Pause: Let’s Be Specific With Our Anger

The authors of this piece, Ric Tennenbaum ‘18 and Carsen Jenkins ‘17, wish to remain open to any dialogue with our community: current students, alumni, administration, and residents of Grinnell. (This is not a passive-aggressive remark on the anonymous status of another GUM article author, but rather a suggested frame for how we discuss issues as a community.)

 

We, Carsen Jenkins and Ric Tennenbaum, current Student Advisors (SAs), feel overwhelmed by the flood of anger, fear, and student uprising against the Community Advisor (CA) contracts and the people who created them. We do not feel the same way. In our response to the GUM article a “A Look to the Future: What Happens When SAs Go Away” by Anonymous, and the SGA-led charge against the process of making contract changes, we offer our personal grievances, the dangers of ‘Us versus Them’ mentality, and a clarification of the on-call and walkthrough responsibilities laid out in the new contract.

First, we feel personally attacked and threatened by the way SGA and students on campus have been imagining CAs as detrimental to both self-governance and our ability as a student community to build living spaces we feel safe in. For example, the language in the aforementioned GUM article, which has been a rallying point for many students, speaks to our concern: “SAs won’t be able to be the caring, self-gov-practicing Grinnellians that they want to be.” As if contract language would prevent us from caring for our residents, this statement robs us of our agency as SAs primarily motivated and sustained by our desires to help facilitate a warm and caring community. Our dedication to our residents as supportive and non-punitive resources will not change, and as we will clearly detail later, the contract does not ask us for such change.

We hear the voices of more experienced voices on campus, especially in Becca Heller’s recent article about the history of Residence Life’s non-transparency and seeming disregard for student input.* We applaud her strength in making a stand for herself and others, and at the same time we imagine a different form of advocacy. We argue that we can advocate for student life by collaborating Residence Life while still holding employment as a SA, CA, or whatever. Collaboration does not mean we cannot resist; rather, when we do resist, it will be in dialogue. Dan Davis, SGA President, has expressed their irritation towards lack of communication between them and Residence Life administration, and we resonate with their anger in being temporarily denied dialogue. Meanwhile, however, we SAs have been regularly meeting with RLCs–we have worked to build relationships and they are powerful. This is just one reason why SAs must be at the foreground of current CA discussions.

When SGA most visibly leads the charge against CA contracts by way of sending e-mails, pushing a petition, hosting meetings, and vocally stirring up a movement, we feel used and voiceless. To take a note from abolitionist activism (i.e. Dean Spade), the people most affected should lead the movement. As current SAs planning on reapplying, we are responsible for mentoring new hires and encouraging the kinds of community building this campus believes in. We acknowledge that SGA has taken input from SAs, has immense power to organize and spread information, and are our elected student body representatives–AND–if their rallying point is the job contract for SA/CAs, then it is the current SAs who need to be at the forefront of the conversation, no exceptions. Just because we are not hosting large meetings does not mean we are not actively fighting for the best interests of our community through personal dialogue with the RLCs we work with weekly. And these conversations generate results. Just yesterday, December 8th, the RLCs announced that based on our feedback they have amended the requirement for us to “enforce” college policies, federal, and state laws and changed it to “address,” which is what we already do when we advise our residents to put away open containers near 8th Ave and shove a towel under their damn doors. Strengthening our relationships with RLCs, not outright attacking and mocking their best intentions, generates the changes we desire. Collaboration strengthens our self-governing community as a whole.

Additionally, constructing an Us vs. Them platform of resistance is dangerous when we continue to rely on “Them” for so many integral services. To name a few: helping with alcohol poisoning, mental health crises, wellness checks, and academic distress. They help us when, as students and SAs, we cannot bear the full weight of our responsibilities. We also use them as bridges between us, students, other Residence Life-related administration (namely, Sarah Moschenross and Andrea Conner), and between us and institutions like the Grinnell Police Department and Grinnell Regional Medical Center. They are vital to self-governance, if self-governance is to mean that we try to handle difficult situations within our community to the best of our ability. Note: they are part of our community, no more disposable than any others (and none of us are disposable).

