Resident advisers play key roles in cultivating community in residence halls. GW Police Department officers are responsible for overseeing student safety. But the two responsibilities should not be conflated.
Under an RA contract that went into effect this fall, RAs are required to be “on-call” on residence hall floors several times throughout the academic year – a responsibility previously held by GWPD officers. But requiring RAs to perform rounds in residence halls confuses their roles, making them appear as more of a tattletale than a go-to for advice. Although officials intended to foster more personal relationships between RAs and their residents, giving RAs a job for GWPD officers forges a more adversarial than friendly relationship.
RAs are now expected to patrol residence halls and crack down on suspicious activities, like loud parties or underage drinking. If an RA finds residents with alcohol in their room, they need to write down students’ information, ask students to pour out alcoholic drinks and ultimately end the party. Previously, RAs were expected to call a GWPD officer if they found suspicious activity or tell residents to quiet down. Their added responsibility confuses the role of an RA and makes them appear less approachable.
In the first weeks of the semester, I have had friends who have opened their doors to RAs telling them to quiet down, even outside “quiet hours” set by the University. RAs are less obliging to students like my friends who fear they will bust a gathering or party that is remotely loud.
Delegating the work of a GWPD officer to RAs means the University is leaving student safety in the hands of students themselves. RAs attend trainings to understand their job before the fall but should not be expected to act as police officers in situations involving alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, GWPD officers are clearly identifiable authority figures who are trained to handle high-stress situations that could involve drugs and alcohol.
Now that they are responsible for patrolling residence halls, RAs are seen as less than friendly faces in the building. RAs are responsible to hold community building events and invite students into their rooms in case they need to discuss personal matters, like roommate disputes. It will be harder for RAs to perform their traditional duties if they are expected to do the work of a police officer, not a community builder.
The University is adding more responsibility to the roles of RAs and forcing them to act as police officers and rule-enforcers while also asking them to build community and act as mentors. The responsibility of RAs should be to lead their residential community, not be a branch of GWPD, and they should not be expected to perform as such.
Students who had their party broken up by their RA, or who view them as authority figures and not mentors, might struggle with going to their RA in the case of a sensitive situation, like a roommate disagreement. If the University hopes to build community by changing the roles of RAs, officials should not be putting RAs in positions where they have to be the bad guys.
The new changes to the RA agreement harm both RAs and residents. Residents should be able to trust their RA – not fear that their RA might bust their party. But the University conflated both of the positions. While both RAs and GWPD have important missions and their primary interests are in maintaining the health and safety of students, forcing RAs to do the work of GWPD is worse for students.
Zachary Nosanchuck, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a columnist.