For the past few weeks, house teams have been abuzz with the prospect of new Student Fellow applications, selection of House Student Advisors (HSAs), and the overall prospect of turning over the torch to a fresh cohort of community leaders. House Advisors have added to the action with the announcement of a new House Team position: the Community Fellow. The creation of this position, which would integrate student Campus Patrol workers into House Team and put them under the purview of the Office of Residential Life, brings a range of concerns around the evolving roles of House Team members and a potential shift towards punitiveness.
The online mission statement of The Office of Residential Life states that it “strives to provide a socially conscious, responsible and empowering residential community, where students are asked to reflect and commit to being socially just for self, others and society. The office incorporates restorative practices and non-violent communication.” The rhetoric of this statement emphasizes the notion of peer accountability. It has been the experience of those at The Miscellany News that the current positions of House Team work toward this goal. Specifically, the construction of Student Fellows as non-disciplinary mentors has been positive in creating a system that is both supportive and holds residents accountable. It is out of this focus on peer-to-peer accountability that the changes were proposed. However, it will be a challenge to assimilate student Campus Patrollers into House Team, a position originally rooted in the disciplinary connotations of Safety & Security, the office that currently supervises student patrollers.
According to their website, in its current iteration, the student branch of Campus Patrol consists of “a worker at a desk each evening in the lobby of each Residence House.” Patrollers are tasked with responding to disruptions, performing building checks, and looking out for medical emergencies and safety hazards. A former patroller stated that they are trusted to use their judgement in how to handle various situations that arise while on patrol, including speaking to residents directly, liaising with the senior patroller and calling Safety & Security.
One of the most important issues concerning student patrollers is compensation. At the Vassar Student Association Senate meeting on Feb. 5, 2017, Safety & Security director Arlene Sabo informed students of the issues regarding the high turnover of Safety & Security professionals. She attributed this turnover in part to low pay; incoming hourly wage is $15.50, among the lowest of neighboring colleges. Additionally, Sabo stated that over 200 events per year are staffed with employees working on overtime. Ideally this would not be the situation, but with such high turnover it is difficult to improve.
These difficulties have implications for student patrollers as well: Going forward, will compensation continue in the form of work study wages? Currently, the House Student Advisor is the only work-study position on House Team. While having student workers as members of the team is not necessarily a problem on its own, it does set up a hierarchical dynamic between those paid at $10.00 an hour and the rest of the team members, who are currently paid $200 per semester. Moreover, we at The Miscellany News are concerned that the student patroller position could end up filling the gap created by understaffing in Safety & Security. This could imply the role is becoming more punitive–exactly what it should be moving away from if it is to fit into the House Team mission of community building and peer-to-peer support. Moreover, with student workers helping to relieve the difficulties created by understaffing to some extent, it might also make it harder to demand better pay and working conditions for security staff.
Furthermore, this year’s updated party rules place additional strains on dorm security. Since registered Town Houses and Terrace Apartments parties are now limited to 25 attendees and prohibited from serving hard alcohol, dorms are likely to become even more concentrated party spots–and students are liable to drink more heavily in their rooms before heading to senior housing in order to compensate for the liquor ban. This means that patrollers might be confronted with not only increased noise complaints, but also a higher incidence of alcohol-related medical incidents.
In its ideal form, the new Community Fellow position will merge seamlessly with the rest of House Team by removing some of the burden of accountability for community interruptions from Student Fellows and House Officers, while also serving as an additional resource for concerned residents of all classes. To achieve this latter goal, it is crucial that Community Fellows are a visible part of House Team, attending events such as Study Breaks and publicizing their availability to dorm residents. They must also attend the same training that the rest of House Team does, including workshops in nonviolent communication, conflict resolution, bystander intervention, and dealing diplomatically with community interruptions. Our hope is that Community Fellows would take an active role in conflict resolution within the residential community, both in specific instances that come up while patrolling as well as more broadly.
As it stands now, one of House Team’s greatest assets as an institution is the variety of roles its members fill and the different resources they provide. Student Fellows serve as mentors for a specific group of first-years, and HSAs and House Advisors as higher-up contact points for anyone experiencing issues in the residential community. We hope that the creation of this role would fill a niche not currently being filled on House Team: a resource for concerns of safety. While all House Team members are trained to contact EMS and other on- and off-campus resources, no one position is currently designated for this duty.
As administrators think through the creation of this role, we urge them to consider that this position will alter the dynamic of House Team from previous iterations. The addition of new members may bring about more than a simple change in the internal structure of the House Team. Its relationship with the rest of the residential community would shift as well, when the team includes members whose primary role is to address safety concerns and possibly bring punitive measures to dorm residents. To the former point, the sheer size of House Team, coupled with the numerous checks and balances required to obtain funding or host events, as well as the lack of institutional and perceived authority vested in House Team members, creates a pernicious issue of ineffectuality. Thus, it will be crucial that the addition of these new members serve to ease inefficiency, not aggravate it, by relieving other members of a set of clearly-defined responsibilities.
This is a critical moment in shaping the future of the residential experience. The spike in Student Fellow applications this year indicates a positive influence by House Teams, and we are poised to continue this upward trend–provided that administrators continue to center the mission of the Office of Residential Life and maintain the best parts of House Team while working to minimize its ineffectual aspects.
— The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.