By Skylar Cohen
Although some of the demands put forward by Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) are meant to be fulfilled over the course of several years, several of the demands are more immediate – including demand 15, which advocates for Ethnic Theme Associates (ETAs) to be paid an equal amount to RAs, beginning at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
“This will recognize the importance of [ETAs’] work in planning programming and facilitating conversations around issues of identity, as well as the other work they do – far beyond their job description – to ensure the well-being of communities in ethnic theme dorms,” reads the demand.
The Daily examined three aspects of the ETA role to build context for this demand: The training done leading up to the ETA role, the experience of the ETA role and the debate about the ETA role in the future.
ETA training is split into two components, just as it is for RAs. This includes a spring training course, which this year is EDUC192D, and a two-week training period prior to the beginning of the school year. The spring training course is exclusive to ETAs, but ETAs share much of their fall training with RAs.
The ETA class was offered for the first time last spring as a pilot class. According to Co Tran ’17, current ETA for Okada and WTU member, the class was a positive experience.
“We spent time examining our own identity, talking to each other about race, power, privilege, those kind of things,” Tran said. “All in all I thought it was a wonderful class, and I just wish that we had received similar training during September and also throughout the year.”
According to multiple sources, there are some breakout groups dedicated to ETA training during the fall, but ETAs are largely expected to attend the same sessions as RAs during the two-week training period.
“When you had the trainings at the beginning of the fall, we felt like an afterthought sometimes, and not everyone who spoke to the group knew what an ETA even was, which was disheartening,” Foluke Nunn ’16, current ETA for Ujamaa, said. Nunn added, though, that she feels ResEd has done a better job affirming ETAs recently.
Although the ETAs share a common commitment to theme programming, the types of responsibilities that are placed on ETAs vary markedly in different dorms.
“On paper, the ETA position would be organizing programming for the dorm, which could mean several things. It could manifest itself in different kinds of events,” Julian Pena ’17, current ETA in Casa Zapata, said.
One main responsibility shared by many ETAs includes helping pre-assignees prepare presentations relating to the theme of the dorm. However, ethnic theme dorms also feature distinct responsibilities for ETAs. Casa Zapata expects ETAs to organize a play that is produced during Parents’ Weekend. This involves reading plays during the previous summer, filling out grants and looking for directors during the fall, and orchestrating rehearsals and tech work during winter quarter.
According to Tran, Okada ETAs plan a quarterly field trip with pre-assignees. Nunn noted that Ujamaa ETAs help plan other dorm events, such as a reunion of previous Ujamaa residents.
Going beyond day-to-day responsibilities, the text of the ETA demand mentions the work done beyond the job description to ensure the well-being of the ethnic theme dorms, including a component of emotional labor.
“It takes energy, but it’s also intimately related to the care and the love that I feel for the residents in this dorm,” Tran said. “I think that when we’re dealing issues of race, class, sexuality and gender here at Stanford, it is linked into works that RAs are ‘supposed’ to do, right? So I think the job descriptions are – the lines are blurred.”
“Sometimes an ETA might have a better relationship with a resident who’s having a problem than the RA does, in which case it might make more sense for the ETA to go and talk to them and get information from them about that [problem] and provide that emotional support for them,” Nunn said.
Pena noted that ETAs are seen as educators in the ethnic theme dorms, and ETAs may be required to facilitate conversations regarding racism or controversial events at any time. As an example, Pena noted a time when the ETAs were put in a position to respond to a Stanford Review article critical of Casa Zapata, which argued that the inclusion of revolutionary Che Guevara in a mural in Stern Dining was alienating towards Cuban Americans. Casa Zapata responded by noting that the mural reflects the choices of the students who were present when it was initially being painted, and they had a conversation about why the students of the time felt that Che Guevara was important to them and the symbolic value he holds.
“That’s not a job requirement that you respond to criticisms of the dorm, but because that may occur, we feel that that is something that we should do,” Pena said.
As it stands, ETAs only receive a third of the salary of RAs; according to WTU media representative Colin Kimzey ’17, this could make the position prohibitive for first generation and low income students, as the position precludes one from taking better-paying jobs.
“[This discouragement] makes it harder to have an intersectional understanding of identity,” Kimzey said. “If you have mostly people of color who are facilitating this programming who have class privilege, you’re not getting the whole picture.”
“I feel like the pay as it is doesn’t reflect the amount of work the ETAs do to make sure that the dorm is a vibrant intellectual [space] and also to keep the community strong,” Nunn said.
The University has established working groups to address the WTU demands, according to Stanford spokesperson Lisa Lapin. The ETA demand falls under the purview of the Residential Education working group, led by Greg Boardman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs. According to Tran, the group has already had an initial meeting with a number of administrators.
“We were able to talk through the research and the reasoning behind each of our demands, share our stories, and in return the administrators would asked us logistic questions about solutions that we were proposing, and shared the work they’d been doing to make ResEd better,” Tran said.
Although WTU was disappointed that the administration did not sign the demands, Tran said, they appreciate that WTU and administrators are working towards mutually beneficial solutions.
An emailed statement sent by Lapin prior to the first meeting of the groups expressed the dedication of those involved in the working groups.
“The administration leaders of this effort look forward to continuing conversations in a respectful, constructive manner to identify the optimal solutions,” the statement noted. “They want to assure students of their dedicated and sincere commitment for collaborative engagement, collectively and deeply held by the individuals who have stepped up to lead conversations and address these issues, as members of our university community.”
Contact Skylar Cohen at [email protected]