There also exists a hypocritical nature in how we address changes that were made without direct student dialogue during the creative and implementation processes. Along with changes to the SA position, Residence Life announced the creation of an entirely new position and contract, the Community Advisor Mentor (CAM). In addition to CA duties, CAMs will “develop and facilitate fall and winter CA training” while also serving as peer support for CAs. During the SGA-facilitated discussion, they mentioned CAMs and relevant concerns, but that point somehow got lost when it spread to the larger student body. Why has this change not been attacked? Is it because we only demonize processes (and people) when they enact changes we are skeptical of and seemingly don’t like? When positively-received changes arise, why don’t we scrutinize the process to the same degree, if this debate truly is about the process, as SGA (rightfully) pushes? The current resistance through petition and protest feels like a symbolic movement to protect our delicate sense of self-gov while misguidedly using the CA contracts as a rallying point. We can question and even demand a framework for future contract amendments that affect student life, but retracting a perfectly fine contract and demonizing RLCs feels like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is why we will not be signing the SGA petition demanding a retraction.

So now, we tackle the actual contract. If you take the time to read the contract (please do!) and then talk to some of us SAs, you will probably learn that the contract asks us to do nothing more than we already do. The most contentious contract change is the addition of “on-call” hours and “community walkthroughs.” We–being, but not strictly limited to, the authors of this article–give our phone numbers to residents and tell them to call whenever they need us–we are already “on-call” always. We take time to check-in with our residents during stressful, trying, or substance-heavy times–we already do “community walkthroughs” regularly. By formalizing these harm-reductive actions in the contract, it more evenly distributes these exhausting (but rewarding) SA responsibilities across the student staff because those of us who live in more, shall we say, raucous floors, find ourselves tirelessly busy every weekend, while others do not have to take on these experiences.

Let’s pause and be specific with our anger. Certainly, administrators are known to work behind closed doors to create policies that affect us. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, some are in between, but arbitrarily choosing one that stems from RLCs in order to pick our battle means that we all lose. Policies affecting student Residential Life feel especially intimate and prescriptive, but these recent policy changes are not attacks on our campus’ community. Rather, the fiery and spiteful rejection of the contract changes are the xenophobic attacks fracturing our community.

 

Authors’ Note: This article was finished as Andrea Conner, Dean of the College, sent her campus-wide e-mail announcing a “hold” on the CA position policies. We appreciate the college’s commitment to further dialogue and help us better foster community.

*After conferring with Becca Heller, it appears we are united in our desire for more collaboration and open-mindedness from all sides of our community. Her original “Rant” piece mostly served to express the frustrations of somebody who has been working closely with the administrative side of the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) for years. We all agree that a stand-off approach is neither the most effective action, nor mindset.*

12 Comments

  1. The current SAs should not be at the forefront of a movement against student affairs because THEY ARE STUDENT AFFAIRS. I was an SA once, I know the level of DSA indoctrination, and I would suggest you recognize it too. Do you not see how anti self gov walk throughs are? Do you not see how problematic the “enforce” rhetoric is? *I know enforce has been changed but someone thought that was a good idea in the first place.* Are y’all that thick that you do not recognize that contract language will prevent you from caring for your residents?
    Of course you as SAs are not going to hold a campus wide meeting because that would get your $500 $$$$$ bosses pissed at you. You meet with RLCs every week, it would be awkward if you were starting a “movement” against them. There is legal pressure at play, title XI and the dear colleague letter. Don’t think you are somehow above these. Furthermore, you were never an SA that was not paid. You do not have the perspective that [2016] has. If this is the sentiment of current SAs then I am deeply saddened by the complacency of them and for that matter the majority of underclass people.

    Other logic issues:
    Also we have scrutinized positively-received changes. THAT IS WHY YOU CALLED THEM POSITIVE.

    Also wtf “Rather, the fiery and spiteful rejection of the contract changes are the xenophobic attacks fracturing our community.” Do you know what xenophobic means?

    • Ric Tennenbaum and Carsen Jenkins

      December 10, 2015 at 12:20 PM

      First of all, your comment is condescending, but we will engage nevertheless…
      As the article states, we do not believe current contract changes (which are now being re-evaluated with more student input) will inhibit our ability to care for our residents to the level they deserve. We already intimately navigate legal pressures due to our pre-existing roles as mandated reporters and have worked to keep our residents’ agency.
      No, we do not have the perspective of [2016] but we learned from them during training as they resisted RLCs during trainings–we are far more, to use your language, indoctrinated, by older SAs than we were by RLCs who, as the more powerful individuals, we remain skeptical of always. This does not keep us from being open in dialogue. A mass movement would be awkward surely, but we would certainly consider it if deemed necessary. Obviously, we do not feel that is the case here…

      Also, as a returning SA and class of 2017, I (Carsen) have seen and engaged in the uprising about reporting changes, and have two years experience within Residence Life. In every 1-on-1 meeting with RLCs, I voice concerns about various parts of Student Affairs without fear or inhibition.

