Resident assistants’ methods find tough critics

October 27th, 2011

At a recent Student Union meeting, Senator Joe Cahill raised a concern that this year resident assistants have been buckling down on procedure and writing up more people than they have in previous years. Other students around campus have echoed this feeling, and at least five of them had asked Cahill to bring it up at the Student Union meeting.

“People understand that if you’re doing something wrong, they have to write something up,” said Cahill. “But a lot of students feel like they are looking for a reason.”

According to Cahill, the resident assistants have conducted unwarranted searches of dormitory rooms and unfairly written students up. He said that it seems that some, but not all RAs this year have been stricter than in the previous two years that he has been at JCU.

The Office of Residence Life, on the other hand feels that this is not the case, and that the RAs are acting only as they have been trained to preserve a safe environment for on campus residents.

According to John Mack, the assistant director of residence life, the number of write-ups has actually gone down this year.

“Comparing to previous years, I would say we’ve had a lot less [write-ups],” said Mack.

Lisa Brown, the director of residence life, emphasized that the reason residence life at any university has to enforce these policies is to ensure that the students living on campus are acting safely and responsibly. However, Brown said that there have been no major policy changes this year from previous years.

She added that the RAs don’t look for specific violations, but they monitor for anything that could be a safety hazard to students.

“I think RAs are enforcing the violations that are brought to their attention. It’s not anything in particular – it’s what’s brought to our attention we address,” Brown said.

According to Mack, building and maintaining a safe community is always the first priority and the main idea behind writing students up.

“I think it has to do with building a community that everyone can feel comfortable living in and enjoy living in. We want a place where everyone is feeling that they are safe, that they are able to study, socialize and just be comfortable with where they live. Because of that, sometimes you’re going to have to put rules in place that help people be mindful and respectful of everyone else that lives around them,” said Mack.

Brown added, “In the write-up process, it’s about the RAs writing down what they’re observing. They are not making a judgment on whether someone is responsible or what is going to happen to that individual if they are found responsible [for a violation].”

Mack also explained that the role of RAs when they are writing students up for a violation is strictly observation.

“The analogy we always use [when] we train them is that you’re a video camera – you’re purely just recording everything that took place; you’re not offering any opinions or judgments. Then it’s up to the hearing board how they’re going to use that information and what decisions are made,” said Mack. “By in large, I think RAs would say that [writing people up] is the part of the job they hate the most. The RA would much rather answer a question or clarify a policy than have to deal with it later on.”

Junior resident assistant Greg Petsche has been in Sutowski Hall for two years. He confirmed that the goal of RAs is to make sure that their residence hall is a safe environment.

Petsche said, “Our goal with [doing] rounds is making sure we’re providing a safe environment for the students in the residence halls. What we’re looking for are activities and things that students may be engaged in that could be potentially hazardous to their health or to the health of others.”

According to Petsche, it is important to understand that RAs are students too, and they aren’t looking for reasons to write people up.

Furthermore, respecting the rule of confidentiality is essential to an RA’s write-up procedure. Petsche said that under no circumstance are RAs allowed to discuss the details of a write-up with anyone outside of the situation. Because of this rule, said Petsche, RAs don’t have the chance to defend their write-ups, so students gossip about what actually happened when they are written up, and rumors get spread.

“We’re here to help residents,” said Petsche. “Most people do this job not for the room and board. Most RAs do the job because of the fact that we actually get to help people. A lot of the things we do are behind the scenes – the hours we spend working with them or just talking with them one on one. There are a lot of things that are not policy-focused. We need to be there for residents and make sure residents feel comfortable coming to us and living in a safe environment.”

He said that most write-ups come from noise complaints that they investigate. “If we’re able to hear it three doors down, that constitutes a noise violation. [And these] tend to serve as a lead in to other issues.”

If there is alcohol in the room in the presence of minors, the RAs have to follow procedure and write the students up.

Brown said that the best way for students to avoid getting written up is to act responsibly.

“The policies are gone over at the very beginning of the year, they’re available online, so students have the responsibility to familiarize themselves with it and then they need to act responsibly according to those policies.”

Cahill agrees that the best solution to tension between RAs and students is through better communication.

“We hope to better the communication between students and residence life so students have a better understanding of the rules,” said Cahill.