By Patrick Sullivan, Film & TV Editor
Students who take on the important roles in halls have resigned due to the lack of clarity and new focus on shift work rather than active engagement in student life.
Data obtained by Epigram showed six fewer Senior Residents were employed as of April 2019 than in September 2018. There were 102 Senior Residents and 25 Chief Residents employed as of April. The numbers come at the end of the first academic year after the decision to remove Senior Wardens from university halls.
In place of the old system, a new Residential Life system was introduced with three Residential Villages comprising of nearby halls of residence. North Village, based in Stoke Bishop, now operates with four fewer Senior Residents than at the start of Freshers’ Week, whereas East and West Village both only have one fewer. Each village has eight or nine Chief Residents, who work 15 hours a week, and none have resigned in the period.
Rachel, who started the role this academic year, resigned despite high hopes for being a Senior Resident. ‘It seemed like an interesting role with clear tasks, limited working hours, useful and organised. However the role and tasks were not clear. I received a high numbers of emails every day and the focus was on the shift hours more than what we were going to provide during these hours - quantity, not quality.’
The cost of the Senior Resident accommodation in their assigned halls, quoted as £1000 per month, was also cited as a reason for their resignation.
The change of structure also means Senior Residents are now contracted to work 12 hours per week and they have to work that amount around any degree commitments or stresses. Controversially, Senior Wardens were removed from halls and, in their place, Residential Life Advisors placed in the three Village Hubs: Clifton Hill House (West), The Hawthorns (East), and Stoke Bishop (North).
Frances, who has been a Senior Resident for two years, believes the new system means halls have ‘lost [their] community a little bit’.
‘It’s not all done through the goodness of your heart like last year. My first year as a SR [in 2017/18] was incredible. I made lifelong friends, I was like a proud parent, and it was just a really good experience. Whereas now it’s a job and like any job, you turn up, you do your shift, Resident Advisors might have something for you to do, they might not. It lost the flexibility and it lost the voluntary selflessness.
‘The biggest difference for me has to be losing the support network - someone who’s always there. It’s easier. I loved my Deputy Wardens and the [Senior] Warden - I thought they were inspirational.
‘The thing I do like about the new system is the 24 hour support because it does take the pressure off if there’s something happening, someone who’s more senior and probably knows how to handle it a little bit better than you do, that you can call up and they’d deal with it.’
Current Senior Residents have also expressed concerns about the continued training and support they receive in their roles. ‘There’s been little or no support throughout the year as we rarely receive responses to emails. This isn’t at all what I expected given the necessity for shift work as opposed to active engagement,’ another anonymous source told Epigram.
‘Having missed some of the training sessions due to academic commitments, the team failed to schedule any catch-up sessions despite me asking for them at the very beginning and they’ve failed to follow up on this. No effort has been made to enforce the one-to-one appointments with our line managers either, as I haven’t officially with mine since the start of the year.’
'The team failed to schedule any catch-up sessions despite me asking for them [...]'
Anonymous Senior Resident
Rachel also had issues with attending training due to not being in the UK for the sessions.
‘In the beginning, I received an email that I can’t be accepted as I won’t be able to attend the training. I was fine with that, and as I’m not going to work for this post [sic], I booked a room at [other accommodation] and paid the deposit.
‘But after a few days, I received another email as I had been accepted for the Senior Resident post and I had to attend the training when I arrived in the UK. When I arrived in Bristol, I asked for the compulsory training but I did not get any!’
Each of the initial training sessions, organised by the Residential Life team between September 3 and September 6, had between nine and 16 absentees from those who registered. Less than five did not take on the role, meaning several student started work without completing the compulsory training.
They were then encouraged to use the optional, online training facilities on the staff portal, including a mental health course, but that ‘didn’t work’ for Rachel. Frances also told Epigram: ‘If you wanted further training, it was kind of from your own initiative.’
'Although there was a slight reduction in the number of Senior Residents during the year, the size of the team has meant that this has not impacted on the range of activities they have been able to deliver and the support provided.'
Claire Slater, Deputy Director of Student Services
Claire Slater, Deputy Director of Student Services (Wellbeing and Residential Life) said: ‘The Senior Residents and Chief Residents are an integral part of our Residential Life teams. They are often the first point of contact for students engaging with our service and this peer support continues to be invaluable.
‘We have been talking to our Senior Residents and Chief Residents to get feedback about their experiences this year and this has informed some changes that will be introduced in the next academic year, including raising their profile and ensuring they continue to work proactively with both students and other members of the residential life teams.
‘Although there was a slight reduction in the number of Senior Residents during the year, the size of the team has meant that this has not impacted on the range of activities they have been able to deliver and the support provided.
‘We have had some really positive feedback from many of our Senior Residents and Chief Residents this year, so it is disappointing to hear these concerns. We would encourage any Senior Residents to share feedback with us so we can continually improve the service we offer.
‘Ongoing support has been provided to the Senior Residents by the Chief Residents, the Residential Life Advisers and the wider Residential Life teams but we will review this to ensure all members of the team feel supported. Although a small percentage of Senior Residents were unable to attend some of the initial training sessions due to other commitments, all the training resources were shared and online resources were made available and next year the initial training will be compulsory. There have also been opportunities to further develop relevant skills and knowledge through the role and by working alongside more experienced colleagues.’
Names of sources have been changed in this article to maintain anonymity.
Featured Image credit: Epigram / Patrick Sullivan
How have you found the new Residential Life system this year?