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HRL reinstates two of three Resident Assistants it fired related to tenting

The name of one student has been changed to protect their identity. 

Three resident assistants were recently fired related to their decision to tent for the men's basketball game against North Carolina.

They were dismissed by L.B. Bergene, associate dean for East Campus, for violating a policy regarding nights away from the dorm and were accused of an “intent to deceive.” Bergene did not respond to multiple emailed requests for comment from The Chronicle.

The trio quickly appealed their dismissals. Housing and Residence Life reinstated two RAs, but upheld the decision for the third.

“In the past, so many people have done it, so none of us thought we'd get immediately terminated," said Taylor, one of the three RAs, whose name has been changed to protect their identity. 

One long week

With Duke-UNC being the most watched game of the college basketball season, many eyes were turned to the screen, including the eyes of some residence coordinators. 

For the three RAs, the saga began when some RCs spotted one of them on TV. RCs, who are HRL staffers rather than students, are tasked with supervising RAs and sustaining positive communities within residence halls.

Each neighborhood on East Campus is headed by one RC. For the three RAs, that was Carina Carpenter, residence coordinator for Bell Tower and Trinity residence halls.

When other RCs relayed what they saw to Carpenter, she took the issue up with Bergene, provoking a cascade of disciplinary action. Carpenter declined to comment to The Chronicle.

After meeting with Carpenter, Bergene notified the RAs by Feb. 25 that they had been fired. They were told they needed to move out of their dorm rooms by March 1.

“I was honestly surprised I was fired. I thought I would be put on probation,” said senior Ryan Bergamini, one of the three RAs, in an interview prior to receiving his appeal result.

On Feb. 27, the RAs then filed appeals with Joe Gonzalez, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life.

Two of the resident assistants, including Bergamini, were reinstated on probation March 4. The other was not, and HRL set a deadline for that RA to vacate their dorm. 

‘RAs are allowed to participate in tenting’

Around campus and in Krzyzewskiville, Bergamini is a vocal member of the community.

Bergamini said he was “really open” with other RAs and his graduate resident about his time tenting. However, per HRL policy, RAs are expected to notify their RCs of their intent to tent.

When Bergamini met with HRL after the UNC game, he—like the other two RAs—was accused of an “intent to deceive.” Carpenter told him she had seen his belongings and his efforts to build community in K-Ville, but did not consider it evidence that Bergamini was tenting.

In mid-January, each of the three RAs decided to black tent, the longest and most popular form of tenting, for the UNC game. Starting Jan. 12, most black tenters spent more than 10 nights in their tents.

HRL policy states that RAs may participate in tenting “in a limited manner.”

In an email, Gonzalez declined to respond to a list of questions sent by The Chronicle, but provided a general statement about the policy.

“RAs are allowed to participate in tenting,” he wrote. “RAs who wish to do so are expected to discuss this with their RC prior to the beginning of the tenting period to review how participation can be pursued in a manner consistent with the expectations of the RA role.”

HRL policy requires RAs to inform their RCs of their plans to tent. However, Bergamini and Taylor claimed that this policy has not been enforced in recent years. Even this year, other RAs black tented in the same manner without consequences, they said.

‘It’s a policy that never has been taken seriously’

From Jan. 12 to Feb. 14, black tenters generally spent a double-digit number of nights in their tents.

For the three RAs, this comes in violation of an HRL policy that requires them to spend no more than eight nights away from their dorm. A “night away” constitutes any night where the RA has not returned to their dorm by 3 a.m.

“This nights away policy, it’s a policy that never has been taken seriously,” Bergamini said.

Taylor said the nights away policy is unfair since RAs are capable of doing their job well without following it, and Bergamini labeled it as vague.

“When I've followed up on four separate occasions with HRL about a written statement I could share publicly explaining purpose of the policy, I've yet to receive an answer,” he said.

Bergamini, who has been re-hired, said his worst case scenario would entail HRL refusing to reconsider the nights away policy.

“Then the next year, they [can] crack down even harder on black tenting,” he said in an interview before he was re-hired. “I just think it doesn't have to be that way. We can work together on this.”

In an email responding to Bergamini’s appeal viewed by The Chronicle, Gonzalez wrote that he had reversed his firing decision because he felt “HRL needs clarity added to some of our supervision communications.”

Gonzalez did not respond to an email from The Chronicle about how HRL would address the policy moving forward. However, Bergamini noted that in their meeting, Gonzalez appeared to be receptive to his complaints about the policy.

Still, Bergamini said he was disappointed that HRL did not reinstate all three RAs in light of the policy.

“About the end result of who was rehired and who wasn't, I'm not happy with the outcome and I think that the reasons that HRL gave for that outcome never would've been an issue in the first place if this nights away policy wasn't a thing,” Bergamini said. 

Support systems

About 800 people signed a petition to HRL after students initially discovered that the RAs had been fired. The RAs said that many students also sent emails directly to HRL, and some even took to the Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens Facebook page to vent.

Many of the comments on the petition showed that the trio received widespread support due to their strong performance as RAs. 

“Throughout the entire time that we were tenting, on numerous occasions, our RCs and GRs were telling us how good of a job we were doing as RAs and how they didn’t even need to do anything because we were so on it,” Taylor said.

Still, Bergamini said his primary motive for black tenting was to build community. In a peculiar, roundabout way, he explained that he thinks the firings have helped.

“My residents joked ‘Is this just another scheme to build community?’ I said ‘I don't know, but it's working,’” he recalled.

Bergamini and Taylor spoke of a longstanding push by HRL for RAs to be friends, not just coworkers, with their GRs and RCs.

After he was reinstated, Bergamini said the team dynamic would require a “rebuild,” but said he was excited to help.

“The only true friendly connection you can have is with your other RAs on your team because there's a certain level of professionalism that's required,” Bergamini said. “HRL spends time trying to go past that professionalism, which is good when everything is working. But when things break down, it can get ugly.”


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