Julie Shuster (COL ’13) was sitting quietly in her pajamas last year when her Harbin resident assistant came into her room to search for alcohol. Though she had two empty beer cans on her desk, Shuster was entirely sober, and she was speaking with a friend, easily visible through the open door.
“She didn’t have any reason to come in,” said Shuster, who says that the RA made her pour out over $50 worth of alcohol that was found.
“The weird part was that she was with some friends, and her friends just came in and made comments about the alcohol,” Shuster said. “It was really awkward.”
RA behavior has come under scrutiny recently as students have voiced similar complaints over what they consider to be overly ambitious RAs on duty. One Henle Village resident and his roommates, all of whom asked to remain anonymous due to the legal implications of their actions, were subjected to several consequences including academic probation and mandatory community service requirements after they were cited on Sept. 11 for having three open beers.
According to one of the residents, four people had been listening to music around 9 p.m. and playing FIFA World Cup with the window open when the on-duty RA approached them about the noise. Although the apartment is on the top level of the complex, the RA reportedly said that he had also seen the residents arranging cups in “a triangular fashion” from outside the apartment.
The citation came just one day after the apartment had been visited by DPS concerning a party. Although one of the residents was not present at the first documentation, all three were put on apartment living suspension, which bars them from applying for an apartment for next year. As mandated by their sanctions, they paid fines, wrote essays and saw alcohol abuse counselors.
“It’s strange that they would even suggest a substance abuse counselor. They didn’t really look at the situation, they just gave me blanket statements,” one of the residents said. “My sanctions weren’t high-risk behavior, and I wasn’t endangering anyone around me.”
According to Stephanie Lynch, director of the Office of Residence Life, RA documentations are meant only to enforce university policies. After the write-up occurs, punitive measures are administered by the Office of Student Conduct.
“University policies are generally set for legal considerations, health and safety and community living,” she said. She also observed that there is no quota for documentations.
“RAs would be considered for rehiring even if they didn’t come across situations that warranted documentation,” she said in an email.
With the policies set in place, RAs are left to decide whether stringently enforcing the rules is really the best policy. Alumna and former New South RA Mollie Schmitz (COL ’10) did not consider her approach to be overly lenient on students, but she never saw her RA duty as purely a policing job.
“I felt my job as an RA was to make my residents’ first year at Georgetown as good as possible, never to make it worse,” she said.
“Junior year, I documented one freshman,” she said. “He was being silly, to say the least. He had poured rock salt down the hallway. The kid was cool, and he knew that he was asking for it.”
Schmitz said that some RAs are very strict, but that most are fair.
“You have to have some RAs who lay down the law so that you are taken seriously, and there are RAs that try to party with their kids, but most have a pretty good balance,” she said.
While residents are often understanding of the duties that an RA has to perform, those RAs who seem to make restrictions their primary concentration frustrate some students. Mike Garza (COL ’12) complained about a Henle RA whom he sees as invasive.
“He knocked on my door to tell me to turn down the TV,” he said. “I mean, come on.”
Tommy Muller (MSB ’13) said that he knows that “the rules are the rules,” but that he thinks Residence Life and Student Conduct should not take the consequences too far.
“I think there is a place where [RAs] have to be strict, if alcohol becomes an issue in controlling the dorm,” he said. “There should be a way to handle the rules without people losing housing.”
Cognizant of the need to enforce the rules, many students still observed that RAs are students themselves, and that they would hope to get a little sympathy from their peers when caught in compromising positions.
Ultimately, Schmitz said that the RA-resident relationship is one of respect.
“I tried to be respectful of them and encourage them to have fun, while still ensuring that the noisier residents were mindful of their neighbors who wanted some peace and quiet,” she said in an email. “If you have a good relationship with your residents, then I think that they respect you and make your job easier.”