By Connor Toups
What’s the saying: “Snitches get stitches?” Maybe we should amend that to “Snitches contribute to a degradation of trust between snitched and snitcher that ultimately leaves both parties worse off and creates a more dangerous environment than previously existed.” Not as catchy, but in light of a leaked memo from RAs in an all-frosh dorm at Stern hall detailing student drinking behaviors to their RFs, perhaps a necessary one. To be clear, I don’t think that RAs or RFs should be blamed for this incident or that the existence of this memo is the major issue; it sounds like the RAs made an honest mistake and this memo policy has existed for several years. However, in this renewed conversation surrounding Stanford’s protocol regarding alcohol use, we ought to identify a far greater issue with Stanford’s alcohol policy: Stanford’s increasingly opaque and confusing protocols that seem to have recently shifted towards a decidedly more authoritative and restrictive approach towards alcohol use.
When I say opaque and confusing, I mean truly baffling. In researching for this article, I spent about an hour parsing through the policy changes, the “new guidelines” and the awkward admission that the policies need to change anyways. This opaqueness not only makes it harder for RAs and RFs to do their already difficult job of enforcing ResEd’s alcohol policy uniformly; it leaves students who are the subject of these policies completely uninformed as to what is allowed on campus, what is not allowed on campus and what repercussions we might incur if we keep our doors open for RAs to observe us.
To be honest, even after spending all that time, I’m not even entirely sure what the policy is. From what I gather, ResEd has more clearly defined high-risk behavior as anything ranging from “consuming shots” to a lack of “EANABs” (Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages) and require that RAs intervene when witnessing this activity by “reducing the consumption of alcohol.” ResEd, of course, does not make it clear how RAs could possibly reduce the consumption of alcohol in an acute situation without confiscating it, which is expressly forbidden.
In addition, RAs must have weekly conversations with RFs about high-risk behavior, and then the RF will communicate to the RD of the “needs and concerns of the residential community” (read: the high-risk behavior incidents). Interestingly, the Residence Deans no longer report to ResEd; they now report to the Dean of Students Office, which contains OAPE and is responsible for the adjudication process for students. After reporting on their residents, RAs have no true input on what happens to residents; the RDs and the Dean of Students Office seem to have that decision power now.
As one Lagunita staffer noted, RAs feel reluctant to report their residents because they don’t know what might happen to them. From my vantage as a freshman resident, this new emphasis on using RAs as a co-opted police force for the administration builds walls of distrust between residents and the RAs and RFs, who are there to protect them, and the administration, which is supposed to ensure their success. I’m lucky in that I trust that my RAs truly care about me and my fellow residents and have our best interests at heart. However, if the University continues this new push and forces RAs to be tools in the administration’s new confusing and heavy-handed approach towards alcohol, I fear that the lines of communication between RAs and residents will decay. If residents see their RAs solely as extensions of the administration and not as allies there to help and guide us, the ability of RAs to support their residents will diminish, and residents, particularly freshman residents who are often new to drinking, will be left without a key support system — abandoned because of administration policies more interested in appearing tough on binge drinking than actually designed to support students.
These policies, furthermore, will not only make it harder for RAs to support residents with regards to drinking; they will make it harder for RAs to support residents in general. RAs support residents by providing a non-judgemental, safe place for residents to seek help and talk about issues in their lives — oftentimes deeply personal issues. RAs are vital sources of support in residents lives; however, that support relies on trust and a perception that RAs are on our side. If that perception disappears, the RA-resident relationship will be fundamentally altered and residents will be left more vulnerable than before. If Stanford cares about the holistic wellbeing of its students, it must reverse this troubling trend of using RAs to enforce increasingly authoritative, poorly thought-out alcohol policies and instead focus on building new bridges of trust and cooperation between residents and RAs so that RAs can fully support the residents that need them so dearly.
Contact Connor Toups at ctoups22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.