The CA contract. That loud, controversial event which just sort of happened and then disappeared. And then came back again. And now is in limbo. Sort of. The problem with the new CA contract, more than what people know about it, is what people don’t know about it. It’s been so shrouded in confusion, miscellaneous talks, and all-around bureaucracy that people generally don’t know what has happened to it, or the implications that it has for the entire student body. In this article we hope to clear some things up and present why we here at RISE are upset about this.
But let’s begin at the beginning – what happened with the CA contract, and how all these problems started. Last semester, Student Affairs unleashed a new change to the Student Adviser contract aimed, in part, at tackling the substance abuse problem on campus. They wanted to change the title to Community Adviser. The new contract included this line:
“[Community Adviser] Enforces violations of and abides by the policies of Grinnell College as well as Iowa state and federal laws in the College residence halls”
A few of us looked at this change and correctly noted that these new CAs would be, in essence, contractually obligated to report all violations of campus policy. SGA led the charge by heavily vocalizing opposition, and in response, Student Affairs decided to rethink the change. Over winter break, the decision was finalized that the CA contract was here to stay with a few minor alterations. The offending verse was altered as follows:
“[Community Adviser] Addresses violations of and abides by the policies of Grinnell College as well as Iowa state and federal laws in the College residence halls”
They changed the word ‘enforce’ to ‘address’. Big wooptey doo.
Why do we care? Is this new CA contract so bad?
It is, and we care for several reasons. And no, it’s not just ‘self-gov is love’ (although that’s a part of it). Let’s go through the reasons, offer some solutions, and then address possible critiques:
- CAs destroy the tenets of self-governance. By contractually obligating CAs to address violations of campus policy, students lose the ability to govern themselves.
- Because CAs are contractually obligated to address illegal issues, students who have substance abuse problems and need assistance are less likely to go to CAs for help.
- Punitive drug policy has never, ever been proven to be effective in lowering drug abuse. In fact, it has the propensity to make it worse.
- It ignores the underlying issue of students self-medicating or coping with addictions because they are unable to get the mental health assistance that they need.
- It ignores fixing the unhealthy ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ mentality present at Grinnell that causes substance abuse.
- The changes to the SA position were originally made with minimal student input. After SGA raised hell, they had meetings with student leadership who said they would think about it. Over the course of winter break (great timing), they had video conferences and proceeded to change one word to save face. Once more, this change goes against self-governance.
- The contract represents a larger trend of the administration trying to move College policy away from self-gov. (To add on to this point, Grinnell College brochures no longer have any mention of the phrase “self-gov”). As of now, there is no administrative oversight, and nothing to guarantee that next year they won’t make another major revision and change the contract into something even worse.
We get it: there is pressure from the outside world (media, government, parents) to act when college students get too fucked up. But making CAs assume a punitive role is not the answer. That is just a way to cover the administration’s ass and make it appear to the outside world that they’re doing something to solve the problem when they’re really not. Replacing self-gov with Big Brother is not the answer!
Maybe tutorials should include a mandatory time-management component so that incoming Grinnellians are well-composed in handling the arduous work load?
Maybe lower amounts of stress would eliminate the “work hard, play hard” mentality that is so pervasive throughout campus?
Maybe there should be more support for struggling Grinnellians in terms of academics, mental health, and substance abuse?
The point is, there are much better solutions out there, and a punitive answer is not the correct one. So how do we fix this broken contract? We protect CAs and their residents by having a written guarantee that this role is not meant to be a punitive one, and that CAs will not be punished if they use discernment in not reporting someone. This will both protect students and their advisers, as well as providing a better, less hostile environment through which people will feel safe to reach out for help. And to truly solve the substance abuse problem on campus, we come up with real, harm reductive changes instead of punitive measures that are only going to exacerbate the problem.
Now onto some commonly heard critiques asking why we should act or why this contract is worth getting upset about.
Q1. Come on, no CA is ever going to punish me. That would be so un-Grinnell!
A1. We agree, most current Grinnellians would never report you. But be concerned for those freshmen in high school right now who have no idea that they will end up in the middle of the cornfields. One day, they could enter a system that has been warped by CAs.
Q2. Substance abuse is a problem.
A2. We completely agree, but we also think that punitive CAs are not the answer to this problem for reasons listed above.
Q3. Why should we even care about Self-gov?
A3. Self-gov is an inherent part of the institution, something which makes Grinnell unique and what makes this student body so awesome. Self-gov has led to amazing things in this community, whether it was your SA taking care of you when you’re too drunk, how people take responsibility for themselves when they mess up, or even simply being able to leave your laptop out in the Grill knowing that no one is going to steal it. Even if it does not work 100% of the time, it does lead to positive things, and you CAN tell the difference between this college and other non-self-gov colleges (ask any friend about their relationship with RAs and with their community, and compare it to your relationship with SAs and your community). It’s also the ideology on which this college was based on, and it’s a pretty neat ideology at that. But even if you don’t buy the self-gov argument and think it’s a stupid concept, check out the remaining points 2-5.
Q4. This isn’t going to affect me.
A4. Are you an empathetic person?
Having reached this conclusion in the article, though, we have left something out: Who are we?
We are nothing more than fellow students who are upset at these changes, and who don’t want our beloved community to turn into a punitive, hostile environment for subsequent generations of Grinnellians. We are a part of the student group RISE Grinnell, and we are going to fight this CA contract such that it meets the needs of the student body rather than the needs of the administration. We know we aren’t the only people out there who oppose this contract. Hit us up at [rise] if you want to work together and end this thing once and for all, or if you just want to be kept in the loop of further actions and want to know how to tap into the movement, and be informed of new developments with the contract.
Peace and love yo,