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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

UGAs Share Dissatisfaction, Discuss Potential Plans to Unionize

One writer reports on the challenges UGAs face forming bonds with their residents while also acting as responsible figures.

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Being an undergraduate adviser takes a special kind of heroism. Imagine in a common room or basement, leading students in icebreakers or doling out instructions, only to receive blank stares and awkward silence back from their residents: This is a typical moment for many UGAs. But besides the more mundane moments, UGAs have the important responsibility to  mentor and care for their residents  while also enforcing College policies when trouble arises. This balance can be complicated, some UGAs said.  

According to a UGA from the Class of 2024, who requested to remain anonymous to speak candidly about her experiences, high expectations of conduct and the low wages of Dartmouth employees have caused discontent among some UGAs. She added that she has heard rumors that UGAs will soon attempt to unionize.

“I have heard a little bit about some UGAs trying to unionize,” she said. “I think there’s some uneasiness about our pay not being changed at all. We do a lot behind the scenes. Dartmouth wants us to be the first [people] on the front lines if a resident has a problem. These are some big issues. It’s hard.”

Dartmouth announced that the minimum wage for all non-union employees increased to $16.25 an hour in March. However, because UGAs are not paid hourly, they receive a $2,100 stipend and an 80-block meal plan that pay for a term of work, according to the ’24. 

In a letter addressing UGAs obtained by The Dartmouth, Abi France-Kelly — Dartmouth’s Resident Education director — acknowledged the conflicting interests UGAs have as peers and mentors and encouraged them to reach out to Assistant Directors if they ever need advice or guidance. 

“This role has many facets to it,” she wrote. “Upholding campus/residential policies is a crucial part of this work. We understand that it may be challenging to hold peers accountable by reporting policy violations, so if you need support and guidance, please reach out to your Assistant Directors.” 

Complications also arise when UGAs are required to assist in emergency situations. UGA Lance Sunga ’26 said he felt like the training he and other UGAs received missed some important topics. 

“A lot of our training was intended to make sure that people had a person to come and talk to,” he said. “At the same time, many of us recognized that there was no big training on incident reporting.”

According to Sunga, UGAs are trained to turn to Dartmouth Safety and Security and Residential Operations for most residential issues. However, Sunga said that some circumstances he faced called for other solutions that were not made apparent to him through training.

“We were [asked to do an exercise] where there was a homophobic incident, and none of us knew how to respond to it,” he said. “We talked to our [Assistant Director] about it. You would think that [reporting to Residential Operations] would include bias reporting, but it doesn’t.”

According to the anonymous ’24, a major challenge she faced was supporting students with mental health issues, specifically eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.  

“The biggest thing you see [among first-years] is eating disorders,” she said. “That [was] not really covered as much as I would’ve liked during training.”

The anonymous source also noted that two weeks of UGA training was not sufficient time to go over all necessary information.

“You can’t become a professional in talking to a person who is suicidal in that time,” she explained. “We kind of get the intro to it, which is still helpful, but obviously training could be a lot more in-depth and make us feel more comfortable.”

UGA Alyah Martinez ’26 stated that while she was trained to plan floor events and meetings and collaborate with other UGAS, there were also aspects that she wished she could have been better equipped to handle.

“I wish I had received more training on emergencies, such as CPR certification,” she said.

However, UGA Kate Spillane ’24 noted that UGAs often learn the most while supporting their peers throughout the term. Contrary to her peers, she emphasized that she felt prepared to support her peers as an upperclassman UGA with the initial training that she received.  

The role of a UGA also varies significantly depending on the grade level of the students being supervised. Particularly, for upperclassmen UGAs, their role as a mentor becomes increasingly ambiguous.

UGA Vicky Escalona ’24 cited the unique dynamic between UGAs and upperclassmen residents as a point of difficulty. 

“I was a ’24 with ’24 and ’23 residents,” she said. “I didn’t feel that close to them or a sense of obligation. I think when people have first-years, they see themselves more as mentors, but that wasn’t the case for me.”

The anonymous ’24 also shared the disparities she felt in engaging with first-year and upperclassman floors.

“For my freshmen, I was actually making an impact on their lives. Any normal problem, they’d reach out and we’d grab a meal,” she said. “[With] my upperclassmen residents, I’m sending Group Me messages and nobody responds. I understand that they’re much more rooted in their Dartmouth community, so if something did come up they probably wouldn’t reach out to this stranger … but it’s weird. I feel like I’m not doing my job as well.”

On the other hand, Spillane, who has been both a FYRE and upperclassmen UGA, stated that the approaches for advising first-years versus other classes aren’t that stark.

“It’s not so much about the specific class that you’re dealing with,” she said. “No matter what, there could be issues that arise and situations that everyone should be prepared for … heath, safety and wellness [are] what’s important.”

Despite the challenges they may face, however, many UGAs said they enjoy their job and find it gratifying. Both Fiona Hood ’26 and Martinez were inspired by their own UGAs to step up and take responsibility on campus. 

“I had the best UGA ever last year,” Hood said. “Seeing how much he cared about us and how welcome he made us feel coming into Dartmouth [led me] to want to give back and do the same thing.”

Martinez echoed a similar sentiment and explained that she became a FYRE UGA to “give students the same advice [she received] and create an environment on-campus that felt safe for everyone.”