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April 9, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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Residential Advisors Feel Ill-Prepared as VUW Reduces Training

Resident Advisors at several university halls have complained about reduced training sessions prior to the intake of students in 2018. A number of RAs have said they felt the training provided this year was inadequate, especially around sensitive topics such as suicide prevention and sexual assault.

This year’s training for RAs was just three weeks, shortened from the five weeks in previous years. Returning RAs felt that the training was not of the same quality as previous years, although a number of RAs approved of the reduced training times.

The changes to training follow a review held in July 2017, which found that the role of RAs needed to be restructured. Rainsforth Dix, Director of Student and Campus Living, stated that “The review was a reminder that the key role of RAs is to engage students in community life, not to manage issues and incidents. Decisions made following the review have shifted responsibility for incident management back to senior staff”. She also noted that the review found that RAs were in need of additional training.
Several RAs have told Salient that they believed the reason for the changes was an attempt by the university to reduce costs for hall accommodation services. Dix disputed this claim, saying “the training was reduced in line with the changed responsibilities for RAs following the review. It had nothing to do with reducing accommodation costs”.

One anonymous source who was involved in the 2018 training told Salient that several RAs communicated to them after the training that they were “waiting for a critical incident to occur, to highlight the inadequacy [of the] training to the outside world”.

This source said that a number of RAs were “not feeling confident that they were going to be well supported, not feeling confident that they had the tools to address critical incidents”. The source surmised that the restructuring of accommodation services had put many of hall management staff in roles they were not experienced with.

Dix said “We believe that the RAs were given adequate training  before the students moved in, however we are happy to receive any feedback as we are always looking to improve how we do things and how we prepare our staff”. She added that no official complaints have been made by RAs about their training.

One particular concern of RAs that spoke with Salient was that the training around mental health incidents was lacking, and many were left unclear what they should in the situation of a mental health crisis for a hall resident.

Salient’s understanding is that the suicide prevention training was provided by an outside organisation, however we could not confirm which organisation provided the training.

In the suicide prevention training undertaken at individual halls, RAs were told to provide students with a number of a 24 hour counselling service. One RA said that while this was good in theory, a lot of students are not comfortable talking to someone on the phone about such personal information. They wished that there was a more easily accessible counselling service, for first year students especially. The RA who spoke to Salient lamented the fact that they could not do more for first year students dealing with mental health issues.

A returning RA said of the training, “I felt that I was a lot less prepared to deal with mental illness and stress [of hall residents] this year”.


At one hall, the Head of the Hall acknowledged that the outside training was inadequate and did provide this feedback to the organisation.

Another significant issue raised about the restructuring of the RA role was the reduced training time left them little time to prepare for incoming residents, with RAs reporting working up to 80 hours in the week prior to residents arriving in halls. While RAs were compensated with overtime for this additional work, many were left wondering if this was the most beneficial way to organise for both for RAs and their residents.

While the amount that RAs are paid is confidential, it was reported that the rent per fortnight was increased for RAs by $28, according to an RA at one Victoria University hall. However, RAs did not receive a corresponding pay increase. “This has just been us shouldering the cost,” they said. This particular RA noted that they had to cancel their student loan repayments to keep up with rent costs. Dix denied this claim, saying “RAs receive an allowance that covers their rent, including any rent increase”.

Training for RAs will continue throughout the year in their own halls. In addition, RAs at all halls will be invited to a follow up session with CoLiberate regarding “Embodied Consent” in April.

 

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