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Cuts to Stanford co-op staff members draw harsh criticism from students

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Stanford announced Thursday that the number of co-op student staff will be significantly reduced in the upcoming school year — and many students worry these cuts will negatively impact the well-being of staffers forced to take on a larger workload and their residents who will have to depend on staffers that are spread too thin.  

In contrast to previous years, the number of staff members in co-ops is now based on a one to 20 staff to resident ratio for upper class houses, as recommended by ResX, plus an additional three positions to account for the added operational responsibilities in a co-op, according to a Thursday email from Associate Dean Cole Shiflett to selected co-op student staff for the 2021-22 school year. 

In some residences, such as 576 Alvarado, the new ratio will reduce the number of student staff from 10 to five — effectively cutting half of the positions.

Some students have been aware of the change for weeks, having been notified informally during their staffing interviews, though the University did not make these policy changes public until Thursday.

As a result, students have been petitioning for weeks to raise awareness of the cuts and to urge the University to reverse its decision. Yesenia Ulloa ’22 created a petition to save student staff positions in co-op houses, which has garnered over 300 signatures, and students and alumni have flooded the comments with personal testimonies about the importance of maintaining staff positions. 

Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris did not directly respond to student criticism about the cuts or to questions about why the cuts were made, and instead cited the Thursday email. 

As a rationale for the decision, Shiflett wrote that “Student staff numbers have been adjusted to create consistency and equity in staffing across all houses, while also acknowledging some of the unique aspects of the various communities.” 

But students say the policy will harm staff and students as cutting the number of staff members while maintaining the same responsibilities could put a lot of pressure and extra work on the students who are selected to staff.

During her time as a house manager of 576 Alvarado, Anna Greene ’21 worked alongside one resident assistant and eight other staff members, each with a specific duty essential to the functioning of the house. She said that each staff member also shared the duties of building a community and making sure the mental health of residents was being taken care of.

Trying to condense these roles down to five is a recipe for disaster, according to Greene: “I think that the implications that this cut has for the well-being of residents, the safety of residents, the ability for residential places to be a community and a place of care — those implications are terrifying,” she said.

Omar El-Sabrout ’22, who lived in Columbae for two years, added that while the workload is supposed to be evenly distributed among everyone living in a co-op, student staff members take on the brunt of the work.

Indeed, staff members and residents of Columbae asked the administration to add an extra staff member to their co-op during the 2019-20 school year due to the “perennial exhaustion” that the staff members were living under, El-Sabrout said. 

To account for staff cuts, there will be a number of new roles in place to support co-op staff members, including resident directors and graduate associates, according to the Thursday email. Student staff will have access to professional Residential and Dining Enterprises staff with food service expertise and a Co-Op Advisory Council, which will provide support to co-op staff teams in managing responsibilities, will launch this summer, according to Shiflett.

Students also worry that these cuts to staff will negatively impact co-op residents and opportunities for community building for the upcoming school year. 

Greene said she worries that student staff next year will be so overworked that they will be forced to choose between fulfilling essential house responsibilities and emotionally supporting residents and prioritizing building community: “I just don’t see how it’s possible that student staff can do all of these things,” she said. 

Ulloa said she also worries student staffers next year will have fewer people to outsource problems to due to the University recently firing resident deans who staffers could previously refer students to. She added that mental health crises and behavioral health crises that staff may be met with would be a lot for so few staffers to handle.

Ulloa added that there is a culture among Stanford students in which students tend to prioritize academics over self-care. She emphasized the importance of support from staff members during trying times such as midterms and finals and the fact that this support would decrease with fewer staff members.

In contrast, Shiflett wrote that the new student staffing structure, combined with the new neighborhood roles, is the best way to support the co-op community as the University launches ResX. She added that ResEd is “dedicated to helping the co-op community thrive in this next era of the undergraduate residential experience.” 

In light of the cuts to staffing positions, Greene said it feels hard to help with this year’s selection process when the staff cuts disregard the values of student well-being and care that she thought were at the center of student staffing.

“It was a privilege and an honor and a joy to be a student staff member last year,” Greene said. “I am really sad and disappointed and scared for the future of not only student staffing but also co-ops in general.”

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Malaysia Atwater '23 is a desk editor in the News section from Aurora, Colorado. She enjoys dancing and re-watching Grey's Anatomy in her free time. Contact her at matwater 'at' stanforddaily.com.