scorecardresearch Skip to main content

The union comes to Boston University dorms

Around 280 resident assistants announced Wednesday that they had formally organized and signed union authorization cards.

The entrance to Boston University's Warren Towers dorm, among the 150 on-campus residences overseen by resident assistants.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Resident assistants at Boston University announced Wednesday that they had formed a union — the latest in a wave of student labor efforts sweeping college dormitories in the Northeast.

At an afternoon rally, organizers said that many of the 280 undergraduate and graduate students had signed authorization cards and requested that the university voluntarily recognize the union. If successful, the students would join SEIU Local 509, which already represents thousands of adjunct faculty, salaried lecturers, and graduate workers at BU.

The college covers resident assistants’ housing costs — between $11,260 and $20,060 annually — in exchange for them enforcing residential rules at on-campus residences. RAs are also often the first point of contact for students struggling with their mental health and charged with hosting community-building activities with their residents. Most RAs are also given a meal plan.


But organizers said that is not enough.

They are advocating for paid training, workload protections, health and safety accommodations, mental health support, and additional stipends.

“This is a role that is very community-facing,” said Andrew Severance, a union organizer and sophomore economics major. “It is our whole job to reach out to students, but we want to make sure the university is supporting us in that task.”

Sam Betsko, a junior English major and second-year RA, added that organizers also want to “create more equity across campus for RAs.” The assistants’ quality of housing and living standards vary widely, she said.

A rally of resident assistants forming a union at BU.SEIU

Labor organizing on college campuses has been gaining steam of late, with another big push locally just this week. Researchers and lecturers at Harvard University went public Monday with efforts to form a union, the same day as 1,700 research and teaching assistants at Northeastern University.

Graduate students at MIT, Harvard, and BU have organized within the past two years. And in recent months, resident assistants at Tufts University, Barnard College in New York, and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. made similar moves.


Their success was the impetus for the push at BU, said Betsko.

“People saw that it was possible. Knowing that a regular worker could accomplish that within your own job inspired me to know that I could do the same thing.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.