Selection of FSILG RAs should be more flexible

MIT is planning changes to the FSILG resident advisor (RA) program for the upcoming academic year. As leaders in the FSILG community, we are concerned about the process used to make these changes and the way they will affect our organizations.

The RA program began in 1998 after the death of Scott Krueger ‘01; every residential FSILG is required to have an RA living in their house. MIT pays for part of the RA’s housing, and in return the RA runs programming and provides support for the FSILG. RAs play many roles for FSILG residents: advisors, mediators, friends, and most of all, providers of common sense. Usually, they become an integral part of the communities in which they reside; otherwise, they would not be able to do their jobs. That said, the program has been inconsistent. Some organizations are very happy with the role their RAs play, while others wish their RA did more to support their members.

A key piece of the RA program is that FSILGs largely get to choose their own RAs, subject to approval by MIT. There are very few restrictions placed on who can be an RA, which means that each organization is free to find someone who will understand their community and integrate themselves into it. Each FSILG has a different culture and different expectations from their RA, so the freedom to find an appropriate person is crucial.

Sadly, MIT is planning to seriously restrict this freedom. Beginning in the 2014-2015 academic year, only graduate students will be eligible to be RAs. We are concerned that this change will seriously decrease the overall quality of the pool of available RAs. Indeed, some FSILGs have noticed that graduate students tend to be much busier than other potential RAs, which impairs their ability to get to know residents and understand the community. Approximately half of the RAs as of Fall 2012 were not graduate students; does it really make sense to fire half the RAs?

We do understand MIT’s rationale. MIT will be taking responsibility for RAs’ formal employment, which means that FSILGs will never have to deal with possible workman’s compensation claims or the like—a welcome thought. The RA Task Force which recommended these changes claims that, if MIT is to officially employ RAs, they absolutely must be graduate students. As MIT students, we are skeptical of the claim that there are no creative options to escape these constraints and allow for wider flexibility in RA choice while still alleviating some of the liability concerns.

As with many recent controversial decisions, the process would have benefited from more student engagement. While the RA Task Force had student members and conducted a survey, there was little dialogue about system’s constraints. Many of the FSILG house corporations were enthusiastic about MIT’s taking more responsibility for the RA program, but they were not fully aware of the implications. The changes were emailed to students right after Thanksgiving break, during one of the most difficult weeks of the semester. That email presented the changes as final, with absolutely no flexibility for modification or improvement — and the Task Force’s report has not been released.

We understand the problems with the current system, and we agree that it needs updating. As MIT students, we would love the chance to work creatively with the administration and our alumni to find a way to allow flexibility in choice of RAs while alleviating liability concerns.

Alex Siegenfeld - President, Alpha Delta Phi
Marcus Lowe - President, Chi Phi
Mac Gager - President, Delta Tau Delta
Louis DeScioli - President, Delta Upsilon
Akash Badshah
- President, Phi Sigma Kappa
Nat Atnafu - President, Sigma Phi Epsilon
Philip Abel - President, Student House
Charles Liu - President, Zeta Beta Tau
Patrick Hulin - Chancellor, tEp
Preston Thompson - President, Theta Chi
Ben Frank - President, Zeta Psi
Andrew Dorne - IFC President
Haldun Anil - IFC President-Elect
Evan Tencer - IFC Judicial Committee Chair
Jimmy Gomez - IFC Risk Manager
Zev Bimstein - IFC Public Relations Chair
Samuel Oppenheim
- IFC Executive Assistant and Treasurer