Current student fellow anticipates next year’s changes

Cushing house, where Ethan lives along with his student fellow group, is filled with a passionate and enthusiastic team of ResLife members—as are all the nine Vassar dorms./ Courtesy of the Miscellany News

As one of the first big moves from our new administration, the student fellow program—specifically the stufel job description and responsibilities—underwent some major renovations. As a current student fellow and someone who spoke to President Bradley about the new program, I would like to help people better understand these changes and what they mean for our campus next year.

What’s new? Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the student fellow position will now put (up to) $3000 in next year’s student fellows’ bank accounts. That makes the student fellow role a full Work-Study job, but with the caveat that you do not need to be Work-Study eligible to apply. Had I been chosen as a stufel for next year, I might be jumping for joy, but as one of this season’s cast I must say I’m not a huge fan. Every current student fellow applied because they wanted to be a student fellow and take on all the varied roles and responsibilities that come with the position; this year’s applicant pool (while potentially larger) has an extra $3000 encouraging them to make that decision.

On the other hand, being a student fellow is one of the most demanding positions on campus, so it makes sense to provide adequate compensation. However, another side effect of this change makes me ultimately against the salary boost: stufels are now considered employees of the Office of Residential Life, which will likely change their status as confidential resources to mandated reporters. This may just sound like a bunch of jargon, but it could be the most impactful change to the new position considering the sexual assault and sexual harassment disclosures that student fellows receive with horrifying frequency. Currently, student fellows are required to report any allegations that come through our door, but we are NOT required to provide any identifying information about the involved parties. However, mandated reporters must provide identifying details in their reports. This takes away the option of reporting to a student fellow without the college getting involved, which might discourage reporting. To my understanding, these changes are necessary now that student fellows will be official employees, which is my ultimate argument against the pay raise.

The next big change to the student fellow position is the increased commitment, which includes student fellow meetings lasting an hour longer, additional workshops throughout the semester, bi-weekly one-on-ones with the House Advisor, weekend duties, office hours and additional days of training in spring and summer. That seems like a lot. It is a lot. However, you could take the stance that if you were a good stufel, you would probably be doing some of those things anyway. This perspective makes the extra work seem justified. Spending time with fellowees during the week and making yourself available and present in your hallway are incredibly important parts of establishing trust and rapport. Instead of figuring out how to build those important relationships on their own, next year’s student fellows will have it all scheduled out ahead of time.

I am not entirely against more training, as long as the time is used productively. This year as a student fellow, I was surprised and frankly overwhelmed at times by my job. It felt like I was in a position to help but sometimes lacked the tools to really be effective. More training could potentially fill that gap and produce a group of well-trained, effective and prepared student fellows…but I’m not optimistic. The exercises that comprised the student fellow summer training were unanimously helpful, but in my opinion the winter retreat was poorly executed. This is where ResLife needs to significantly improve the student fellow program: by bringing in qualified individuals to cover the variety of topics student fellows must be comfortable with, alongside making training engaging and impactful.  

The last notable change to the student fellow program has to do with the infamous three B’s, or the rules that prohibit student fellows and first years in their house from engaging in the consumption of alcohol/drugs or sexual/amorous relationships together. These rules have now been expanded to cover the entire freshman class. This stringent rule largely limits the freedom of student fellows to socialize with new students. ResLife and the administration seem to be denying the inevitability of all those situations and creating more opportunities to discipline students for fabricated offences.

In truth, we will not know how this new system will work out until next year. Having spoken to some of the applicants for the new position, I can’t help but feel a sense of optimism. As I write this, I feel confident that I can rely not on the new system, not on the training, but on what student fellows have always brought to the table themselves. The success of this program ultimately depends on the quality of the student fellows and on the Vassar tradition of students helping each other, and no amount of regulation or mandated programing will change that.

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