This is a developing story. If you are an RA and being told to stay, you can e-mail Knight News at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can remain anonymous.
Resident assistants at the University of Central Florida are being told to stay on campus or face termination ahead of Hurricane Irma, multiple RAs have told Knight News.
UCF canceled all campus operations Wednesday afternoon after Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, was projected to hit Central Florida. The university has insisted that any RAs who feel they are unable to stay during the storm will be accommodated, but the opposite seems to be the case.
Knight News was able to verify the identities of three RAs who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. A fourth source, who provided detailed information, kept their identity anonymous.
In their statements, the sources all said that RAs are not allowed to leave campus due to a stipulation in their contract which says they are “essential personnel,” meaning they are obligated to stay during emergencies such as hurricanes.
However, UCF spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin told Knight News in an e-mail that they are not essential personnel but that “staffing emergencies such as Hurricane Irma is part of the RA position description.”
“That said, if anyone has concerns about being on campus during the duration of the storm, Housing is flexible and not requiring staff members to stay,” she said. “Any concerns should be brought to the appropriate supervisor.”
While they said that some staffers are allowed to ride out the storm elsewhere, housing communities like Towers at Knights Plaza have all hands on deck.
“Nobody has left. We’ve all been assigned duty for the course of the hurricane and have been told that we must stay,” said one staff member whose identity Knight News verified.
Sources say RAs were told in person by supervisors that they are not allowed to leave. While some plan to do so anyway, others fear losing their jobs and, as a result, their housing. One RA even claimed to have worked so many hours in the last week, that they did not have time to buy supplies.
“No RA wants to stay, we just want to keep our jobs since if we lose them many of us can’t afford housing on our own, including myself, on top of grad school and letters of recommendations,” said another staff member. “We are being told not to discuss these matters outside of meetings.”
Some staffers have reportedly been allowed to leave. One source claimed that two graduate coordinators at Lake Claire Apartments were given permission to find shelter off-campus. But in some communities like Neptune, RAs who initially were granted the weekend off had those plans canceled as Irma approaches.
According to the anonymous source, this is not the first time UCF threatened to fire RAs who decide to leave during a hurricane. All RAs stayed during Hurricane Matthew since “they were under the impression that they would be fired which means they would lose their housing as well, in the middle of a semester.”
“They are not getting compensated more additionally for staying,” the source said. “They are risking [their] lives, with the same pay since they get a stipend.”
Knight News reached out to multiple housing communities to confirm the allegations, but their offices declined to comment and referred Knight News to the UCF News & Information office.
While UCF has encouraged students to leave for off-campus shelter, those who stay behind may be evacuated to classroom buildings designated as “ride-out locations.” The storm continues to be monitored and is expected to hit Central Florida by Sunday morning.