Several VAs frustrated by expectations
Augustana Viking Advisors past and present have voiced concerns about their position, citing overwork, lack of appropriate compensation and a communication gap between themselves and the Campus Life staff.
Currently, VAs must be available to residents on their floors for 20 hours per week and, as of last year, must be in the lobby area on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., making rounds at 9 p.m., 12 a.m. and 2 a.m.
In addition, VAs are expected to plan monthly events for each of their floors, a monthly event for the entire residence hall and an activity for any high-impact weekend, such as a weekend with a dance or Viking Days weekend, all while attending two hours of meetings each week and participating in Campus Life staff training events throughout the year.
While they are not required to, Bergsaker and Solberg VAs are also strongly encouraged to participate in freshman Tailored Experiences, events freshmen must attend as part of their First-Year Seminar courses.
For their work, VAs are granted a $250 stipend and free housing, saving them $4,750 for the academic year.
Former VA Noah Brown, who quit two days before the school year started, said the amount of planning and follow-through required by Campus Life officials was too much for him. He felt those requirements took away from time spent connecting with his residents.
“A lot of people, including me, do this job not for the compensation,” Brown said. “They do it [for the] experience and relationships, and it can be very fun. But when the administration starts making [the work] unenjoyable, it sucks the life out of it.”
Jeff Venekamp, senior associate director of Campus Life, and Dean of Students Jim Bies declined to comment on the subject, saying they were unaware of VA dissent. They said if VAs do have concerns, they would prefer to work with them directly rather than publicly.
Director of Campus Life Corey Kopp said while he does not recall hearing any news of upset VAs, they are aware of the difficulties of the position and said other universities are experiencing similar issues.
“We are aware that the work is challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding,” Kopp said. “It is not unique that we are dealing with these problems when things like this are happening on many campuses. Trying to balance work and compensation is a challenge for every campus.”
Brown said Campus Life is aware of the VAs’ concerns, because he listed them to office officials when he quit.
“I clear-cut told them,” Brown said. “I told them to their face that almost the entire staff feels that we are being overworked and that we’re overwhelmed.”
Brown said there is a communication gap between VAs and Campus Life, especially regarding weekend desk hours.
In the past, Augustana’s desk hours program paid students to sit at the front desks of the residence halls.
Last year, due to financial constraints, the university dissolved the program. Consequently, those hours were combined with VA responsibilities.
However, the extra work didn’t transfer into a larger paycheck.
Nicole Grinager, a VA last year who chose not to reapply this year, said she would love to see greater compensation for VAs because of the time commitment.
“Honestly, I would have loved to have been paid more,” she said. “I mean, who doesn’t, but it’s a big job. It’s not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. thing. It’s 24/7. People knocked at 8 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon and 4 in the morning.”
Grinager acknowledged that resident assistants at other small liberal arts colleges are compensated better than Augustana’s VAs.
At St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., RAs are granted a $3,000 stipend and free housing, which saved them $4,860 for the year. At Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., while still having to pay $3,360 per year for housing, RAs are paid $4,400 for their first year of work and $5,100 for a second or third year.
East Hall VA Josh Dub said that finding time to plan the required events can be troubling for VAs, especially those who are involved with other campus activities.
“First and foremost we are students, and nearly all VAs are involved with activities outside the VA role,” he said. “So trying to plan a floor event can be difficult if you have, for example, choir or band concerts that whole week.”
Dub added that event planning can feel like a fool’s errand when few residents attend.
“Planning these events and having one or two people show up can feel like a large waste of time,” Dub said. “And it just doesn’t make sense for us to be planning events, for example, during Viking Days [when] there are so many things to do on campus. For us to be planning events then is really frustrating, because they don’t contribute to or impact anything.”
Despite that, Dub says he still enjoys his position.
“I enjoy having an excuse to get to know everyone on my floor,” he said. “Rather than me living on a floor not knowing anyone, I have an excuse to knock on people’s doors and introduce myself.”
Grinager said she felt the job was fulfilling but hopes the job will improve for future VAs.
“I was really happy that my floor was one of the most involved in campus activities and that over half of my floor [members] are living together this year,” she said. “And I think we could greatly improve the position, and we should. It’s such an important aspect to student’s experiences.”