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.*