Campus, Investigative

GPA policy causes housing insecurity among RAs

A week before classes began this fall, Residence Life removed Guensly Desir from her position as a Resident Assistant.

Desir, a student from Easton, Massachusetts, from a low-income background, said funding her education at Boston University was a “miracle” made possible through her RA job, which provided free housing on campus.

On Aug. 30, the South Campus ResLife office called Desir in while she was helping her residents move in. ResLife told Desir that due to her academic standing from last semester, she would be suspended from her RA position — without guarantee of return.

After working 10 days of training and two days of move-in, Desir left the office without a job, without secure housing and without any idea of what her future at BU would look like.  

 “I almost decided to transfer because, genuinely, I can’t afford to go here,” said Desir, a senior in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. “The one thing that was making it possible for me to be here and thrive here was being taken away. It was absolutely jarring.”

South Campus resident assistant Guenlsy Desir (Wheelock ‘24) in her dorm. The GPA policy for residence life workers is causing housing insecurity among some employees. MATTHEW EADIE/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

RAs said they’ve seen an increase in firings since they unionized last year. The ResLife Union has since filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board over the GPA/GPI policy. 

BU spokesperson Colin Riley wrote in an email that no RA firings were due to the unionization. He said the GPA/GPI policy is longstanding and has been consistently enforced, and did not comment further. Interim Director of Residence Life Jason Grochowalski did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Jacob Leal, a Graduate Resident Assistant in South Campus and a PhD student in the School of Theology, said this is the first year he’s heard RAs/GRAs losing their jobs due to the policy. This year, he knows at least seven RAs and GRAs who have been fired because of this policy. Multiple RA union members have confirmed this number. 

ResLife workers, including RAs, GRAs and Graduate Housing Assistants, operate under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), delineating the terms of their employment. This includes the provision by BU of housing payments for RAs, GRAs and GHAs. 

However, this is conditional upon ResLife’s academic requirements. According to the MOU, ResLife workers must maintain at least a 2.7 GPA and remain in “good academic standing” to keep their positions. If their RA position is compromised for any reason, they will lose their housing accommodations immediately. 

BU’s definition of “good academic standing” requires a 2.0 semesterly GPI and a 2.0 cumulative GPA. While the MOU lists a higher standard for RA’s GPA, it does not specify the GPI uniquely required of RAs. At the time of her firing, Desir still had a 2.7 GPA, but her GPI from the spring 2023 semester fell below 2.0.

The ResLife Union created a petition to revise the GPA/GPI policy and reinstate workers dismissed under this policy during the 2023-2024 academic year.

“When somebody is let go from this position, the university assumes that they are just going to be able to focus fully on academics and that the removal of this role is going to give them more time. But actually, it’s the complete opposite,” Leal said. “It’s a position where people who are taking this position need this position.”

Jacob Leal, a graduate resident assistant in South Campus, in his building’s common space. Leal is a member of the ResLife union. ANDREW BURKE-STEVENSON/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Union negotiations

The ResLife Union formed last spring, and joined Local 509 on March 23, as previously reported by The Daily Free Press. Local 509 represents graduate and resident assistant units in bargaining with BU. The bargaining units are the separate unions that make up Local 509

The union delivered its full proposed contract and condensed platform this fall. They first met with BU on Dec. 15, scheduled during the fall final exam period. So far, the union has only had four sessions with the university, and only three more are scheduled for the remainder of the academic year — the final one being May 11, the day after final exams end.

“This is a common union-busting tactic … not providing long enough bargaining sessions and not having or facilitating productive bargaining sessions,” said Jasmine A. Richardson, an RA in South Campus and a junior in College of Arts and Sciences.

Executive Director of Employee and Labor Relations Judi Burgess declined to comment, as BU does not comment on ongoing labor matters. 

RAs detail existing issues within the role 

To fill the gap left by the firings in fall 2023, certain RAs and GRAs had to be assigned more shifts than others before new RAs could be hired. RAs took on additional on-call shifts and GRAs trained the newly hired RAs — duties outside their job description, all completed without compensation for the additional work, Leal said. 

“We need these on-calls filled,” Leal said. “If they don’t get filled in, they assign them to people who have the least amount of on-calls.”

Instead of receiving a meal plan, RAs with apartment-style accommodations receive a stipend based on the number of residents they oversee. RAs overseeing fewer than 29 residents receive no stipend, those with 30 to 49 residents receive $270 per year and those with 50 or more residents receive $450 per year.

