ResLife faces staffing issues, adjusts to second year of restructured system

Students lug their belongings during the Class of 2018's matriculation day on Aug. 27, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University

The Area Residence Director (ARD) system implemented last year by the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) has run into staffing issues as it transitions away from the former Residence Hall Directors system.

Under the new system, four full-time ARDs have replaced 10 part-time Residence Directors (RD), according to Director of ResLife Yolanda King

“This is in line with the best practices in other residential life programs at other institutions,” King told the Daily in an email. “By moving to this model, the positions allow all the ARDs to spend more time focusing on the needs and support for the students who live on campus.”

Each ARD is assigned to one of four residential areas where they manage the resident assistants (RAs) and dorm communities within those areas, according to a September 2014 Daily article. ARDs also host area-wide events, such as the upcoming Olympics event in on Oct. 6, Mascary said.

Julie Kennedy, who manages Area Three (Bush Hall, Hodgdon Hall, Haskell Hall and Tilton Hall), is the newest addition to the ARD staff, joining Tanya Mascary, the only returning ARD, who now manages Area One (Hill Hall, West Hall, Houston Hall and Miller Hall). The two remaining ARD positions for Area Two (Carmichael Hall, Wilson House, Wren Hall, Carpenter House, Metcalf Hall and Richardson House) and Area Four (Lewis Hall and South Hall) have not yet been filled for this semester, according to the ResLife website.

Only one of the previous four ARDs has remained at Tufts; one person left late last semester, another left late in the summer and the last person left at the beginning of the fall semester, according to Dean of Student Services Mary Pat McMahon.

McMahon said the ARDs left for various reasons and for different opportunities, and that the turnover can be explained by the fact that the ARD position is designed to be an entry-level professional job.

“People are going to take this experience and go do it somewhere else too,” McMahon, former director of residential life at Bowdoin College, said. “It’s designed to be your way into a great experience at a great place. Is it a little higher turnover than we wanted? Yes, but we anticipate that there is always going to be turnover in this job.”

Mascary added that the ARDs who left pursued other opportunities that aligned with their interests more.

McMahon said the remaining two ARD positions will be filled as soon as possible.

Former RA Aditya Hurry said he thought that many of the ARDs left because they were unsatisfied with their work experiences.

“I think that’s a main reason why the three out of the four left — one of whom is actually a Tufts grad,” Hurry said. “He was a Tufts [undergraduate] and he left as well. He didn’t have the patience to deal with the bureaucracy even though he came from within the system and should have known the systems any better than the rest of them. ”

Mascary said there have been some challenges working with the new ARD system, including trouble building connections between the ARDs and students.

“The ARD system is obviously a new system and I think there were obviously some challenges with that,” she said. “I would have loved to have a little more connection with residents … On an RD system, with an RD for each building, you technically have more time to kind of spend more time in the building and get to know residents … It’s a smaller population, but because I have 700 students within four buildings, I wasn’t able to do that.”

Despite these struggles and the staffing issues, the ARD residential system has made improvements since its inception, Mascary said.

“The first year I feel like is always a challenging year and then the second year…is taking those challenges and then playing it forward for the second year,” she said.

McMahon also expressed a desire to improve the ARD system, particularly aspects involving the job’s terms of employment.

“One of the disadvantages that we’re working to address…is the ARD‘s being on a 10-month contract, just because there’s a stop and a start associated with restarting at the beginning of the year,” she said. “‘What’s working. What can we do better?’ I’m certainly working with the entire team on that question, including students.”

ResLife has also added a senior RA position, a leadership liaison position among the RAs, this year, according to Mascary.

“[The position] creates a better community within the ResLife staff,” she said. “I think little changes like that are going to improve the ARD system and the whole ARD structure a little more.”

Mascary, who previously worked in ResLife at the University of Bridgeport, said her overall experience at ResLife has been a positive one thus far.

She added that it was beneficial for ResLife to have its own judicial and programming resources, as well as platforms for students. One such event, which Mascary has planned for Oct. 19, is called “Teatime with Tanya.”

Although changes are being made to the system this year, Hurry said that, in the past, the conflict between the ARDs, RAs and ResLife led to a compromised environment.

“Working…as an employee of ResLife was not a lot of fun because they’re not very organized department at all,” Hurry, a junior, said. “We felt that, as RAs, the ARDs felt…[that] we kind of had to push back against [the ARDs] when we felt that something that wasn’t right was happening…That dynamic never really worked very well.”

Hurry said some of the issues RAs and ARDs faced were inherent to a bureaucratic system and would be difficult to change. On the other hand, he acknowledged that, in many ways, the ARD system did streamline residential programming.

“It was easier to do programming with that one central person we were meeting with once per week,” he said. “Actually, planning stuff in our area got 10 times easier than it would have been if there were five different grad students we were reporting to.”

Hurry added that his friends who are RAs this year said they noticed improvements from last year based on suggestions students had made.

“The staff is doing something right,” Hurry said. “They are listening to our opinions, but they just have a long way to go still.”