It is clear that Cornell — despite an ever-increasing list of peer institutions moving online — will do whatever it takes to ensure that an on-campus semester this fall is possible. Our school will do anything it takes: set up tent sites for meal pickups, build a testing program, create a mosaic of courses offered in different modalities, conduct media appearances on every major news network to attempt to persuade the public of its reopening model’s efficacy. Surely, a school that is willing to go this far to provide a residential experience for its students has the ability, and should have the desire, to create a fair and safe work environment for its student residential staff.
The success of Cornell’s reopening largely rests in the hands of student residential advisors. They are the University’s front line workers, and they are being taken advantage of. The demands of R.A.s, and the ensuing strike to call for them, are so basic that it is embarrassing to even consider that they’ve been repudiated. R.A.s are students who will jog around their buildings multiple times a night to conduct rounds, students who will have no choice but to engage in extensive student-to-student contact by virtue of where they live and what they do. They are students who will be the first to greet new arrivals regardless of whether or not they have already received negative COVID-19 tests. Is providing PPE for them out of the University’s budget? No, it is not. Is valuing and including R.A. voices in decision-making beyond the interest of Cornell? No, it is not.
“We couldn’t afford to provide our on-campus students with personal fridges to minimize contact, so we bought communal fridges and put all of them together in a small common area for all 53 students to be in close proximity to use together!”
– Cornell for move-in pic.twitter.com/WqVfebzfFa
— Jason “ACAB” Marvin (he/him) 🏳️🌈🇹🇼🧗🏻♂️😷 (@JasonCMarvin) August 17, 2020
The lack of extra care and concern from the University regarding these student staff members is shameful. R.A. voices need to be heard. To ignore the pleas of student leaders in the face of uncertainty — while simultaneously asking for their support and steadiness — is a failure to exemplify the “caring community” that Cornell purports itself to be.
This is not the first time R.A.s have asked for change, fair compensation and more support. What is different now, though, is that there is no room for error. If Cornell wants its reopening to have a chance at success, and wants to keep its on-campus students safe and healthy, it will need full cooperation from its student staff.
Today, Cornell must prove to its student staff that they are not pawns to be manipulated during times of global unrest. Cornell must not only meet the demands of the R.A.s, they need to surpass them. A student who is comfortable and confident that they have the support and protection of their school will be not only a better employee, but also a healthier human being. In a Maslowian view of Cornell, this student workforce comprises the foundation of trust between students and the administration.
The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.