The GUM published an article before winter break titled “Proposed SA Rules Could Send Self-Governance Up in Smoke,” authored by an anonymous group of ‘concerned students.’ The article was misleading and sent students the wrong message about what is actually going on in Student Affairs. The authors painted a picture of residence life that originally likened it to the events in Ferguson, claiming that SAs are becoming enforcers rather than resource providers and community-building peers. It is important for the general campus community to recognize that exactly the opposite is in fact happening. The events of last semester in Residence Life actually re-affirm self-governance and the role of student staff as peers, and not police.
When SAs were charged with informing an RLC about the presence of marijuana on their floors, the vocal and immediate pushback from Student Advisers reaffirmed how much they (and the House Coordinators) value their jobs, self-governance, and the relationship between student staff and residents. The other potential change mentioned in the article was occasional walks through residence halls. These were not intended as an enforcement task, but were rather an attempt to help students and their SAs be more connected. This was proposed with the goal of helping SAs do a better job within their role as it currently stands. Many SAs and HCs, including myself, have pushed back on this idea for a few reasons.
The concept of us approaching our residents first, rather than the other way around, runs contrary to the general way Grinnell works, i.e. office hours for SGA and town hall meetings. We also correctly anticipated that students would react negatively to the idea of “rounds,” just as the December article did. Given the student body’s eagerness to destroy any perceived or real threats to our liberty, this reaction was to be expected, despite the positive intention with which the policy was proposed. Other SAs and I have suggested that instead, we have regular SA office hours, or even tea times, for groups of floors in order to increase our accessibility. This would function in a manner more in line with general Grinnell practice, and allow students to seek out help and resources when they need them. At the moment is seems that Student Affairs realizes that our proposal is the best route to take and they are unlikely to implement the “rounds.”
Last semester’s article is correct about the problem that a policing approach would pose, but it has not yet happened, and it can still be prevented. It was irresponsible for a group of anonymous students to send an unclear message. The original article has damaged student trust in SAs and HCs, and may make students less likely to ask for confidential help when they need it.
Since the fall semester of 2012, student staff members have experienced significant changes to our numbers, organization, and even pay. What has remained the same is our passion for being a safe, private resource for students. We recognize that we cannot possibly do this if we are required to reveal students’ substance use to law enforcement. The administration has historically respected this as our role, but with this year’s massive personnel transition within Student Affairs, this balance must once again be struck.
If Residence Life wants to change the policy next year to include reporting on marijuana in the SA job description, that expectation will be reflected in the contract that the new SAs and HCs sign after student staff selection this spring. If that is the case, it should be cause for great concern among students because it will pose a threat to self-governance at Grinnell. It would mean an end to the current practice of students confidentially reaching out to SAs, HCs, and RLCs where substances are concerned.
SAs will have the option not to sign the contract if that becomes a part of their job expectations. Most current student staff would likely not sign such a contract. Furthermore, this particular change would indicate that student staff is comprised of people who joined student staff not to help students, but because they were incentivized by pay and a single room. Grinnell College in general, and especially the professional staff of Residence Life, should be very concerned about that prospect. Until that point, it is intentionally misleading to claim that Residence Life is turning student staff into a disciplinary police force.