A Northern Arizona University sophomore has taken to the internet to share the concerns of student workers he says are unable to do so themselves, just days before the start of the fall semester.
In an online petition that had nearly 1,000 signatures as of Monday, NAU student Tyler Best noted that at one point more than 30 Resident Assistants (RAs) were quarantining for COVID-19 after arriving on NAU’s campus but have been unable to share the information publicly without losing their jobs.
“I can confirm that NAU has experienced a small number of cases since the spring, which includes among the more than 1,700 students on campus through the summer,” NAU spokesperson Kimberly Ott said in an email.
Due to privacy concerns, though, Ott was unable to specify whether or not any RAs fell into this group. She said the dates for move-in and the start of in-person classes are not currently being modified as a result of the positive cases on campus.
“I can also confirm that the testing and tracing protocols that NAU established have worked as planned, serving to identify, trace, notify and isolate as necessary,” Ott added.
Best said, according to conversations with numerous friends who are RAs and desk assistants in NAU residence halls, RAs are neither required to be tested for COVID-19 after arriving on campus nor to report to their supervisors if they contract the disease. As students move into dorms, RAs are also unable to know who has COVID-19 due to campus privacy policies, Best noted.
“I learned this information and honestly, I could not live with myself if this information didn’t get out,” Best said. “NAU makes this claim that it’s [students’] choice if you want to be on campus or not, but a choice can only be made if you know what the consequences of both sides are and by hiding that information, they don’t allow you to make an accurate choice. And I feel like the only way to get an accurate choice is to let people know that this is actually happening, this is what’s going on on campus behind the scenes.”
According to his calculations, tallying information from RAs in at least six different dorms, as of Aug. 2, 35 RAs and two residence hall directors were in the process of quarantining to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to incoming students — but only for six days, far below the 14 days recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
RAs declined to speak with the Arizona Daily Sun on the subject, even anonymously, for fear it would put their employment at risk.
“We made it such a big deal to keep these people anonymous because a lot of these people who are RAs … without that [job] would not be able to maintain their ability to go to NAU,” Best said. “That’s why they couldn’t talk about it: because they were worried they would be fired or worse.”
With classes scheduled to start virtually Wednesday and in-person Aug. 31, Best said he hopes the petition brings about an improvement to the working conditions of these students.
“At minimum, they need to revise how the RAs are treated and residence life and housing staff [policies] need to be completely reworked,” Best said. “I’m not going to go so far as to say that the president should resign, I know a lot of people are, but right now, the most important action is getting those RAs and students safe. So if that means going online or updating protocols, there needs to be some action instead of covering up and saying that everything is OK.”
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.
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