Three community directors in the Office of Residential Life have resigned this summer, leaving two supervisors with the primary responsibility of overseeing and training this year’s 137 Residential Peer Leaders, according to Mary Grace Almandrez, dean of students and acting senior director of ResLife. The Associate Director of Programs Kate Tompkins, who oversees the community directors, also resigned this summer, Almandrez confirmed.
Typically, six community directors and one associate director are meant to oversee the RPL program. The office was not at full capacity at the start of the summer, with just five community directors and one associate director. Currently, the two remaining community directors, who are being assisted by Nicholas Greene, the program manager of operations, are each essentially managing close to double their typical workload. At full staff, each community director is assigned one region of a six-region campus, in which they oversee all the RPLs and secondarily all the students within that region. Currently, both CDs and Greene have two regions each, according to a recent email sent by Almandrez to RPLs.
Shortly after announcing their resignations, Tompkins and community director Samuel Ortiz explained their decisions at an RPL training Aug. 22. Their decisions were responses to an unsustainable, understaffed work environment in which they did not feel supported by the “administration,” according to three RPLs who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions.
Almandrez said she could not speak to the employees’ specific reasons for leaving, though she emphasized that the entry-level job of community director has a “high turnover rate of three to five years.” The average turnover rate was 2.25 years for the four community directors that have departed within this past year, according to their four LinkedIn profiles. Current and past community directors were either unavailable or declined to speak with The Herald.
Being a community director is a live-in position, and the cohort is one of the first responders for the administrator on call system, which “provides a mechanism for Brown students to seek assistance in emergency situations after business hours.” The group’s main priority, however, is to mentor and supervise RPLs, Almandrez said.
“The problem of stress and overwork and lack of administrative support was described as being a problem that had existed for a long time” as opposed to a “short-term problem,” said Joan, an RPL whose name has been changed to protect their identity.
The department has not been fully staffed for at least two years, according to multiple RPLs and confirmed by Almandrez. ResLife hired a full-time director, Melissa Flowers, in the fall of 2017 following the 2016 departures of both former Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life Richard Bova and former Director of Residential Experience Natalie Basil, The Herald previously reported.
“When we didn’t have a full-time director, we had associate directors that were making sure the department was running, along with me, and at that time there was another assistant vice president,” Almandrez said. In The Herald’s fall 2017 story, Almandrez said that prior to Flowers’ appointment, ResLife had been operating as a result of “hardworking staff who had to pick up a lot of additional responsibilities” and “strong student leaders.”
Tim, an RPL whose name has also been changed, said Tompkins and Ortiz expressed that they were asked to take on responsibilities outside their own job descriptions, so they urged the RPLs to download copies of their own job descriptions in case they were changed online.
“What happens if I’m worried about a resident, and it’s not so much an emergency, but also feels like they definitely need support?” Joan said. “If (the community directors are) so busy dealing with crises and all the other stuff they have to do for three times as many people, they’re just not going to have time to meet about less important stuff on a regular basis, and that’s going to cause the less important stuff to spiral into more important stuff.”
Almandrez emphasized the priority of community directors’ roles as mentors and supervisors to RPLs. While “we’re short-staffed, the level of care (and support) should still be the same for RPLs,” she said.
To ensure this is the case, in the last couple of weeks tasks that are ancillary to supporting RPLs have been reduced or redistributed internally or even externally, Almandrez said. This includes duties regarding facilities and operations or meeting and programming expectations.
“For example, one of the (community director’s) responsibilities might be walking through the buildings and making sure ... that there’s no problems with the facilities,” Almandrez said. “We have staff in the department who are going to be doing that instead of the (community directors.)”
Going forward, these responsibilities will not fall to community directors even after the departments fills its vacancies,, Almandrez said. The department has more than 80 applicants for the open community director positions and plans to bring the final candidates for on-campus interviews by the end of September or October. ResLife will also undergo an external review in October, in which two to four experts unaffiliated with the University will assess its strengths and weaknesses.
Focuses for the external review will include determining if ResLife has appropriate staffing and better understanding how to create systems that support CDs, Almandrez said. While Almandrez said she cannot guarantee that community directors will never leave en masse again, the plan moving forward is to continue to take concerns expressed by community directors seriously, she said.
Almandrez shared many of these plans with RPLs at an optional lunch Aug. 23, where “pretty close to universal” concerns were expressed, according to Joan.
“I think there’s a lot of skepticism that these solutions are going to actually work,” Joan said. “Clearly if it’s as easy as the things that they’re proposing, this wouldn’t have happened. Clearly the fact that all these people have quit means it’s not.”