“Illini Tower…what an odd chapter in our lives” – a change
UPDATE: 9/19/12 The DAILY ILLINI has done their first story on the incident.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you know me and Larry personally. Maybe you’re one of the many residents, coworkers, or close friends who is wondering what the heck has been going on with this whole situation. Or maybe you’re a complete stranger, thus far unaware of what has been happening. I’ll do my best to cater to both parties in this post.
So if you’re here, and you haven’t stumbled upon this page by accident or other fault, you probably want to know specifics. What happened? I’m not really going to point fingers here or name names. People are to blame for what happened and I think what I will say here will make it pretty clear who those people are. But that’s not entirely what this post is going to be about. After reading this, if you’d still like to know more, give me a call. I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with you sometime and tell the rest of the story. Because there is a lot more. Until then, let me just say that after everything that has happened…I’m going to miss you guys a lot. Especially my floor babies. I know that management will be reading this as well, and to you lot, I can only say that I sincerely wish and pray for your physical and mental well-being in during this time. If you feel I have misrepresented anything, please do let me know.
I have gotten more than a hundred Facebook messages, texts, emails, and phone calls this week asking me what happened, and many other people have also spoken to me in person. I realize that the majority of these inquiries are out of genuine personal concern and not out of a desire for the latest gossip and so I apologize for my emotional dismissiveness these past few days or if I haven’t gotten around to personally responding to you yet. The purpose of this post is to answer all of your already asked and previously unanswered questions.
When talking in person, it pains me to give too little details and it tears at my soul giving too much. Plus, it would just be too many times to be having the exact same conversation. So the purpose of this blog post is to honestly and clearly express my emotions here in an open, digital, unintimidating, non-face to face way.
But there’s a dual side to that as well.
I hope here to explain why I left the position but also to give all glory to the God who has total control of the situation, despite the seeming chaos of the midst of this mess. This proselytizing is only fair. If you’re going to hear my gossip, you’re going to hear about my God.
That said, the actual details will be sandwiched in between my usual faith-centered ramblings, which I’ll try to tone down in this piece because of the many non-spiritual readers I expect will be drawn to this post. I will start with a brief dissection of and reflection on change in the context of my own life and then move on to specifics. If you’re only interested in the nitty-gritty, you’re going to have to jump around a bit.
So let me start by saying this.
I’ve been afraid of change for as long as I can remember.
Historically, it’s been proven to me that changes in my life are generally not good things. They’re scary and they’re threatening and I hate them. They destroy any norm that I would cling to. Divorce, separation, and irreparable loss have all been the total hallmarks of changes in my own life, as I know they have in the lives of many others.
Change is sometimes chosen and other times forced, but it is always sacrifice.
It requires of us a death to something in our life.
A relationship, a place, or a job…whatever has changed, that thing is no longer a part of our lives. It died to us and us to it.
And this first step, it’s terrifying, if only because it drags us out into the unknown.
Change frightens me so much because it shakes my very identity, and I suspect the same applies to you as well.
I had placed so much of my personal identity in my position as a Resident Advisor that when it all finally came crashing down, my life seemed to fall apart. It all came to a head last night as I was sitting alone on my bed in my new, empty apartment.
The people I’d left behind. The burned bridges I had to sulk away from. The doubt and unknown of living on my own for the first time in my entire life. It all ate up at me. Tears quietly rolling down my face, I couldn’t help but to silently cry out, so as not to wake my new roommate, and I found myself whispering to God, wondering why all of this had happened.
But I also know that, despite my feelings, change isn’t always bad. Something within us has died, but Something new is here now.
it’s also kind of beautiful sometimes. Moving from home to college was a change. It was different, and a little bit scary, but it was ultimately the best thing, wasn’t it? We all have to leave the nest sometime. Trusting my life to Christ was an incredibly scary thing to do. But that change was worth it. That change wasn’t evil in the end.
Ending an abusive relationship, that’s really hard to do, that change is one that some people can never pull. Statistically, it takes an average of seven attempts before the victim can finally leave an abusive relationship.
It’s hard to do because you feel like the person you are with needs you. You feel like you can still somehow salvage the situation, that to quit after all of this time and effort would be to abandon hope and throw away all of that spent time and energy to the wayside.
