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Alleged crack down on RA alcohol policy

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On January 13, a student was carrying a closed container of alcohol into their building when they were approached by the building’s Area Director. For a normal student, this would not be a problem – Carleton has traditionally maintained a very lenient alcohol policy. However, this particular student was an RA, and for RAs, the rules are different.

The next day, the RA had a meeting with his supervisors who work in Residential Life.

“I was given the option to either resign or be terminated the following day at noon,” the RA said. They chose resignation.

According to Andrea Robinson, the Director of Residential Life, RAs are held to a different set of rules than regular students because they are employees of the college.

“There’s a set of expectations for an RA position that do not apply to a student that’s not an RA,” Robinson said. “It’s not about being tougher on RAs, it’s not necessarily about high standards, it’s not about being less lenient … these things are job pieces that you agreed to when you took the position.”

Robinson explained that the rules for RAs are divided into two categories: conduct, which are college alcohol policies all students are held to, and employee, which are Residential Life-specific regulations.

According to the RA who resigned, these rules include prohibitions against drinking in their area, drinking with residents, and providing alcohol to residents. Even an RA over 21 seen carrying a container of alcohol into their private living space is frowned on.

The RA who resigned likened the standards to which RAs are held to standards of faculty. “If you were to see a faculty or staff member carrying alcohol … it’d be a similar situation [as with an RA],” the former RA said.

Robinson also stressed the clarity with which these policies are laid out.

“We spend a lot of time going over these expectations with RAs,” Robinson said. “We discuss them in multiple avenues in multiple forums multiple times throughout training.”

For the most part, this clarity has been effective.

“As a freshman I’d be fine going to a party and walking home and obviously being intoxicated … but now I definitely keep it more under control,” said an anonymous West side RA. “You have that visibility on campus.”

“I would never have felt comfortable drinking in front of residents when I was underage,” said a third-year RA. “Now I don’t really feel that bad about it but I definitely try to drink in a way that, when I do drink, [it’s] not going to be something I need to feel embarrassed about later.”

There is, however, some gray area in the student-employee dichotomy.

“Yes RAs are employees of the college, but they’re also students and they’re also living on campus, so how do you navigate those different intersections?” the RA who resigned said.

The West side RA said treating RAs like employees of the college is at times frustrating, but overall understandable.

“I think [being an RA] is a job that requires a lot of responsibility and maturity, so you want to make the people you’re hiring live up to the standards they need to have to do the job well,” the West side RA said. “But also, we’re still students at the same time, so it’s a weird situation. I think in public schools, where RAs have a lot more to do, it might make more sense for them to be treated like normal employees, but here [being an RA is] not the biggest job.”

The third-year RA also had mixed feelings.

“I have higher expectations than a dining hall worker in a lot of ways, and that’s because I’m supposed to be a role model for my residents … I sought out this job, so I have to perform it to the best of my ability,” the RA said. “But I do think that there has to be some understanding that we are students first, and we aren’t perfect … while I do understand that ResLife gets to do what they think is best, I would prefer that RAs are treated more like other students in disciplinary situations … there’s an educational goal about the whole situation.”

There’s also some nebulous territory surrounding the history of rule enforcement.

“The administration is usually very straightforward about if you’re underage you’re expected not to drink,” said the third-year RA, “but I think there’s sort of a grey area in the way that it’s typically enforced here because it seems like Carleton has this idea of ‘if you act like an adult, we’ll treat you like one until you prove us wrong.’”

In the past, said the third-year RA, the punishment for an RA violating an alcohol policy has not been as severe.

“When I was a first-year RA, I knew upperclassmen RAs who themselves had had problems with drinking, and they just got a talking-to, and I feel like that has changed,” they said. “Now I don’t think there’s as much flexibility. It doesn’t seem like it’s a warning situation anymore, it’s potentially more serious.”

The third-year RA said that the new change could possibly stem from the creation of the Project Coordinator for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention position, currently held by Patrick Gordon, that came out of the grant Carleton received to combat drug and alcohol use on campus.

“That’s supposed to be in a data-gathering phase, from what I understand, but I wonder if just the fact that [Residential Life has] been made aware that Carleton even qualified for this funding to have this position they’re feeling like they need to crack down on that more,” the third-year RA said.

Robinson, however, said that in her four years at Carleton there has been no change in enforcement leniency.

“We have no different standards now than historically,” Robinson said. “I think sometimes it is more public, based on how often things may occur … it seems like we change things but it just means that there’s more going on that we have to address.”

Sarah Weiler, Area Director, added that there’s no one way incidents involving RAs drinking are enforced.

“We definitely try to approach those things in whatever way feels most effective in the immediate term,” Weiler said. “Our first concern if anyone if drinking on campus is being sure of their safety and their ability to be a successful Carleton student.”

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