About 60 percent of all hate bias incidents in University of Maryland dorms across the last four years were racially motivated, according to this university’s Bias Incident Support Services dashboard.

Data obtained by The Diamondback shows that 41 percent of all resident assistants were Black in the 2022-23 school year, despite Black students only making up 13 percent of this university’s undergraduate population. The overrepresentation of Black students in the RA workforce — and this university’s high level of racially-motivated hate bias incidents in dorms — has led some student workers to express concern about power dynamics between RAs and the residents they supervise.

In late April of last year, Deborah Omotoso, a public health graduate student and former RA, said she was taken aback by writing on a mirror in the hallway as she left the La Plata Hall.

“I get close, and I see that it’s the N-slur, and I’m like, ‘oh, let me rub my eyes maybe and see if this is actually what I’m looking at,” said Omotoso. “It was like, wow, this is really the N-word.”

Someone had scribbled racist and antisemitic sentiments on doors, walls and mirrors on Omotoso’s floor.

Omotoso was unsure whether the racist sentiments were targeted toward her and her co-worker, Tafor Acho — both of whom are Black — or just random acts of hate.

Acho, a junior environmental science major who is also an RA, now works in Johnson-Whittle Hall after growing tired of the conditions in La Plata after the incident.

Acho said his photo was torn down from his floor’s poster board and part of the N-word was scribbled along the hallway.

Later, University of Maryland Police identified a series of other racist and antisemitic depictions at La Plata Hall.
The day after the initial hate bias incident took place, Resident Life notified La Plata residents by posting a letter on each floor. The department sent an email to ninth floor residents on May 2 after an additional hate bias incident was found on the floor.

"Each of you deserves respect and to know and feel you belong and have a rightful place in our community," Resident Life said in both statements. "We will continue to work collaboratively with you and with University Police to foster a respectful and safe community."

In an email to all on-campus residents 12 days after the initial hate bias incident took place, Resident Life denounced the acts as "hateful" and "cowardly."

[UMD residents assistants want more compensation for long hours, work responsibilities]

“These incidents have caused our community significant pain and distress, and I want you to know that we have worked in many ways to address them,” the department said. “We acknowledge that more needs to be done.”

Omotoso described Resident Life’s response as lackluster.

“Once something happens and it's so severe, it really is above you,” Omotoso said. “But as someone who was not only an RA, but a victim of this incident, I would like to know what steps are being taken for justice.”

In a statement to The Diamondback, the Resident Life department said there are “systems in place” to support staff and students who have been affected by incidents of bias, hate or privilege, including live-on professional staff and on-call staff, access to Bias Incident Support Services and access to this university’s counseling center.

Sky Bloomer, a senior psychology major, was an RA in La Plata Hall last year. She described the burden that RAs carried afterwards as “frustrating” and “exhausting,” especially given the racial disparities and dynamics between RAs and their residents.

“If we’re having predominantly students of color as RAs and if we’re in communities where the residents are not [students of color] at a PWI, where is the support for RAs when you’re constantly having to educate and communicate with residents that give you that wall of no understanding?” Bloomer said.

This power dynamic also presents a challenge for RAs of color in carrying out their duties.

“Typically, interacting with white women, I know that I have the chance to always be the aggressor, always be the one that’s wrong, always be the bigger person,” Omotoso said. “I know that I might be challenging something just by being Black and being there and being in leadership.”

[UMD sees 46 hate bias incident reports in November amid violence in Israel, Palestine]

Bloomer said the incident didn’t affect her personally, but was affected watching her Black co-workers experience this trauma.

Robert Graham, an assistant clinical professor at this university whose program focuses on systemic racism, said that while there is room for gratitude for the opportunity to be an RA, there is also room to require more from the university to ensure these student workers feel supported.

“You've got this little world in which you have some authority, but what's the real nature of that authority?” Graham said. “Remembering the racial dynamic in the country, you know that there's always this other existing power that folks can flex on you when they've had enough or when they've been pushed to their limit. I think there's some fragile rules at play there. That is part of the PWI experience.”

The Resident Life department told The Diamondback it provides resources and support to help RAs navigate their leadership roles and the “complex situations they sometimes encounter.” The department also encourages RAs to develop relationships with their supervisors to ensure they are supported.

The department added that it always has additional staff available so “if a staff member needs support or is facing bias in performance of their duties, they can ask for assistance or for another staff member to respond.”

RAs work approximately 20 hours per week and are compensated via remission of room and board fees, the department said.

But some RAs feel this isn’t adequate compensation given the often unexpected responsibilities and time commitment. Student workers have expressed a desire for an additional hourly wage to support themselves financially.

Grace Orellana, a senior immersive media design major, has worked between 20-30 hours a week before for her RA job in Centreville Hall.
RAs can work more than the regulated 20 hours per week because they don’t have a system to log their hours. That makes it unclear how much time they actually commit to their positions each week, according to Resident Life.

[Late hours, lack of safety measures headline concerns for UMD CAs]

On top of planning events for their residents, decorating the floor poster board and addressing crises ranging from mental health to student misconduct and injuries, RAs are expected to participate in shifts ranging from 12 to 24 hours throughout the semester. They also balance being full-time students with requirements to complete rounds and be on call.

“A lot of people love their job, but they’re almost tethered to it because of financial reasons,” Orellana said. “They can’t even supplement themselves financially the way they would need to to pay off tuition because we're not allowed to work more than nine hours elsewhere.”

Some RAs see the significance of having room and board lifted from their shoulders. Acho emphasized that many RAs pick their roles because of the financial incentive. But receiving room and board remission comes at the expense of having a typical college experience — and the challenges that come with the work often go unnoticed.

“That does genuinely change people’s proximity to education, but at the same time there are a load of other problems that you put on yourself by taking up the mantle as an RA,” Acho said. “It’s worth it for the most part, I just wish sometimes, RAs and our plight were taken more seriously.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated that this university's Resident Life department addressed a hate bias incident in La Plata Hall 13 days after it occurred. Resident Life communicated with La Plata Hall residents one day, three days and 12 days after the incident. A previous version of this story also misstated that Bloomer responded to a hate bias incident in La Plata Hall. Bloomer was a resident assistant in La Plata Hall at the time of the incident but did not respond to the incident. This story has been updated.