Grinnell College down to two Residence Life Coordinators, with one leaving soon

Grinnell College down to two Residence Life Coordinators, with one leaving soon

According to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, voluntary turnover rates for higher ed staff doubled in the 2022-2023 academic year alone. At Grinnell College, the current academic year has seen three of five residence life coordinators leave their positions, creating gaps that have left the department of Residential Life scrambling and some community advisors feeling adrift.

According to Grinnell College’s official job description, residence life coordinators are in charge of residential communities of 250 students each and their student community advisors. 

However, Mary Perkins, 23, currently oversees South Campus, while Em Heath, 25, oversees East Campus, Younker Hall and Smith Hall — with student numbers significantly exceeding 250. 

To Mary Perkins, the main reasons for the high turnover rates are “high stress, high workload and the fact that you live where you work,” making it hard to separate personal and work lives.

Dennis Perkins, assistant dean of residence life and student conduct, thinks shifting attitudes towards work expectations have impacted retention rates.

“In this generation, folks are not willing to work extra without being paid for,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s bad … but it has affected how people see work that has to be done.”

Heath said that they too would be quitting at the end of the semester, leaving Mary Perkins the only continuing residence life coordinator.

“The roles I’m looking for right now tend towards more creative aspects of the job,” they said. “I think it’s just time to transition out.” 

Due to employee departures, supervisors in Residence Life have had to absorb extra responsibilities. Dennis Perkins and Mfon Nwaboku, assistant director of residence life and student conduct, manage the rest of the North Campus advisors. Dennis Perkins said they also help Heath and Mary Perkins with on-call rotations after-hours alongside Ben Newhouse, associate vice-president of student affairs and dean of students.

Morgan Karow `26, a Norris advisor, noted Residence Life had been very transparent and communicative with community advisors when their coordinator, Helen Eckhard, left and was replaced by Dennis Perkins.

“But since Dennis has so many responsibilities,” she said, “he just doesn’t really have the time … We’ve cut out a lot of the fat of what our job was, and now we’re only doing the really important stuff.”

“I’m burned out in some areas,” admitted Dennis Perkins. However, he added that he had been doing such work for a long time, and that Residence Life would continue looking for ways to ease the burden on their staff.

Trung Le `25, a Rathje advisor, is unconvinced. He said he thinks coordinators are not being paid enough for the amount of the work they have to handle, and that the string of resignations have left him unmotivated to carry out his duties.

“Having support is very important to motivate you,” he said. “If your supervisor, who is very close to you, is not compensated fairly, you tend to feel like you don’t want to do this anymore.”

“It’s been a good first semester for me — but I do not expect to come back and work next year,” he said. “The RLCs are definitely overworked … I’m very happy for them to leave this space.”

Heath and Mary Perkins said they were actively working to change conditions in Residence Life — their unique position as the only remaining coordinators ensured they were being listened to.

“We try to make the best of it, for the staff and students that we work with,” said Heath. “We’re creating systems in place so we don’t have to recreate things every time somebody new comes in.”

Change is indeed happening in Residence Life — for community advisors. On April 4, 2024, the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers signed a three-year contract with the College that improved wages for all student workers. Advisors can now choose between the standard free room grant or a stipend for hours worked.

Le, however, thinks that the underlying issue at hand is the way the advisor and coordinator roles are being managed. Although he acknowledged that Heath, his residence life coordinator, was doing their best, he still felt there was a lack of administrative support: “The work is not fulfilling, there’s no growth.”

“I think it’d be fine even if we didn’t have CAs — there’s absolutely no problems on my floor, even without my intervention,” he said. To him, students become advisors for the single-room grant and then become disillusioned.

While Karow does not object to the new arrangement, she said that the College should still focus on “creating an environment where our RLCs want to stay.”

“It’s sad to see them leave,” she said. “Helen led our cluster meetings in an inspiring way. She always drove home the point that what we do as TAs is actually important … to be a point person that residents can come to.”

There have been no official changes made to the RLC role yet. Heath and Mary Perkins said they are still in the job because of the people they work with.

“I came back for a second year because I knew I’d have the opportunity to be more influential with the new staff,” said Heath. “I was not only developing students but professionals, which was very personally fulfilling.”

Mary Perkins added, “No one enters this job for the money or hours. Once a month, I get a really good moment where I know I had a positive impact on the student’s day, and it makes all the work worth it.”

Karow, too, said she has not lost motivation for the community advisor job.

“It’s nice to see a community be built on the floor, and feel like you had something to do with it,” she said. “My residents are still here. My floor is awesome. I’m happy with the CA role, and I think that it’s something that I can see myself doing again in the future.”

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