Changes to advisor role spark controversy

Students voiced their concerns about the new Community Advisor position at a recent campus council meeting. Photo by John Brady.

Students voiced their concerns about the new Community Advisor position at a recent campus council meeting. Photo by John Brady.

Michael Cummings, Staff Writer

cummings@grinnell.edu

Almost 100 people crowded into JRC 209 the night of Monday, Dec. 7, for an impromptu meeting that had been called just hours previously by the SGA Cabinet. Many in attendance expressed surprise over the sheer number of students who had shown up, especially with the packed schedules and sleep deprivation of Hell Week already well underway.

The reason that so many from the Grinnell community had taken time out of their busy schedules on such short notice was an email sent out by the Residence Life staff on Dec. 1. The email was sent to all first-, second- and third-year students with the subject line “Apply to be a Community Advisor!”

The email briefly announced that a decision had been made to change the name and the job description of Student Advisors (SAs) beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year. The new position differed from the current SA position in that student staff would be required to conduct walkthroughs of their floors and enforce (the wording was later changed to “address”) state and federal laws, among other things.

Many students reacted with surprise, displeasure and even anger. In response to this outcry from students, SGA President Dan Davis ’16 wrote an email to the student body about the issue.

“We, too, are worried about these changes as we believe they open the door to even larger alterations to the position in coming years, which may result in a punitive role instead of the most readily available student resource we currently have,” Davis wrote.

Some of the most outspoken opponents to the change have been current SAs. Many say that these changes will transform the current SA role into a punitive role more similar to Residence Advisors at other colleges. This, some have argued, will make students afraid to seek help from Community Advisors (CAs) out of fear of retaliation.

“We already don’t have enough mental health resources, so to eliminate one of the most trusted and available student resources, I think that would be really tragic and I think it would have really terrible repercussions,” said Hannah Brown ’16, an SA for Rawson Hall.

“I think there are a lot of ways they could be not as harm reductive and actually could hurt people if they feel like they can’t trust their SAs or CAs,” said Hannah Lundberg ’18, an SA for James Hall.

For many, while the possibility of a more punitive role is an important issue, the changes are indicative of a larger problem.

“The part that actually worries a lot of us in SGA more is the fact that we weren’t consulted—that no students were consulted at all throughout all of these changes that were happening,” Davis said. “As of right now, the only students that I know knew about the changes before they were rolled out was Student Staff Council, but even their connection to the changes is extremely thin.”

Student Staff Council is a committee made up of one SA from each cluster.

The original email from Residence Life also announced a meet-and-greet with RLCs for students interested in applying for the new position. Davis and other students sent out an email encouraging concerned students to protest at the event. The meet-and-greet was cancelled after the Wellness Lounge refused to let the event take place in their space, according to Davis.

Throughout the week, Davis has repeatedly stressed that their goal was for Student Affairs to reverse the implementation of these changes.

“We urge all students that are considering applying for the Community Advisor position to hold off on applying until this new job description has been retracted and any changes to the position have been decided upon with the consultation of your peers,” Davis wrote in an all campus email.

Some SAs discussed a pact to not reapply until the changes had been reversed. Lundberg expressed mixed feelings about this.

“Clearly, if nobody applies they need somebody to fill the spots, so I think that could be good,” Lundberg said. “I’m a little wary of it because I’m concerned that things could still be pushed forward and then those of us who cared most deeply about it would not be involved.”

On Wednesday night, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Conner responded to students’ concerns in an email to the student body.

“[W]e are putting the implementation of this proposed policy on hold so it can be carefully reviewed with the Student Government Association and the full student staff,” Conner wrote.

Conner later acknowledged a communication problem between Student Affairs and the student body.

“We in Student Affairs wish that we had done more consultation … it would have been better to do that,” Conner said in an interview with The S&B.

The decision to open the changes up to student input has been well-received by many students.

“I think what I would most like to see is that we go back to the drawing board and address the problems that student affairs wants to see addressed, but do that in a collaborative process that includes students and where those voices are heard as well,” Lundberg said.

Some students are still wary that, if the changes don’t happen now, they’ll simply happen a few years down the road.

“There are ideological differences between the student body and professional staff and where we need to make our voices heard making sure these changes don’t happen down the line, because that’s really what I see happening … — [the changes] won’t happen next year, but that contract will pave the way three years from now and that will be a shame,” Brown said.

Conner maintains that the changes were originally decided upon with the best intentions in mind.

“I would like to reassure students that the residence life staff who made these adjustments to the position, … their motivations were so well-intentioned, they felt like they were being responsive to a community need and a community concern,” Conner said.

“We all have the same goals. We all want the same healthy campus,” said Becca Heller ’16, who has worked with the Division of Student Affairs in many capacities during her time at Grinnell.

She added that the ways in which students and staff hope to achieve those goals are simply very different.

Though many students have expressed concern, frustration and anger over the past couple weeks, Dixon Romeo ’16, SGA Vice President for Student Affairs, sees a silver lining.

“The amount of student reaction to this, especially during this time of year, clearly shows that Grinnell students believe in these ideals [of self-governance],” Romeo said. “We argue about these definitions of self-gov all the time, but it’s very clear that when we feel it’s violated we unite as a group.”