      Lastly, yes we do know the dictionary definition of xenophobia as a fear or hatred of foreign people, thank you very much. We also understand how it manifests in other ways, for example American society’s current xenophobia against Muslim Americans. (Edit: Obviously, the deadly violence faced by demonized groups is not comparable to students criticizing administration, and using this example to prove a point is problematic and we apologize.) Intracommunity xenophobia happens all the time. The fear and hatred of the “administration” as a separate body from the students within Grinnell College due to an imbalance of legislative power (among others) speaks to this internal xenophobia.

      • You do realize you’re making light of the actual xenophobia Muslims are suffering through by making these comparisons, right? The plight of the administration isn’t in anyway comparable to refugees or other oppressed groups who are actually victims of “an imbalance of legislative power”, whatever that means. A Grinnell education should have taught you by now that this really isn’t the time to double down.

      • Ric Tennenbaum and Carsen Jenkins

        December 10, 2015 at 1:39 PM

        We agree. It was a cheap and uncritical way to defend our use of “xenophobia.” Thank you.

  2. I appreciate this article, this point of view, and an update on policy. However I still have some questions I will voice here because it’s a little hard to do elsewhere as a recent alum. The first is how would on call rotations work, if a student has a mental health emergency does a random CA they don’t have a trusting relationship with come acoss campus? Or is this about substance/party control issue only? For walkthroughs, there is a huge variability in what that could look like, and if they were frequent/disciplinary (which I know has been changed but had certainly not happened formally in the past), that could harbor resentment.

    My two questions which are in stages of being addressed seem like justifiable causes of alarm in that the contract could have imposed structural changes to how non-sas experience support. It’s also a symbolic flashpoint of years of distrust brewing, from the pot raids by GPD to Kington not announcing construction projects and last year’s similar pot policing SA scandal. I agree that anger may be misguided towards student life, but not asking students about one of the most self gov parts of Grinnell exceptionalism is big. And it affects current students’ support, even alum groups who are wondering about how their SA experience 30 years ago is changing. After seeing the survey statistics our conversation should be centered around wellness and harm reduction in conversation with self-gov, but untransparency has made this a trust issue after a long history of disregard for self gov on many fronts.

    • Ric Tennenbaum and Carsen Jenkins

      December 10, 2015 at 6:27 PM

      Hi ,
      I (Carsen) thought I could help answer your question as I have been in multiple meetings where these two SA duties were thoroughly discussed. First, I want to say that as an SA, the care and support for residents is my number one priority along with their trust that I will never be a punitive resource.
      Secondly, I want to be completely transparent with what I know about the on-call responsibilities. From meetings with RLCs, I have heard that this change was in response to SAs being overwhelmed on the weekends, which I can personally attest to after being an SA to 30 first years last spring. The on-call system will ease that burden by spreading the responsibility through all SAs. Each weekend, there will be two SAs from each cluster on-call, one Friday and one Saturday. Overall, an SA/CA would be on-call once every month, but these details are to be fleshed out later, potentially with the help of the CAMs. From what I have gathered, the CA on call would have the same responsibilities as an SA who chooses to give their phone number out to residents, for example, checking in on a drunk resident, walking someone home, or calling the on-call RLC if necessary.
      I’m glad you brought up the ‘random CA’ problem because that was actually one of my initial concerns. However, it is a goal of many in both admin and student staff to be more accessible to residents outside of their personal floor(s). This was how the walkthrough idea was framed in the discussions I have partaken in. It was a way for other CAs to be more visible throughout the cluster and have a designated way to check in on residents at more ‘difficult’ times. From the language in the contract and through discussions with admin, it is framed as a wellness check, not anything punitive in nature, and is only mandatory when on-call for purposes of potentially finding someone passed out, in bad shape, or someone who just needs support.
      This is the information I have gathered on the changes through both large group and one on one conversations. As for the distrust of the admin, it is understandable, and we are not saying those feelings are invalid by any means. However, we should not let these feelings prevent productive conversations to make change happen.

