ResLife requires rethink for residents’ sake

Our contributor, a former Residence Life employee, argues that dons and residents deserve better

Dons often face undue stress put on them by their employer, Queen’s Residence Life.
Dons often face undue stress put on them by their employer, Queen’s Residence Life.
Journal File Photo Illustration

Rashed Al-Haque, ArtSci ’10, M.Ed ’12

I have the utmost respect for the work Residence Life (ResLife) at Queen’s does. As a two-time Queen’s alumnus, Residence Life staff member and residence don for multiple years, I’m fully aware of the challenges and realities of working with ResLife.

While I am skeptical about the claim made in the article “Dons dissent, discuss unionization,” published in the Journal last term — that it takes over 100 hours to prepare a program — I do have to agree with the don interviewed in the article who feels stressed, overworked and taken advantage of during the last month of the semester.

Beyond preparing programs, dons are expected to be on call, check in with residents, attend meetings and respond to incidents on their floors and sometimes around their buildings. There’s clearly more than just programming that makes up a don’s job description.

Having an authentic connection with your residents and being their first point of contact is a don’s first priority, even more than providing programming and being on call.

I agree that there are some dons who take the job for the “free room and board,” but most dons do it because they genuinely care about first-year students and want to have a positive impact on their residence and university experience.

The issue here is the sudden addition of added responsibilities near the end of the term without prior notice. Upper administration within Residence Life should be very explicit and transparent about dons’ roles and responsibilities prior to the don signing their contract.

The manager, through the Residence Life Coordinators, should not tack on additional responsibilities under the “whatever additional responsibilities ResLife deems appropriate” clause if they can avoid it. While I doubt ResLife actively tries to add stress to a don’s life, they should know that adding further responsibilities at the last minute during exam time will exacerbate a don’s stress level.

There shouldn’t be any excuse for poor planning on ResLife’s part, as they have four months over the summer to prepare for the upcoming academic year. Having said that, I do agree, from first-hand experience, that there’s a sense of fear permeating in Queen’s ResLife that paralyzes dons from speaking out.

Dons have very little power, or even a voice, when it comes to shaping ResLife policy.

I’ve seen dons who challenged upper administration in the slightest way being placed on what seems like a proverbial ResLife “watchlist.” ResLife seems to watch out for the people who question them and assess whether they should continue in their jobs.

Dons need a voice, and need to speak up about their frustrations. It’s not in ResLife’s best interest to have a group of disgruntled staff members who feel silenced, powerless and marginalized by the very institution they chose to serve.

I don’t think there’s any harm in having a public discussion about these issues. It’s unfortunate that first-year students have to read about these discussions in the paper and see the discord that sometimes exists within ResLife.

Our residents are mainly in residence because they want a sense of community while they study at Queen’s. A publicized conflict between factions within ResLife may damage the sense of community that Queen’s Residence fosters.

Let’s acknowledge that our residents should be treated as adults who can make up their minds about the issues once they’ve heard both sides of the argument.

Seeing that some of these residents eventually apply to become dons, it may be useful to inform first-year students about ResLife dynamics and the conflicts that arise between dons and administration.

While I doubt that first-years will have any active role in changing ResLife policy, information they receive about this conflict may help them negotiate the terms of their contract if they decide to work in ResLife. If senior dons or dons feel that representation through a union is the best course of action to adequately voice their concerns without the fear of getting fired from the job, then we should support that initiative.

I would like to encourage and empower dons and Residence staff to come forward and voice their concerns in a respectful and constructive manner.

My advice to Queen’s ResLife is to be empathetic to the needs and concerns of their staff members and create an open, safe space to discuss the frustrations experienced by its employees. Hopefully these conversations will help the system improve and ensure that both the explicit and implicit expectations of dons and ResLife are met.

Rashed was a Queen’s Residence Life staff member for four years.


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