New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

RAs unionize, demand university recognition

A majority of resident assistants on campus recently unionized, and are now demanding that NYU recognize them as a formal union.
Manasa Gudavalli
Student Workers At NYU hand their letter to NYU counselor to the president Kristie Patten at Bobst Library. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

Around 25 people, including about 15 resident assistants part of the union Student Workers At NYU, demanded university recognition for the group in a letter to President Linda Mills and the board of trustees delivered at Bobst Library on Tuesday. The union, which was publicly announced only a day earlier, is currently made up of over two thirds of all RAs.

The group met counselor to the university president Kristie Patten at Bobst’s ground floor elevators with two printed copies of the letter, which garnered nearly 100 signatures. The union, also known as SWAN, is asking Mills to respond by April 23. 

“RAs play an important role in the student experience at NYU and are valued members of the community,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman wrote in a statement to WSN. “We appreciate their sharing their concerns, and look forward to reviewing their submission carefully.”

A group of people posing for a picture. The person in the middle is holding a sign that says “UNION NOW.”
(Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

SWAN is demanding compensation for RAs, more flexibility in scheduling work hours and more transparency on what expectations for RAs are, saying their responsibilities can shift with little notice.

“We all are doing this role because we love it,” said GLS senior Emma Burstein, who is a part of the organizing committee for the group. “It’s really hard to have this cloud hanging over it — knowing that the people at the top aren’t listening to us and they aren’t the ones doing this work so they aren’t even seeing these problems.”  

Every year, over 250 students are selected to work as RAs in one of NYU’s 23 residence halls. Their responsibilities include organizing building events, resolving conflicts between residents and taking note of policy violations. RAs receive free housing and dining plans, but do not receive wages for their work.

Tandon senior Ricardo Sheler, a member of the organizing committee who began working with the union in November 2022, said the group chose the name SWAN in the spring of 2023. Before officially unionizing and seeking recognition from NYU, a majority of RAs submitted authorization cards consenting to be represented by SWAN. If the university does not agree to recognize the group, SWAN will submit the cards to the National Labor Relations Board, with the goal to eventually begin bargaining for a contract with NYU.

A group of people chanting and cheering in a lobby.
(Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

The group is requesting for NYU to compensate RAs with a set stipend per semester, similar to what Columbia University incorporated for its RAs last academic year, rather than the university’s current system of refunding each RA’s housing and meal plan costs. Sheler said the current compensation system can affect students’ financial aid and work study eligibility, causing RAs to not receive benefits that they otherwise would.  

SWAN is also demanding that the university compensate RAs for “any incurred travel costs due to scheduling.” According to the letter, many RAs seek second or third jobs on and off-campus in order to be able to pay their expenses. However, RAs’ work hours do not account for other potential responsibilities, as they are created based only on their class schedules. Burstein, who is an RA at the Paulson Center, said that there is “no consistency” in the repercussions that RAs face for failing to prioritize their RA duties over other responsibilities. 

Burstein told WSN that RAs also get little choice in which residence hall they’re assigned to, and that many of them have noticed “unequal compensation” and “unfair inconsistencies” in their workload and living conditions depending on their building.

“We’re doing this job, but the only way we’re compensated for the job is these rooms, and then these rooms have different values,” Burstein said. “We are getting paid different amounts for the same job, which is not allowed. That’s not ok.” 

Burstein also said that although all RAs are required to work over some holiday shifts, dining halls are closed during those periods, invalidating a part of their compensation at those times. She said the university has occasionally reimbursed student workers for a fraction of what they spend on food or groceries while working on campus during periods when dining halls are closed. SWAN is also demanding payment in addition to the requested stipend for holiday shifts. 

A group of people smiling and clapping in a lobby.
(Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

The group is also demanding that RAs be recognized as university employees rather than “paraprofessionals” which they say barricades them from “outlined protections and processes.” 

In  February 2023, a group of RAs signed a petition calling on the university to further address lapses in dorm security, requesting increased training in responding to security incidents and closer correspondence with Campus Safety. In the petition, the RAs said they were not being fairly compensated nor properly trained for their work.

“If you’re not an RA, you can’t grasp the challenges of this job,” CAS senior and RA Jasia Kubik said. “You’re walking down the street, you see your residents. When you’re just going home, someone can approach you. It’s really a 24-hour job, even when we’re not doing any synchronous responsibilities.” 

Update, April 17: This article has been updated with a statement from a university spokesperson.

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Aashna Miharia
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.
Manasa Gudavalli
Manasa Gudavalli, Editor-in-Chief
Manasa Gudavalli is a super senior studying a super strange combination of psychology, mathematics, journalism, and chemistry. When they are not editing the Washington Square News, they are probably reading Freud, watching college football, or developing film photos. You can find them on Instagram @manasa.gudavalli and

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