Proposed SA Rules Could Send Self-Governance Up in Smoke

Changing the responsibilities SAs have will weaken campus culture

SSDP (5)

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 In response to resistance from SAs, newly appointed Assistant Dean of Students Jon Sexton rescinded the proposed change after the meeting.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.


  1. I just wanted to clarify one of the topics presented. The idea of “rounds” is not supposed to be in any way a system for SAs to take a police role in the residence halls. I have had many discussions with student affairs on this topic as I was originally concerned when I was told the policy. Instead, rounds are a way for SAs to ensure a presence on the floor and hopefully notice when there a change in floor (or a specific resident’s) behavior. Because so many SAs are not too present on the floor, this hopefully will build relations between student advisors and their floors (and possibly the residents in their cluster). Thus, this isn’t meant as a criminalizing surveillance job as much as it’s meant to force student advisors to do their job, interact with their floor(s), and make sure that everyone is happy in any aspect of their daily life at the college (thus, making us a resource and not police).

    Also, even if student affairs expected SAs to report any of this, do you actually think that many of us would report it? As long as residents aren’t disrupting others on the floor or immediate vicinity, I don’t believe that many Grinnellians would talk to an RLC. The policy implementation would inevitably fail.

    Oh and saying that “student advisers are pacified for now” makes it seem as though we are on board for any other changes that student affairs has proposed, when this is clearly not the case. After running an expansive survey by all the SAs, data was presented to student affairs showing that we wouldn’t tolerate these changes. SAs aren’t “pacified” at all. Don’t imply that we aren’t actively rejecting these changes just like the rest of campus is.

  2. I was in the meeting where this concept of “rounds,” as you put it, was first discussed. Like Dan said, you have it all wrong. They were intended by the administration as a way of making resources more obvious for students and I quickly explained that this concept of walking through residence halls simply would not fly with the student body or work with our culture, and also how terrible the term rounds sounds.

    I proposed a change to the Assistant Dean of Students Jon Sexton to instead have weekly tea time in lounges where students can ask SAs for resources and interact informally. He thought this was a good idea and took my concern seriously. He is still getting use to the culture of self gov, not that that’s really an excuse if we did have to do rounds. I will personally follow up with him to see how this develops, but in the mean time, GUM really needs to fact check its articles. It is becoming the Fox News of Grinnell. I expect better from Grinnell Students. Also, making this anonymous was not cool. I would really like to be able to have a chat about this with the author, but the anonymity makes it pretty clear that they knew there are significant problems in this article.

  3. The comparison to Ferguson is really uncalled for. Please check yourself with that comparison and hopefully come to the conclusion it should be removed. If you don’t understand why this line is fucked up then rlly I pray for you guys. If the GUM can remove lines about sexual assault it can surely remove this ACTUALLY fucked up line! ;)

  4. Why is this article anonymous?

  5. The stories published on the GUM these days have really rubbed me the wrong way, and I agree with previous commenters that this seems like a (failing) desperate plea for attention, a click-bait article with no fact-checking, depth, or respect (comparison to Ferguson, really?).

  6. Article is anonymous because of what we deemed were legitimate concerns expressed by the authors for their safety, but I understand how that undermines the credibility of the piece too.

    Ferguson was included because of connection authors were attempting to draw between dissonance between law enforcement/constituencies they serve, and because of authors’ belief that drug policy in the United States and at Grinnell is racially oppressive. Invoking Ferguson was harmfully hyperbolic and has since been removed. We’re sorry for allowing that, and want to apologize to everyone who was hurt by the inclusion of something that clearly concerns more and deeper problems than the opinions in this article address.

  7. It’s impressive that you are getting ideas
    from this paragraph as well as from our dialogue made at this time.

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