New Training Requirements Highlight Inequities between RAs and PHEs

New Training Requirements Highlight Inequities between RAs and PHEs
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While Stanford is home to many resources for mental and physical health, including the Vaden Health Center, PHEs are the most intimate source of help for students’ well-being. (Credit: Bart Thompson)
Despite the addition of a new Residential Assistant (RA) class, the RAs and Peer Health Educators (PHE) programs still retain large differences, including compensation.

According to Assistant Dean of Residential Education (ResEd) Jenn Calvert, both PHEs and RAs “work closely together with the rest of the staff in assuring that serious student health and safety concerns are addressed.”

As of this year, new RAs must take a two-unit course during spring quarter to prepare for the role, in addition to a shortened form of the previously required before school year fall training session.

This training now more closely mirrors the amount of training PHEs have had to undergo since the inception of the PHE program in the early 1990s. PHEs have a four-unit training course to take in the spring, in addition to their own fall training.

Going from training to compensation, an RA is compensated 75 percent of room and board. This means that a typical all-frosh dorm RA with dorm rent, house dues, and a meal plan, will receive a stipend of between $9,000 and $10,000 for the academic year.

In contrast, a new PHE is compensated with a $1,000 stipend for the academic year – about a tenth of that of an RA. Returning PHEs get a $200 raise. While the RA stipends come from ResEd within the Student Affairs office, PHE stipends come from the Vaden Health Center.

“It has been understood that the student staff stipends are not equitable,” PHE coordinator Colin Campbell and I-Thrive Director Carole Pertofsky wrote in an email to the Review. “Any significant increase [in PHE stipends] would need to be generated by University General Funds and this decision rests with the University Budget Committee.”

According to Campbell and Pertofsky, they have “continually submitted requests for additional funding,” and this issue is not at a stand still.

“We are currently in an 18 month analysis of the student staffing model in houses to see if we have the right amount of people, in the right places, doing the right things, being paid a fair amount,” Calvert wrote in an email to the Review.

Campell and Pertofsky also commented on this student staffing model review projected to end at the end of summer.

“As the compensation gap widens, our concerns led us to launch the review of student staff residential positions,” they wrote. “We hope that this review will result in equitable stipends.”

Next year, there will be 187 RAs and 31 PHEs on staff across campus.

This means that the total amount of money from ResEd that goes to pay all RA stipends lies in the range of about $935,000 to $1.87 million (assuming all RA stipends only cover 75 percent of rent for a co-op on the low end and assuming all RA stipends cover rent, dues, and a meal plan for all-frosh dorms on the high end). Meanwhile, PHE stipends paid through Vaden will total up between $31,000 and $37,000.

According to Twain RA Akshay Gopalan, Electrical Engineering ’12, the RA role slightly differs depending on residence, although there are commonalities such as being on-call every weekend and planning events through out the year.

According to Stanford’s website, RAs are student staff members “who live in University undergraduate residences to help build strong and healthy residential learning communities which complement and extend classroom learning.”

Gopalan estimated that as an RA he spends roughly two to three hours each week individually planning residence events.

“So the generic RA role is logistics, programming, dorm events, lockouts at the very simplest level and planning with the house RFs,” Gopalan said. “In a freshman dorm, there’s an added responsibility of being a mentor as well.”

Gopalan was also an RA last year in Larkin and said he found the experience rewarding despite filling his support role constantly and experiencing busy, tiring days in the fall.

“I didn’t realize how big of an impact staff has on the freshman experience when I applied,” he said. “I liked it, it was a good feeling.”

Burbank PHE Mona Thompson, Urban Studies ’13, said she wanted to become a PHE because she was excited to “be an advocate for people in different situations.”

PHEs are meant to be advocates for health and wellness, both physically and mentally. In addition to being role models, they are expected to complete the four-unit course, attend fall training, go to both regular weekly PHE and staff meetings, and plan two or three programs a quarter.

In terms of differences between RAs and PHEs, “I think there is something about just advertising yourself as somebody who is there specifically to talk about health and wellness,” Thompson said. “You get really close with all the PHEs and you have this really awesome support and connection to Vaden.”