Richardson oversees over 80 residents in South Campus and receives $450 per academic year. After taxes, Richardson’s allotted stipend comes out to $14.25 per week.

“That does not cover my groceries,” she said. “Having the most vulnerable employees be the ones who are subject to the arbitrary ResLife will, it can honestly put people in a very precarious situation.” 

South campus residence assistant Jasmine Richardson (CAS ‘25) in a ResLife office in South Campus. Richardson is a member of the ResLife union. ANDREW BURKE-STEVENSON/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

The role of an RA is extremely variable and largely depends on which of the six BU neighborhoods an RA is stationed in.

For example, in South Campus, GRAs oversee residents as well as a set of RAs, whereas in dorms like Warren Towers, GRAs only oversee RAs.

“Some people are on-call two times a semester and some people are on call two times a week,” Desir said. 

Due to the number of RAs sharing on-call shifts between 575 Commonwealth Ave. and the surrounding brownstones, fewer RAs work the same number of shifts compared to other neighborhoods. Each RA has relatively fewer on-call shifts than other neighborhoods, “which means less hours worked,” said Adam Shamsi, a GRA for 575 in his final year in CAS.

“I don’t have residents, but some GRAs do,” Shamsi said. “Which means that they have to do all the work that I do, plus all the work that an RA does.”

The loss of a community  

In addition to his position as a GRA, Leal is also a teaching fellow at BU. He said the graduate student union is fighting alongside the RA union to remove the GPA/GPI policy. 

Leal said this policy is “changing the way” he sees his work. He said his grades could directly affect RAs and potentially result in them getting kicked out of their housing. 

“We didn’t sign up for our work, our grades that we give, to force people out of their living situations,” Leal said. “Everyone who’s grading should be aware if there are people in their classes who could be essentially evicted if they have bad grades.” 

First year Ph.D candidate Stacy Yuen (center) and graduate resident assistant Jacob Leal (right) read testimonies at a ResLife union rally on Jan. 18. MOLLY POTTER/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Desir failed two classes during her spring semester junior year and was placed on academic probation, which violated the MOU and cost her position as an RA. However, she was not removed from her position until the following fall — after she had already moved in and signed a contract for the 2023-2024 academic year. 

“I could have changed [my academic standing] if I had taken summer classes,” Desir said. “They didn’t allow me the time to rectify it.”

BU Housing found space for Desir in Danielsen Hall to move into after being removed from her RA position.

“If I were to not live on campus, I’d have to commute from home, which is two hours by train every day,” Desir said “So it was near impossible for me to try to get my grades back up and not live on campus.”

Leal said not only do RAs lose housing when they are fired, they also lose a community. 

“They have to go and take on more jobs and work extra in order to pay for the housing that they now have to pay for,” Leal said. “It’s almost impossible to find a place to live within a couple of days of notice.”

Housing on campus can cost anywhere from $11,600 to $20,660 for the 2023-2024 academic year, according to BU Housing. This doesn’t include mandatory dining plans for those living in dorms, which start at an additional $6,510.

Desir said she still has not paid off her housing and meal plan from last semester, and is now about $10,000 in debt.  

“I have no clue how I’m going to cover it,” Desir said. “I can still walk but I can’t receive my diploma until [my student account] is settled.” 

After bringing her grades back up this fall, Desir asked to be reinstated as an RA. While waiting to hear back from ResLife, Desir’s testimonial was read on her behalf at a ResLife Union demonstration on Jan. 18. A few days later, she was offered a position as an RA.

Desir said she contemplated her decision for a few days, coping with the difficulty of accepting a position from the same place that fired her.

She accepted the offer and was reinstated as an RA in late January. She moved back to South Campus in a different apartment than she was originally placed in.  

“I [replaced] another person who was also affected by the same policy,” Desir said. “It’s interesting, seeing how quickly they were to replace me and replace other people.”  


Matthew Eadie contributed reporting.


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One Comment

  1. Thank you for covering this story. I believe BU is misguided in not providing RAs with meal plans regardless of where they are assigned to RA post. RAs also need to be evaluated on how well they are supporting students.

    “Interim Director of Residence Life Jason Grochowalski did not respond to multiple requests for comment.” Well, the Interim Director should comment on these issues. That is their job.