  3. Very disappointed that you use this opportunity/forums to victimize yourselves. What is happening is not an attack on RLCs/SAs, it’s a realization that this college is no longer committed to upholding and continuing self-governance. I would urge you to think about these changes in the greater historical context of this school.

    I’m equally in shock that you’d quote “the people most affected should lead the movement”. Non SA residents will be more affected than SAs. You are in a position of power, and are therefore fundamentally compromised as a representative of student interests.
    This article comes off as really tone deaf.

  4. Student who should be writing an essay

    December 10, 2015 at 3:20 PM

    While I applaud and sympathize with your goal of attempting to calm the community and getting everyone to work with/not demonize the RLCs, I have a few issues with the way it is presented here.

    First, your reference to Dean Spade’s quote of the most afflicted people leading the movement seems kind of out of place here. If the changes in the contract come to pass, they affect the SAs first, but the changes deal explicitly with how the SAs interact with their students (namely us). A change to the SA contract like this affects literally everyone who has an SA who they deal with. This is everyone’s issue, please don’t try to limit it to a select group of people. While I agree that the changes in no way stop the SAs from caring from their students, the fact of the matter is that they will change how they interact with them. And most of my friends are actually SAs, and they provided very different perspectives on the contract changes than you did at the end of this piece.

    Second, although I firmly disagree with the alterations to the contract, that’s not the main issue I have with this whole situation. The main issue is the way in which it was done without student input. That flies completely in the face of self-gov. You point out that this is hypocritical based on past changes, and you might be right, I can’t really speak to that. But its a logical non sequiter to assume that we shouldn’t be angry about this because we’ve ignored changes which haven’t been fully discussed in the past. Maybe our anger is hypocritical, but the resultant change that comes out of such anger could be used to restructure things to align more closely with self-gov. Again, coming back to your first statement about those most affected leading the movement, the SGA is also directly effected, since the RLCs metaphorically went behind their backs to make these changes.

    And finally, I have huge problems with your thesis:

    To address your statement that it’s like “throwing a baby out with the bathwater,” I actually think that analogy holds no water here, if you will excuse the pun. This isn’t a baby, its a contractual change (and I am aware of the exact wording changes) which a large majority of campus is extremely unhappy with. I would argue that its the perfect rallying point, because its emblematic of everything wrong with the current relationship with the DSA: The lack of communication, and changes that speak of the slow phasing-out of self-gov. The CA contract is by far the best way we can attack the communication issue we all know exists, since it is solid, concrete, and full of evidence, and something most of us agree on.

    TL;DR:

    1. This is everyone’s issue, and confining the leading of it to SAs is wrong.

    2. Although our anger may be hypocritical, our hearts are in the right place, and this anger can be used to make necessary changes.

    3. The CA position is the best way for us to attack the problem of communication with the DSA.

    I don’t expect my mini-piece to change anyone’s views, but I’d encourage you to consider what I’ve said.

    • Ric Tennenbaum and Carsen Jenkins

      December 10, 2015 at 4:19 PM

      Thank you for taking the time to voice these issues in the face of a looming essay deadline. All three main points you raise are worth discussing, and we will address one here in our reply:
      We argue that SAs are most affected by contract changes because *shhhh* we (the authors and others we have spoken with, we do not speak for all SAs) do not robotically follow our contracts to the letter. We navigate them. We negotiate them fiercely during fall training in August before most students arrive on campus, and we take them with a grain of salt in situations that require nuance. We are not our contracts. And yes, certainly the entire student body is affected! However, since contracts are most directly negotiated by and teased out by active SAs, we believe we bear the brunt of the work in preserving self-gov communities while still keeping our positions as SAs. This is not to discount the work of everyone in this community or to say that it’s unequal work; just that it’s different work and closely linked to the contract changes.

  5. Current SAs, who you cite as being the most affected, will have graduated Grinnell by 2018 (or a little later.. it happens). I agree that currently they are impacted (If you’re going based off the Dean Spade reference, you’re probably not the most impacted), however Grinnell student culture will endure the greatest, long-term effects of this position change, making this an issue that extends beyond the position and contract change. This is what makes the student body the most impacted.

