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11/20/2014 04:38 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2014

Georgetown Students Push For Clarity On RA Rules

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Since Georgetown University resident assistant Thomas Lloyd came forward on Nov. 11 to give his account of what he describes as "a pattern of exploitation" by the prestigious Jesuit school, other RAs at the university are speaking out about their own concerns.

In his op-ed published in the student newspaper, The Hoya, Lloyd describes his experience as a university employee in the wake of a traumatic incident. In March, fellow student Daniel Milzman came to Lloyd with a bag of homemade ricin, saying he intended to kill a student. Lloyd said that he contacted the school's psychiatric services, which took over an hour to respond. Lloyd contended that in the aftermath of the incident "the only university tool offered to make me feel safer has been a no-contact order."

Lloyd also wrote that after his name got in the press, the university told him to speak only to psychiatric services or his chaplain-in-residence about the incident. Speaking to press or anyone else, he said, would be a violation of the terms of his employment.

RAs are the "primary and most essential support we offer our residents," Edward Gilhool, director of residential education, told The Huffington Post. They are students and employees of the university who live among assigned residents. RA responsibilities include developing community and running programs, but they are also typically the first responders to serious situations students experience including eating disorders, suicidal ideation, sexual assault and -- in Lloyd's case -- depression and threats of violence.

After the publication of Lloyd's article, several other RAs spoke anonymously with student-run newsmagazine the Georgetown Voice for an article titled "Yes All RAs," which includes allegations of mistreatment by the university. RAs quoted in the article argue that they bear tremendous responsibilities, which take up a significant amount of time and keep them from attending to personal needs. Some said they have not wanted to report sexual assaults for fear of losing their job, especially because the RA position helps to pay for tuition.

"During RA training this year we had four hours of Title IX training. I know all about how to report an assault as long as it's a resident or friend who's been assaulted," the Voice quotes one RA as saying. "I don't know my own rights. It makes me very, very scared."

The Georgetown administrators believe that the RA program is well-run and that students are taken care of.

"We believe we provide them with good information to be able to fulfill their responsibilities as RAs," Stephanie Lynch, assistant dean for residential living, told HuffPost. RAs receive training to access and use a number of the school's resources, including the police department, counseling center, on-campus emergency rooms and an on-call professional staff member. They have specific protocols for dealing with eating disorders and suicidal ideation, Lynch said.

The Georgetown University Student Association, however, is pushing for more. On Sunday, the group passed a bill calling for the university to take steps to clarify the role of the RA position and better support RAs. The bill asks the university to investigate all claims made in the Georgetown Voice article and to review how the cases were handled. It also asks the university to clarify how RAs should respond to media inquiries, and to ensure that it provides RAs a safe and comfortable work environment.

The bill also requests that the university provide RAs with the proper protocols to follow should they personally experience trauma, such as a sexual assault, that would affect their ability to work as an RA or function as a student.

"If there is [protocol], we don't know what that is," Elizabeth Oh, a junior in student government who helped to draft the bill, told HuffPost. "It doesn't seem to be consistent, it seems to be case by case. But we feel that there should be proper protocol that suitably addresses the needs of students if he or she undergoes [traumatic] events."

"It’s important not to forget that RAs are people, too," another anonymous RA told the Voice.

The bill was delivered Tuesday to Todd Olson, the vice president for Student Affairs, but so far the administration has not offered an official response.

"We're certainly aware of the conversations occurring with our student government and are looking forward to engaging with them further," Gilhool told HuffPost. He said the administration wants to "ensure that this opportunity is one that is very positive and something they look back on, and reflect on, and are touched by."

HuffPost

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