When Duke canceled classes for Hurricane Florence, Residential Assistants were still on the job.
They either stayed on campus or took time out of their vacation days if they wanted to leave.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other universities in the Triangle area issued statements saying that all student workers were considered non-essential employees and were therefore encouraged to leave the area.
“The safety of the RA team is very important to us,” wrote Lisa Beth Bergene, associate dean for East Campus, in an email to The Chronicle. “Each weather emergency has its own protocol. If the assessment by university leadership had been that the storm was a substantial safety risk, we would have followed the university's guidance in rolling out an evacuation process, including evacuating the RAs.”
RAs themselves had mixed opinions about Duke’s decision. Some found the situation awkward.
“I know some RAs who seriously questioned why they couldn't leave,” said sophomore Rishika Gundi. “It’s a safety issue, after all.”
“It struck me and still strikes me as odd,” said sophomore Jordan McGilvery. “Given that people wanted to go home because their families wanted them to be there, I thought the policy was a bit strange. The logic for wanting us to stay around was to help residents and that makes sense. Moving forward, however, a better natural disaster policy should be put into effect to avoid confusion.”
Other RAs, however, didn’t mind the policy at all, citing the safety of being in the shelter of Duke’s brick buildings. Some also felt that Duke’s decision to keep them on campus was fully considerate of their right to leave if they wanted to.
“My RC is pretty understanding,” said junior Freddie Xu. “If I had approached her and said ‘Steph, I don’t feel comfortable staying during the hurricane,' I don’t think her first thought would have been ‘Okay, let me know how many vacation days you want.’”
Some RAs were too far from home and felt it wasn’t worth the time, money and hassle to go back for just a few days.
“Most of the RAs I know either didn’t want to leave or didn’t have the resources to,” said junior Betsy Broaddus. “Many RAs are RAs because of the financial benefits. A lot of the other students on campus have the means to just pack up everything and leave, but that’s not always possible for RAs.”
For Gundi, supporting her residents was a big reason she stayed.
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“Things like this can be a scary time for some people,” she said. “Being RA’s, we have to be there for them.”