You know you want to be there for them and even though it hurts you to stay, you don’t feel like you have any other choice. Leaving is often presented as a non-viable alternative, and fears of retribution over leaving often persist in many cases.
And that’s probably the best analogy I can use for the way we were treated at Illini Tower and how it felt leaving. It was no less than an abusive relationship. I don’t know that any of their former employees would disagree with this. It was an Abusive Relationship. Emotional Slavery. Calculated, Legal Manipulation. I know the RA staff felt terrible about leaving our residents, but we came to terms with the fact that we needed to be somewhere else if we wanted to begin experiencing actual healing.
Yes, leaving kind of feels like quitting. But there was no way I could have stayed in that poisonous environment for much longer, soaking in the toxins, and still flourish academically and socially. I didn’t want to leave, but I eventually gave into the reasoning that if I could never be fulfilled and helped myself, what made me think that I’d be able to take care of my residents?
I cannot express how much my heart breaks that I am giving this up and I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen next. I just know that this team and this building are broken and that the Lord is calling me to other places right now, places that will nurture me and allow me to mature physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
I know that Larry and I personally felt like we didn’t have a choice in this whole mess, and I also know that two of my closest friends on staff definitely didn’t have a choice when they were flippantly and unexpectedly told that they were no longer employed and needed to have their belongings moved out by 12 the next day (after our complaints, management later grudgingly capitulated to giving them another day to find a place to live for the rest of the year).
Some people would say that they don’t care that they don’t do their jobs well, but I did care. I did care that I was an inefficient RA, and it upset me even more that it was not my fault. We were not given the appropriate resources or training to effectively do our jobs, and then we were subsequently and regularly punished both for asking questions and for failing to meet immediate deadlines. Being understaffed, overworked, and undertrained takes a toll on anybody and I regret that our residents suffered for this.
We ultimately left the position after our management team presented us with yet another one of their ultimatums at our last staff meeting. These meetings generally do allow for some discussion, but it seems that each time we all get together, there is a “there’s the door, take it or leave it” atmosphere. In fact, these are the exact words our Assistant General Manager screamed at us last Thursday, tears streaming down her face. “YOU DO this” she huffed, her face red, furious, thrusting a piece of paper at us which she demanded we sign “or THERE’S the DOOR!”
Never had I heard such brutal fervor in simple conversation.
The last straw was this latest ultimatum. Let’s rewind for a second. You see, our bosses had been trying to get us to work dining hall shifts for over a month after nearly every single cafeteria staff worker (along with all of maintenance, and all but one of housekeeping staff) quit the job this summer. As a result, our building’s general manager has found his true passion, as he puts it, “cooking pizzas for four hours a day”. Our financial manager, who has been working in this building over 24 years, is washing dishes in the back, leaving our front office entirely unstaffed (except by undertrained RAs) all day, every day, work days and weekends. Workers are dropping like flies and we’re all over the map. I understand there’s a squeeze, but there’s just no excuse for this. Residents can feel it, too. It ain’t much longer till it all goes…sploosh.
It’s what we felt when staff revealed to us last spring that they would no longer give their Resident Advisors free housing, any meals, or parking spaces, and that we would be assigned roommates. We were told that we would have to pay them $5,745 for the privilege of working for, as they said in the interview, “technically, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.” For that ultimatum, eleven of the fifteen staff quit on the spot. Only myself and three other coworkers were willing to remain working there even though we would have to pay them, could not eat any meals there, and would be forced to have three roommates (yes, you read that right). All four of us stayed not because the financial situation appealed to us, but because we loved the idea of being a leader in a community of freshman and wanted to serve our future residents. There are other affronts, but too many to list here.
So back to this ultimatum.
The last straw was that, after having fired two of our fellow staff to (and I quote) “make an example of them,” they took advantage of their departure by forcing any staff wishing to remain employees to perform 12 hours of “community service.”
Now if you know anything about me, you know that I love volunteering.
So I raise my hand in the meeting to see if I could organize the service. “I have worked with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army before, could I organize this?” I ask, genuinely excited for the possibility of doing volunteering with my coworkers.
