Resident assistants support dining hall operations during winter storm

Sarah Brager, General News Reporter

Dangerous conditions from the winter freeze earlier this month, including persistent power outages and icy roads, left many UT employees unable to come to campus. However, many student employees filled the empty shoes, allowing residential dining halls to remain an open resource. 

To make up for weather-related staffing shortages, resident assistants took on the extra responsibility of working in dining halls from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 when campus closed for Winter Storm Mara. Aaron Voyles, the director for residence halls operations, said University Housing and Dining recruited RAs for extra assistance as soon as the University decided on an emergency closure. All 182 RAs played a critical role in providing resources for on-campus residents, Voyles said.

“Without the RAs, we would have had to probably greatly reduce services,” Voyles said. “Being in tune with the students’ needs and attitudes and bringing that positive energy to those spaces is an intangible thing.” 

Katres Ayah, a nutrition and public health sophomore, said this was their first time handling extreme weather conditions as an RA for Jester West. Ayah said RAs learned how to handle emergency situations in their job training, but having to apply that training to a real-life scenario was an unexpected experience. 

Ayah said every RA worked at least one shift to help out, though some offered to work more. During this period, they were paid the same rate as regular dining hall employees. Responsibilities in the dining hall primarily included serving and handling food and cleaning. 

“The morning of Tuesday, everything was supposed to be completely normal,” Ayah said. “It was later that day, when the storm got more extreme, that our supervisors were told … RAs would start working in the (dining) halls.” 

In addition to assisting with dining hall operations, RAs also made sure their residents felt safe and comfortable. Ayah said they took advantage of having most of their residents under one roof and did individual check-ins with them. Duren Hall RA Patrick Harper said RAs also organized community events for residents to keep spirits high, including a movie night and origami program. 

“Working with my fellow RAs in a new capacity was a really fun environment,” government junior Harper said. “It was great to know that I was doing my part to help the campus community and my residents because for many of my residents, this was their first winter storm on campus.” 

Voyles dedicated the successful freeze response on campus to RAs and other UHD employees who went out of their way to help. About 100 full-time staff members chose to stay on campus or near campus to support these efforts, he said. 

Ayah said the experience better prepared them to handle future emergency weather situations.

“It was interesting to meet and see the people (behind the scenes) in the kitchen,” Ayah said. “A lot of the employees were appreciative of the RAs stepping up.”