By Katie Meyer
Fordham administration has issued an official response to a student blog post titled “RAs Speak Out: ResLife has become a Dysfunctional Workplace.” The post appeared April 27 on The Fordham Daily, a non-university-affiliated website run by Connor Ryan, FCRH ’15, a former editor-in-chief of The Fordham Ram.
As of this writing, the piece has been shared 108 times on Twitter, and over 2,000 times on Facebook. Monday night, Ryan wrote on Facebook that it had been viewed over 19,000 times.
The article featured multiple dissatisfied interviews with current and former Fordham resident assistants (RAs) and professional Residential Life (ResLife) staff. All spoke anonymously.
Some names, however, were included. Most notably, that of Kimberly Russell, dean of students and director of residential life. Ryan wrote that ResLife’s “mistrust among staff, debilitating fear and widespread mismanagement [were] fostered largely at the hands of Director Kimberly Russell.”
Russell did not respond to a request for comment.
When reached for a statement, Christopher Rodgers, dean of students, did not address any specific attacks on Russell’s character.
“We don’t comment on personnel matters, but we of course follow up on all complaints that are brought to our attention,” he wrote in an email. “Complaints naturally arise from time to time. We will act on any that are substantiated.”
Those complaints include (anonymous) allegations of, among other things, “lack of accountability by top staffers,” “ever-present worry of losing employment,” and “high turnover rate.” Many of the employees quoted said these problems, and an accompanying culture of discomfort, stemmed directly from Russell’s leadership techniques.
Some of these techniques include what Ryan called “professional neglect and personal surveillance.” Namely, allegations that Russell closely monitors staff members’ social media accounts, even reportedly making use of dating app Grindr, which is primarily used, as Ryan said, to “romantically connect gay men.” An alleged screenshot of the app on Russell’s school-issued iPad was included in the article.
Also included was another apparent screenshot, this time of expletive-filled text message conversations between Russell and a co-worker.
Rodgers maintained that ResLife does not stringently monitor employees’ online activities.
“Student Affairs has established reasonable policies for what staff can post or share online. While we don’t monitor anyone’s social media activity, problematic language or posts are sometimes brought to our attention by members of the community,” he said. “The most common response is to coach staff to avoid mistakes in the future. Younger staff members are learning — in some cases through these mistakes — but in our experience have acted for the most part quite professionally in their online communication.”
The students Ryan quoted said that taken together, these factors add up to a “disregard for emotional and logistical support,” which students need in an “emotionally challenging” job.
For his part, Rodgers emphasized that RAs are specifically chosen for their abilities to cope with, and respond to, challenging circumstances.
“Residential Life staff are often called upon to handle the most difficult situations that can arise on and off campus — situations that often involve students’ safety. With these responsibilities in mind, a stringent interview process selects only a fraction of applicants for the position,” Rodgers said. “RA positions are among the most responsible jobs an undergraduate can hold, and so the university’s expectations are quite high.”
He also said RAs are given what is seen as appropriate support.
“RDs are carefully interviewed and selected, and placed in the same on-campus hall as the RA staff to assure they are present for challenging incidents,” Rodgers said. “To augment the work of direct supervisors, additional resident directors are on duty and available 24/7 throughout the year and work closely with extensively trained administrators on call from the Office of Residential Life.”