Our boss breathed, hissed a single, crushing word, followed by a few others parading as thinly cloaked insults. “No.” She stood over the table at which we all sat and glared me down, looking at me like I had just spoken a set of indelibly cruel words to a group of fourth-graders on their first field trip to the zoo. It was a look of pure disgust. “No,” she sneered, “That’s not community service. You need to work in the community you disrespected and insulted.” (“You,” being every single one of the coworkers of the two RAs who were fired).
And this, my friends, is how in addition to being daytime desk clerks (they fired the receptionist) and full-time resources for residents and professional staff (24/7, remember?) the remaining Illini Tower RAs became dining hall busboys and busgirls. #jailtime
I don’t know that any of the staff (even the ones staying because of purely financial obligations) would have redone things this way if we could have seen what was coming. I learned yesterday that corporate is actively encouraging management to “clean house” and fire the rest of the staff without any advance warning.
And I completely understand their logic.
You know what they say, one bad apple spoils the bunch. When the crunch of the business is all that you’re focused on, when human beings are just numbers to you, just blind facts and replaceable, pointless statistics, it’s hard to see employees and clients as being worth much of anything. Much better to just cycle the apples through before they get a chance to complain.
I thought I would be shedding a lot of tears as I said goodbye to everyone, but that just wasn’t the case. It actually wasn’t until my roommate spoke to me that I cried for the first time last night. I was packing my things in the bathroom and he walked in and asked if he could tell me something that might sound a little “different.” I braced myself for his righteous anger because I felt like I was abandoning him, thinking I would have to explain how I really had no other choice when considering my own well being, how I had long been deprived of the resources I needed to take care of myself, how it felt like I was Jumping a Sinking Ship to save my own skin. Let’s add that to the other analogies.
What he said to me was not anger. It was pure emotion, but he spoke words of sadness and mourning. He told me about how he’s been studying at a boarding school in America for years, but he had always had a single room (he is an international student, from China). He told me that he wasn’t sure what having an American roommate was going to be like but that in the few weeks we had known each other he felt more at home than he had all of the rest of his time in this country.
“You are, you are” he repeated, searching for just the right word. His occasional broken English sometimes made deep conversation like this difficult, but I waited for him to find his voice. “You will always be in my heart,” he said, thumping his chest, “right here. irr…irra…irreplaceable.” Typing this right now, it’s hard not to shake. I hate leaving broken stories and fractured relationships behind.
It’s enough to drive a boy crazy. But I know that God is going to deliver me through this time. There doesn’t seem like anything else he could do. I officially consider this a change for the good.
So, now to the end of the story (geeze, this is a long post…I apologize for the length).
We signed a lease and moved out last night. Yes, it was a bolt in the night.
Admittedly, maybe I should have gone out a different way. I left in a rather abrupt fashion, and while slightly humorous, I can’t exactly say that I’m proud of the way I quit.
All that said, some details for those of you who do know me. I will be around every week, because of a bible study I participate in on my old floor. It’s the most important thing I was doing there anyway, so it’s great that I’ll be able to keep it up.
One last thing, something many of you don’t know:
Larry was the one who ultimately convinced me to leave.
This is the same Larry who spent last summer on our building’s Facebook page answering other incoming students’ questions about policies and echoing the advice he himself was receiving. Larry, who was willing to pay almost $6,000 to serve as an RA when corporate mandated that we pay to work for them, Larry, who was so excited when he first got the job that he called someone that he barely knew and screamed excitedly into the phone beaming off the planet, Larry who spent hours upon hours each week hanging out with his residents one on one and organizing his floor events.
Larry convinced me to leave.
That should tell you something.
That should tell you how badly he was treated, how messed up things are over there.
We wanted this to work so badly.
But I also trust the new story.
New beginnings, right?
I trust completely that the Lord has something transcendentally better planned for me than this job at this time.
I know that God Himself will ground me and that he will bring people into my life who can help me get through this time of need and desperation. I know that this wasn’t quitting, it was leaving an unhealthy situation. It’s not about some lesson I have to learn that God is trying to teach me; it’s about the relationships I’ve already started and will continue to foster.
it’s an unwelcome one, for sure. But it’s one that I won’t have to go through alone.
Yes, it’s a scary word. But it’s a change that I know I’ll one day be able to look back on with joy and say “it was all for the best.”
I’ll leave you with the words of Saint Paul.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to abound, and I know how to be brought low. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Housewarming party this weekend. Please email me if you’d like the details @ firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to see you there.