    SGA serves as representatives to the student body (which includes SAs.. you guys are students too), and when it comes to preserving core Grinnell values, like Self Gov, they should “be leading the movement,” not SAs. My personal issues with deferring to SAs, rather than SGA, to lead this fight for Self Gov is the way in which each obtained their positions. SAs are hired by other SAs and RLCs. I, and the rest of the student body, did not have any say in the matter. The SGA Cabinet, on the other hand, was elected by the student body, and thus better represents the student body’s interest.

    I agree, current SAs are not robots to the contract, and ultimately try to maintain Self Gov principles. However, once the current SAs, who have lived by and experienced Self Gov, have graduated, there will not be anyone to explain that this contract is not Self Gov, and not Grinnell. Rather, there will be residence life, who can redefine what it means to be an SA and Self Gov without outrage, as their won’t be anyone left to attest to it.

    Furthermore, changes in job descriptions and contracts also change who apply, and their intentions behind applying. Yes, the SAs are SAs “to help facilitate a warm and caring community,” but the people who were interested in becoming SAs did so because they recognized the job allowed them do that. When the job requires enforcement, SAs are not able to foster such a community. I know the contract has changed its language, but your post takes community concern as a personal attack, when in reality, it’s an attack on the position itself.

  6. Outside Observer

    December 11, 2015 at 6:17 PM

    What I haven’t yet seen addressed is WHY the administration wants this change. What makes them feel they need better information or more authority to manage what is happening on campus. All I have seen and heard on the subject is objections to some ill defined change that seems to be in the offing. It is easy to object to making a change in the way things are done. Change means hard work- stasis is effortless.
    Viewing Grinnell from a distance, what I have seen going on is certainly not local to Grinnell. Across the nation there has been a lot of tumult about the way that some students have been treating other students. Concerns about the propagation of negative “cultures” that have endured on campuses despite the best efforts of the many and varied administrations that have tried to deal with these issues such as; the culture of excessive drinking, casual sexual hook-ups, the seeming acceptance of rape, permissive cheating, drug dealing and consumption, the list goes on.
    Having lived through more lenient times, this cracking down on individual liberties seems to me a sad comment of the excesses that such freedom gives license. Grinnell, to its infinite credit, saw the benefit in granting its students such wide berth, allowing individuals to freely express themselves, the caveat being that the responsibility of reigning in the excesses belonged to the students themselves as a collective under the title of self governing. I don’t know how long this “self governing” student body has been in place but if you look around the nation you will see students themselves allowing for less of the self and more of the governing.
    From the heightened awareness of racial inequality and the institutionally embedded subtleties that propagate subconscious, if not overt, discrimination working against many minority populations, to the realization of the current ruling classes that their reign will be coming to an end all too soon, fear and loathing stretches from sea to shining sea. All sides thinks that the other is out to get them; passing laws to keep some in and others out, things that were previously strange and taboo are suddenly out in the open and embraced in a celebration of the individual. Seemingly ever increasing changes to the familiar way many people are used to operating. And now, in the throes of this social upheaval, we have discovered a new meaning of trauma resulting in micro-aggressions and trigger warnings so that EVERYBODY, EQALLY, feels an oppressive burden and need to refrain from speaking or introducing any potentially offensive idea that gives others permission to degrade the individual who dares speak such indignities.
    While it may seem that I have digressed, my point is this; in this brave new world of uncertainties, people are seeking protection and, rather than fending for themselves or relying on their fellow students, they are asking, no, insisting, that the authorities set down and enforce the rules for offensive behavior and speech. While the students of Grinnell may think that the administration is acting without warrant, it may actually be the case that Grinnell’s administration is responding positively in an effort to accommodate the demands these same objecting parties have been asking for in another format.

  7. Found on Grinnell Plans Secrets, an anonymous forum (no idea who posted this):

    Mon December 7th 2015, 9:30 PM
    This is a timely secret.
    Once on campus, I almost died from substance abuse. The only reason I survived, was that my friends felt safe enough to call an SA for help. Self-gov literally saved my life that night, and put me on the path to recovery.

    Flash forward several years and I have had a close friend at another school die under similar circumstances. The exception being that the people he was with chose to be silent for fear of punishment from RAs. I’ve kept this a secret for a long time, but now’s the time to speak out. Fear kills.

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