Area coordinators say policy change discriminates against families


File photo by Phil Brahm

Lindenwood’s area coordinators are demanding the reversal of a policy that prevents them from living on campus with their families, which they say discriminates against them.  

 “This policy will have an immediate impact on AC employment,” area coordinator Jess Leong, spokeswoman for the area coordinators, said in an email. “Not only are several ACs considering employment elsewhere for next year, but our ability to recruit and retain employees in this position will be nearly impossible with this policy constraint.”

Area coordinators are full-time employees of the university and oversee and manage the residences halls and campus houses. Additionally, area coordinators are required to live on campus.

On Feb. 13, administrators changed the policy in the employee handbook to say that area coordinators could not “live with anyone, including friends, family members, relatives, spouses, or partners, while employed with Lindenwood and living on campus.” Because area coordinators are required to be available 24/7, they believe the policy insinuates that “having live-in family members would be a distraction to the job.”

On Feb. 20, 10 of the 12 area coordinators signed a formal complaint letter to Deb Ayres, vice president of Human Resources, stating that “the policy is inconsistent with the university’s mission and values.”

Ayres responded to the ACs via email on Feb. 21 saying that the issue is not a “philosophical” one, but said the university does not have the funds to make the apartments suitable for families.

Ayres further stated: “The university is experiencing revenue shortfall so discretionary funds are non-existent.  Until there is a plan to properly house more than our employee AND the financial means exist to fund it, the policy will remain as written.”

Ayres could not be reached for comment.

The previous policy allowed the area coordinators to live on campus with a spouse, but area coordinators say it changed after Chelsie Bartley and her husband announced in September that they were expecting a child in March.

Bartley, an area coordinator, had been living in Pfremmer at the time, and she claims after meeting with Terry Russell, director of residential life, and Jesús López, associate director of residential life, she was forced to move in January from her dorm apartment to a house, despite not asking to and not wanting to.

“Chelsie has been greatly impacted by this decision,” Leong said. “Not only was she forced to move without her input but had to do so on short notice while 7 months pregnant. She also has been holding a lot of stress and guilt; since the administration has made it clear her pregnancy and now, newborn baby, was the catalyst for this policy.”

Leong said Bartley worries about how this will impact the future of the ResLife department and the area coordinator position.

Another area coordinator, who Leong did not identify, said a vice president at Lindenwood said the policy was changed because “we don’t want babies living in the halls,” but the policy could not be written that way because it would be discriminatory. Due to the circumstances the area coordinators are in, they do not feel comfortable naming the vice president who said this but they believe “this statement from a VP reveals the true intentions of this policy, and reveals it to be clear discrimination.”

Both Bartley and Leong said they were told in person that they could continue to live on campus and were “grandfathered in” because they were living with their spouses prior to the policy change. Both women requested a document confirming this but have received no written confirmation.

According to documents provided by the area coordinators, a third area coordinator, Holly Zeiger, was originally told she could live with her fiancé after their wedding in May 2019. In February, Zeiger was told she would not be grandfathered into the policy. While Zeiger isn’t being forced to quit, she believes that a husband and wife being forced to live apart is unreasonable.

The ACs said in their written statement that the policy “perpetuates stereotypes that disproportionately affect women,” is discriminatory based on familial status, and the “justification of needing to be available 24/7 is baseless and inequitable.”

“The idea that women cannot be both a responsible caregiver and a valuable employee creates undue conflict between them and their employer, and robs women of their earned opportunities for advancement,” their statement to Ayres said.

The ACs also said that several other full-time staff members like directors and associate vice presidents at Lindenwood are required to be available in case of emergencies, but are not held to the same standard.

“They are of course allowed to have families and personal lives and aren’t questioned on how that impacts their jobs,” Leong said. “We just want to be given the same rights and responsibilities as other professional staff members.”