Hundreds of Stanford RAs stage massive strike just weeks before classes start

A Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto.Paul Sakuma / Associated Press 2012

Hundreds of resident assistants, or RAs, at Stanford University are on strike, less than two weeks before undergraduates arrive on campus — a massive student action that may throw the welcome mat for incoming freshmen out the window.

The student worker action comes two days after at least one RA tested positive for COVID-19 following days of eight-hour, indoor, in-person trainings, according to a letter sent by RAs to university officials first obtained by the Stanford Daily and shared with SFGATE. Other RAs alleged they were not informed that there was a COVID-positive RA until the individual student worker informed them of their diagnosis.

The positive test seemingly spurred the strike into action, after student organizers threatened to go on strike beginning Wednesday evening if demands made by the student workers were not met. Among the RAs’ demands were higher pay, virtual RA trainings beyond recordings and more student input on residential alcohol and drug use policies.

“We cannot care for our residents when you are actively forcing us into conditions that directly threaten our emotional and physical health,” reads the letter from Stanford’s Student Collective Action Against Residential Education (SCAARE), the organization that is organizing the strike.

“Particularly for those of us who are immunocompromised, you have forced us to make an impossible choice: either we risk attending another potential superspreader event, or we remain untrained as you continue to refuse to provide a hybrid or virtual option for staff training.”

A representative for SCAARE told SFGATE that RAs are expected by Stanford “to pay to work” — as the price of room and board in Stanford dormitories is about $7,000 more than how much they are paid, without taking into account three weeks of training and freshman orientations.

“The university is exploiting us,” the organization said in an emailed response to SFGATE. “We are not being fairly compensated for our work.”

Pat Harris, a university representative, disputed claims that Stanford has not been receptive to RAs’ needs, writing in a statement to the Stanford Daily that “open lines of communication between residential staff and the University have long been a key strength of our residential system.” 

And while the school did offer a virtual training Thursday, it appears as if the action was too little too late — as only a third of the 500 or so RAs hired by the school reportedly showed up to the training.

“We have been left with no other option but to withhold our labor until our demands are met,” said SCAARE organizers in the letter. 

Representatives for the campus did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.

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