Changing the responsibilities SAs have will weaken campus culture
In a staff meeting on Monday, November 3rd, members of Student Staff were presented with a new responsibility – to call RLCs if they smelled marijuana in the residence halls. This change would lead to the eventual involvement of the Grinnell Police Department in instances where students are perceived to be using or in possession of marijuana. Immediately following the proclamation, which was unceremoniously included amongst a laundry list of other announcements, Student Advisers (SAs) questioned how implementing this policy would fundamentally alter the relationship between student staff and residents. In response to resistance from SAs, newly appointed Assistant Dean of Students Jon Sexton rescinded the proposed change after the meeting. The policy was not in the job description that SAs agreed to when taking the position, and he recognized it would constitute a significant change in Grinnell’s culture of self-governance and trust. However, despite the concessions made, it is clear that the administration is entertaining the possibility of pursuing a policy change in the future as well as implementing “rounds,” or routine checkups of every room that they’re assigned. Most concerning, there are no clear plans yet to move this discussion from the confines of Student Affairs to the campus as a whole.
Grinnell College has always sought to promote trust, communication, and community—key tenets of self-governance—of which SAs have been the primary facilitators for over 30 years. Indeed, the beauty of self-governance is that it fosters a community where all members feel comfortable and safe. If a student is struggling with mental health issues or dangerous levels of intoxication, they are able to approach an SA—a caring, confidential peer who can provide resources in times of need. A sense of trust and discretion between dorm residents and SAs is essential for creating this type of community. If SAs are to become an extension of law enforcement, their role as a community-builder and peer advocate is deeply compromised. If students cannot trust their SA to have their best interests in mind, these tenets of self-governance will fall by the wayside and students will undoubtedly hesitate to request support—a consequence that compromises both the comfort and safety of students. If SAs are effectively required to call the police upon smelling marijuana, they cannot support their residents, but instead are forced to subject them to a racist criminal justice system whose interests imperil the lives and futures of students.
To draw an analogy to the militarization of police, people have often noted that the increased availability of military-style equipment affects the mindset of police officers themselves. Instead of understanding their position as community protectors, police forces across the US have adopted a mindset previously reserved for the battlefield. In Grinnell, the new responsibility of this proposed policy will change the mindset of SAs and alter SAs’ understanding of their own role. Equipped with the ability to assert dominance over their floor-mates, the mindsets of SAs will change from a community-focused mindset to one of policing and law enforcement.
There is a very real possibility that the administration will take action in the future regarding the enforcement of Student Advisers to report those they were previously meant to help. Student Advisers are pacified for now, but this issue is not going away. The administration’s plans for the future remain behind closed doors. As students, it is our right to have a voice in the way Grinnell operates. Grinnell is our home, our occupation, and our institution. Our college experience is defined by comfort in our community. Turning some students against others and removing trust in self-governance—the defining characteristic of Grinnell and the reason many of us decided to come to the Iowa cornfields—is a serious threat to our institution. As students we need to let the College know we won’t stand for policy changes that damage our community, especially changes that are not discussed with the entire community. A functioning self-governance system requires that all students play a role as active bystanders and take responsibility for issues like health risks experienced by non-smokers within our community. The SA role should undertake this responsibility in a way that will allow for collective growth as a community, not through an approach centered on surveillance and penalization.
Editors’ Note: We updated the text of this article to remove sexual assault from the types of concerns that SAs are expected to keep confidential. As the most recent College Sexual Harassment & Misconduct Policy explains, SAs are required to report incidents of sexual assault to Grinnell’s Title IX coordinator.