According to Toyon PHE Tyler Schultz, Biomechanical Engineering ’13, the PHEs are well acquainted with people that can act as resources.

“You really get to put a face to the names of people,” Schultz said, listing offices that deal with issues such as nutrition, mental health and sexual assault.

Gopalan has worked with PHEs for two years now and said that he finds their involvement to be significant.

“I think that in all frosh houses the PHE is basically an RA,” he said. Gopalan explained how in both of the houses he’s worked in, PHEs would often step up to volunteer for duties outside of their contract, such as going on call or planning their own activities, while also being the point person for health issues.

“Usually what happens is the PHE ends up taking on a lot of the RA roles anyway, because it’s just something they want to do,” Schultz said.

Gopalan added that how the roles were fulfilled may differ by house. But regardless of how well a certain role is filled, Gopalan had a definite opinion about the compensation associated with PHEs.

“The pay structure is slightly ridiculous,” he said of the PHE stipend. “I know that most of the staffers are completely against that.”

As a PHE, Thompson said that her ability to be around the dorm is affected by the low stipend and the need to hold another job down at the Women’s Community Center where she works for eight hours a week.

“I think honestly the biggest thing that would change, and that would change with the salary, would be PHEs would be able to commit more time to it,” Thompson said. “I think I do spend a fair amount of time doing Burbank stuff, but even thinking about if I had eight more hours in a week that I wasn’t working [at the Center].”

Thompson said that in her experience RFs understand that PHE compensation is sub par and often have a conversation about the role with this issue in mind. Larkin RFs Patti Hanlon-Baker and Geoffrey Baker echoed these ideas.

“Since PHEs are compensated at roughly 1/10th that of RAs, it wouldn’t be equitable, in our opinion, to ask the PHE to serve on-call hours,” the Larkin RFs wrote in an email to the *Review. *“However, as our primary duty is to help each staff member achieve his/her staffing goals, we could support a PHE’s request to voluntarily serve on-call hours if that service supported the achievement of the PHE’s goals.”

Thompson commented on the benefits of a possible PHE pay raise for residents.

“It’s just a financial incentive for someone to be more present and it allows people to be more present, which allows them to be better PHEs,” Thompson said. “Because I think most of being a staff member is just being around and present and then everything else kind of comes with that.”

Before an RA or PHE recieves a stipend, they must first go through training.

An RA’s responsibilities now begin with the spring training course that meets once a week. Classes are small, with around 15 people per section, and are generally led by someone from ResEd.

“I’m personally happy with the workload in the RA class – I think it’s appropriate,” said Kenny Johnson, Computer Science ’14. According to Johnson, who will be an RA in Burbank next year, he finds the section discussions to be the most helpful aspect of the class, and that the class work itself “isn’t that significant” as an academic load.

“I’ve heard the PHE one’s more intense,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s four units and just more time consuming.”

PHE-in-training Zoe Kaufman, Biology ’14, said that she finds the class enjoyable, but attested to the rigorous nature of the PHE class.

“I feel like we’re trained very thoroughly, because it really is a four-unit class,” Kaufman said. “I probably spend more time on that class than most of my other classes.”

Looking back on when he took the PHE course, Schultz said, “It was a lot more work than I was expecting, but it was all really useful. They gave us a lot of skills that were necessary for doing the job.”

As an up and coming PHE, Kaufman said she thought the low compensation promoted two different concepts.

“First of all it makes sure people who are wanting to be in that position are really in it for what it means to them and for really good reasons that are not money,” she said. “But I think that it also promotes people who would be very good PHEs to go into wanting to be an RA or something else that pays more, but is maybe less meaningful for them.”

According to Campbell and Pertofsky, the introduction of the RA class and the fact that RAs will also earn units for training may help instigate change in PHE funding, since, in the past the four-units from the PHE class was seen as an advantage unavailable to other roles that offset the inequitable stipend.

“Now that other staff are also earning academic units for their training, this may be a positive, influential factor,” they wrote.

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