Although residential advisers are the “front line” of on-call resources for students, they are not trained to respond differently than their residents in the event of several serious emergencies.
During a weeklong training process, RAs attend workshops and programs that cover conflict resolution and individual resident emergencies, such as mental health episodes. But the entirety of RA training on large-scale emergencies like severe weather, active shooters, and fires comes from a single two-hour session hosted by Public Safety, Fire Safety, and CU-EMS, which covers the same information given to all students during NSOP.
Some RAs interviewed by Spectator were unsure of how to respond to such crises and expressed a desire to receive more extensive training, adding that they believe residents will seek leadership from RAs during emergencies. Due to a Residential Life policy prohibiting RAs from speaking to press, the RAs who spoke to Spectator were granted anonymity.
“I honestly don't feel confident in what I have to do if a crisis occurs,” one RA said. “Yes, RAs are a self-selecting group of caring and smart people, but that doesn't mean that our gut choices are always right.”
“In most [emergencies], the RA is the first responder and the person the residents will look towards for immediate leadership and guidance,” another RA said. “The RA is supposed to the be the pillar of strength for a floor, but the only way we can do that is with the necessary knowledge of what to do exactly when a crisis occurs.”
Executive Director of Residential Life Tara Hanna said that, despite their position of authority, RAs are expected to prioritize their own safety if emergencies occur. Hanna added that residence hall directors collaborate with RAs on a case-by-case basis to support students during situations like extreme weather.
“We would never ask them to do anything in their role that would jeopardize their safety, and so in general we don’t have much training for them because we wouldn’t be asking them to take a role in any of these things,” Hanna said.
While RAs are not trained to take leadership roles during crises, they are still part of a larger system of emergency response, which some RAs see as sufficient.
“The RA role is best understood as a reporter; in many cases, we are not expected to completely resolve the issue, but to report to the appropriate department,” one RA said in an email to Spectator.
However, despite that concern, Residential Life and the Residence Hall Leadership Organization are now considering more comprehensive RA emergency protocol training, particularly for situations involving active shooters.
“With an active shooter, we are exploring giving more training to RA’s because RHLO is trying to make sure that more students and staff are trained in what you should be doing,” Hanna said. “We would have them do that training not because we expect them to take the lead but because it’s a good thing for people to know.”
Meghna Gorrela, SEAS ’20, said that she would feel more comfortable if she knew that RAs were prepared to respond to emergencies themselves.
“I feel like if my RA is more equipped with emergencies I’d feel safer, because I have someone else willing to take the burden of protecting me,” Gorrela said.
Rowan Gossett, CC ’20, feels similarly. As someone who is unaccustomed to living in New York City, she believes RAs must be a resource for students in their residential halls.
“As college freshmen, we’re just now familiarizing ourselves with school policies, where to go in case of an emergency,” Gossett said. “Especially as someone who’s not from a big city, it’s pretty scary out there, so it’d be really good if I could have the support I needed.”
In spite of these needs, some RAs question whether additional training would even be helpful, adding that first-hand experience is more effective in teaching RAs how to respond to emergencies.
“There’s no way you can learn everything just by sitting in a room for four hours and hearing it dry,” one RA said. “I think the most helpful part of the entire seminar is when you actually have to apply it, and from there you can see where you need to grow and where you need improvement. Until that happens, though, you’re really in the dark.”