upper Administration,

I will start by acknowledging the decision to test each student upon return to campus this January. Thank you for protecting the campus in this way. But Where was this protection fall quarter? As someone who returned to campus early as an RA, I was shocked by the lack of care and thought that went into our campus’s “Safe Start”.

By not requiring quarantining or testing at the beginning of the quarter, we were left in an incredibly vulnerable place as students and student leaders. One RA had to leave before the year even started due to the fact that they were immunocompromised and SPU was unwilling to provide accommodations and work with them. It was this ableist environment that set the tone for my fall quarter.

Not two weeks later, my floor went into a full two-week quarantine that the school was clearly unprepared to facilitate. We were the “guinea pigs,” receiving cold and incorrect meal orders for nearly the full two weeks. As the RA, I felt incredible pressure to be the only support system for 15 women who I had just met. Not to mention the mental and emotional toll that two weeks of total isolation takes on an individual.

For the sake of my fellow RAs, I am glad that I was the only community-style dorm RA that had to experience the full two-week quarantine.SPU Administration failed to set RAs up for success, instead forcing us into the uncomfortable position as the only Covid Policy enforcers on-site, while also expecting us to facilitate the same amount of college community experience that a typical year includes.

The ableist behavior SPU has exhibited in its Residence Life and Housing departments this year has been completely unacceptable. It is not only wrong, but illegal through the ADA. This also goes against the university’s own policy on their website which says, “It is the policy of Seattle Pacific University not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in its programs or activities, as required by applicable laws and regulations.”

However, the RA that had to leave due to a refusal to make accommodations for her disabilities is not the only story. There are countless others as SPU refusing to take responsible action to protect students at high risk while still offering them the same opportunities as everyone else. I know of one other student who applied to live in CHA and was placed in a six student apartment despite the fact they had shared that they were high risk.

SPU denied relocating them to a smaller unit, and this student instead opted to live at home for the school year for their own health. While it is of course everyone’s choice to stay home, the fact that it was because housing refused to relocate them is blatant discrimination.

As a result of taking Microbiology in the Spring of 2020 and listening to CDC recommendations throughout this pandemic I believe it is the moral, responsible, and respectful thing to limit my personal exposure to others in every way possible. It was clear the SPU Administration did not respect this choice. The regulations continued to change and “open-up” throughout the fall quarter. It became clear to me that RAs were pawns in the University’s pocket to keep students and tuition-paying parents happy. Our wellbeing was not a priority. Our RA class essentially ignored the pandemic and remained focused on events and other irrelevant topics that could not be done due to the pandemic.

Both our training period two weeks before school started and this class did not prepare or aid us in supporting residents through the grief and trauma of being isolated and living through a pandemic that has ravaged our country and world. Residents deserve more support, and RA’s should have been given the tools to emotionally support residents facing isolation and quarantine.

Many RAs that I spoke with throughout the fall quarter had increasing anxiety about leaving our rooms as each time we would do so we would confront a policy violation (or be pressured to ignore one). I personally only left my room to use the bathroom, get food, or leave campus. It was completely exhausting.

I was an RA for the 2019-20 school year, which included my own choice to remain on campus and RA spring quarter after lockdowns started and online classes began. While that quarter was difficult and full of uncertainty, it was nothing compared to this fall. Despite knowing more about COVID and necessary behavior, I felt less supported by Upper Admin. RAs cannot be the only ones to enforce COVID policy. We are peers with our residents.

There is a power dynamic that is more than just “awkward.” Students were threatened with an extra housing contract that bound them to abide by COVID policy or “risk their housing placement” and yet there are residents who continue to flaunt the rules, ignore (literally walk away from) RAs, and put the entire community at risk, that still remain in housing. This year has asked more from RAs than ever before and given them no extra incentive to bear the increased load. Because of this and my own personal mental health, I made the choice to resign from my position.

I do not regret my decision to quit, yet I feel disappointed that SPU Admin has made the decision to close indoor dining and require testing without acknowledging the tremendous hurt they caused, to myself, to the RA team, and to all residents who could not return due to health conditions or otherwise not feeling protected by SPU. I write this not for sympathy but for full transparency at the incredible harm that has been perpetuated by our university and by Upper Administration specifically.

Bea Bouman

With considerable help from Demi Reeves