This past week, Travis Greene, Dean of Students, sent out a letter via email to the RLCs and Student Staff to dispel the recent rumors that have been circulating around the Grinnell College campus.
The changes addressed include refining the responsibilities of Student Advisors, or SAs, during the opening and closing of the college; adding paid student assistants to help RLCs with administrative duties and utilizing SAs and HSCs to promote the Social Justice Peers Educators program. Ideas that are not expected to be executed include limiting the number of co-curricular activities for which one can be involved in and paying SAs.
Before Greene’s letter was released, the rumors regarding these changes originated from a Student Staff meeting held earlier last week which discussed the above proposed changes. These meetings are held twice a week and are attended by the college’s RLCs, Greene, and Laura Gogg, Technical Assistant for Residence Life and Orientation.
Within the letter, Greene clarified that only minor changes could be made regarding the role of SAs during the opening and the closing of the school. Posible changed would include maintaining the three social programs hosted by SAs, except they would now be specifically socical, educational, or both. There would also be the addition of a core group of students, “a student staff advisory board”, and using HSCs and SAs to help further establish the Social Justice Peer Educators program, “by doing some creative programming in the halls”.
A specific proposed change that aroused concern was the addition of a paid assistant to each dorm cluster. This assistant, as stated in Greene’s note, would “aid RLCs with administrative values”. Though some SAs believe that this could pose a problem within the Grinnell community, Greene believes that this specific change wouldn’t be implemented in the near future, but rather it was something that would be incorporated into the college solely for preparing “students who may wish to consider student affairs as a profession after college”.
“That isn’t even something on the table for this or next year, it is something down the road,” Greene said in an interview. “Some students I have talked with are considering going into student affairs as a profession…That would be an option that might give them that extra experience as they move forward.” I’m not expecting to have all 60 or 70 students getting paid, just one per cluster.”
Toby Kathan, ’10, a SA in Younker Hall, doesn’t agree with Greene’s proposal and believes that this change would be more detrimental to Grinnell’s culture of self-governance.
“[The changes] may be subtle now, but I think they’ll have drastic consequences down the road,” Kathan said. “…Like the paid student staff…in the long run, that could turn into students assessing fines, which are just RAs. By doing that, you are elevating students above their peers. This is a culture that they are creating now, that has the potential to really snowball into big changes. ”
However, according to Katie Lau, HSC for Dibble, Cowles and Norris Halls, assessing fines would not be included in the refined SA positon or the proposed “paid assistant” job description.
“They already help with opening move in so some of it is just getting them to help with move out, not necessarily assessing room fines or anything, but being more active in the process,” Lau said. “I think it would be determined by the RLC, what they would need help with, but they wouldn’t be assessing fines or anything like that.”
Jaimie Stomberg ’09, an SA on Loose 2nd, also worries about the implications of a paid position.
“I have friends who are RAs at other schools who just do it because they get paid for it,” Stomberg said. “They could care less about what happens on their floor. It’s a job, and people don’t always have to love their job. People volunteer for things because they want to do it.”
Greene understands the general arousal of concern that accompanies the addition of a paid position to student staff.
“I know people are concerned about self-governance being eroded or getting people who want a traditional set-up with an RA,” Greene said. “That won’t happen here. The student staff position works here, so why would you want to change something that works.”
However, Stomberg isn’t so sure.
“I feel that self-governance can’t be a policy once these things are enacted…self-governance is about students trusting each other, respecting each other, being comfortable talking with one another about what’s troubling them- being able to communicate,” Stomberg said.
Greene also knows that he would need to consult the general student body before administering any major changes.
“Naturally, we’d start with student staff because… we work and partner with them already…bigger changes…we’d want to have campus wide discussion too.” Greene said. “That doesn’t mean that popularity wins, if we feel like there’s an idea that’s important, we’ll make a case for it and provide rationale, even if the majority of campus feels this doesn’t seem to make sense. But you would like to think that the overwhelming part of campus says ‘no’, then…we need to figure out why’d we do it.”
SAs, along with the rest of student staff received the impression earlier in the year that administration would be available to “listen to any concerns or ideas”, as indicated in Greene’s letter. Yet currently, SAs such as Stomberg believe this commitment has not been a priority.
“I feel like we were led to trust them…but by now, most of us just feel betrayed by them,” Stomberg said. “They haven’t consulted us on anything and…I feel we should be suspicious of them because the lines of communication have been completely shut down.”
Kathan, on the other hand, believes that it just has to do with the change in administration.
“A lot of it is that the administration is new, and they are just trying to figure out the Grinnell culture. A lot of it is just that we need to tell them that throwing [these ideas] around, even at an RLC meeting, is not acceptable.”
Regardless of these recent developments, Greene emphasizes that the role of student staff will remain the same on campus.
“Student staff will continue to have their focus on building community, they’re not there to be policy enforcers, because with self-governance the expectation is that every student is a part of that community…is taking care of each other, and that sense frees up the student staff so that they don’t feel as if they are patrolling.”