Editorial: RAs crossing the line

9 years ago Triangle 0

Catherine Rogers

Having attended Bryan for two years now, this year being my third and last, I’ve had my fair share of interactions with RAs. In fact, some of them are good friends.

My first year, now graduated Ashley Maye was my RA in Arnold dorm. She was one of the sweetest, most understanding sources of support I’ve met while here at Bryan. When I moved off campus, she was still the person I called when I needed help or campus information. In chapel, she told me to stop talking a few times, but it was hard to even be annoyed with her.

Wednesday, however, I witnessed an interaction with an RA that angered me.

Right before the start of 1 o’clock classes I was standing in the buzzing hallway of Mercer first. With me were two seniors, both close friends, who happened to be wearing shorts. We’ll call them Luke and John.

As we chatted, a senior RA walked past and subtly asked Luke to remove his hat.

“My bad,” he said as he removed his hat.

Luke mentioned to us in a hushed tone, “I just realized, I’m wearing shorts in Mercer. Do you think I’ll get in trouble?”

John then noticed he was in the same situation—a situation inexcusable for a senior, but possibly understandable for a commuter (who spends more time off campus than on) on a hot summer day.

We assured ourselves that they would probably be okay long enough for Luke to get through his 1 o’clock class and John to print something from the computer lab.

About a minute later the RA re-approached us and asked Luke and John if they could go change into pants. Again, this RA was respectful in his request and said something about a new rule where RAs were supposed to ask anyone breaking the “shorts rule” to leave Mercer.

Both seniors casually informed him that they lived off-campus and asked if they needed to skip class to do this or continue on their way and just receive points.

Before the RA could answer the question, another RA, a junior, walked over and barged his way into the conversation.

“You’re going to get points either way,” he said in a commanding voice, the voice of someone personally offended. “You’re a senior. You should know better than to wear shorts.”

With that information, Luke and John said they would stay for class and take the points and began to walk away, as did the first RA.

The second RA, however, followed Luke and John and scolded two men, both several years older than himself, as if they were children.

“You should know better than this. You’re seniors,” he said, sounding almost angry. “This shouldn’t even be an issue for you.”

Luke walked on, but John turned and said, “You shouldn’t talk to me like that, man. I’m a grown man.”

From that point, I lost track of what was said. Their tones grew angry, faces inches apart. If the first RA had not pulled the two apart, there could have been a much bigger scene in Mercer.

To the credit of the first RA, he half apologized to John as he walked away.

I spoke to the second RA today and he admitted to not handling the situation well. He said he was frustrated, first because he doesn’t agree with the “shorts rule” and second, because he was having to correct a senior about a long-standing rule. He sent John an email apology before our conversation.

He also said that John was being a “butthead” about the rule and that John himself said during the incident that he was being a “butthead.” What John remembers saying to the RAs was that he was not trying to be a “butthead” about the situation.

The second RA said he felt justified in entering the situation with the mindset that RAs are supposed to support other RAs.

I’m glad RA number two admitted to handling the situation wrongly and at least sent a private apology for a public offense. However, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that the incident occurred.

From where I stood, not only was this second RA disrespectful to his fellow students, but he also showed disrespect to the RA who was already handling the situation well.

In the past, I’ve witnessed RAs chastising students in ways I thought were unnecessary and tactless or even questionable, but Wednesday I was angry. Angry not because the students being corrected were friends of mine—that in and of itself would have been a little funny because they should have known better. No, I was upset because students at Bryan College—where Christ is above all—were unnecessarily humiliated and disciplined by someone several years their junior in a busy public hallway.

Since when are RAs given the power to tag-team a public scolding? Since when are RAs given the authority to talk to other students like they’re children? If they have that authority over me, why hasn’t that been written down and handed to me in the Student Handbook? As far as I’m concerned, they can give me a reminder if I’m doing something wrong and they can give me points—there’s nothing I can do about that. But they have no God-given right to act as my superior or scold me. RAs are our equals no matter how many retreats or weekly meetings they attend.

Did the second RA in Wednesday’s incident consider whether Luke, John or any of the people watching were Christians? Did the RA show Luke and John the love of Christ? Personally, I do not think so. It bothers me that the Christian faith was represented in such a way.

Again, I’m glad that particular incident is on its way to being resolved. However, this brings to mind a much bigger issue that I don’t think is being addressed at Bryan. Is our RA system really helping to facilitate the Christ-centered community that Bryan seeks for its campus? How does having a system where a certain group of students are given the power to discipline their peers help the unity of our community?

When I attended George Mason University as a freshman we had RAs too. They gave us a small orientation when we arrived on campus and made a few rounds of the dorms a week to maintain the buildings. That’s it. If students were defacing property or being a public nuisance, they could ask them to stop and if they didn’t comply the RA could call the campus police. They, however, had no power to discipline other students themselves.

When I transferred to Bryan, I was probably one of the few students that read the entire Student Handbook. I knew about all the rules I would have to follow, but I didn’t know those rules were going to be enforced by my peers. I never agreed to that.

I personally have a problem with RAs having the authority to discipline other students. I don’t understand how anyone could think that people who are my age or younger have the maturity, life experience, and close communion with God that it takes to make accurate judgments about disciplining peers in a loving way. But what really bothers me is that there is no effective system to report inappropriate behavior of RAs.

Last year I was given points for texting in chapel when I simply looked at my phone to see the time. No one confronted me about it. I just got a yellow slip in my box. When I went to the Office of Student Life (OSL) to contest the points I was told the only way to dismiss the points was for me to talk to the RA that assigned the points and get him to take them back. He wouldn’t, so I left it alone and took the points. I don’t have time to take a matter like that to the Honor Council.

When I went to OSL on Wednesday to ask how to report what happened to Luke and John, I was told I could just email Bruce Morgan. Sure, if I did that, Morgan would correct this one situation, but how would that private resolution make up for a public offense or deter other RAs from acting inappropriately. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like no one really thinks this is a problem.

If we’re going to have a hierarchy like this at Bryan, the position of RA needs to be clearly defined to every single person before they come to Bryan—what they are allowed to do, what they aren’t, and what their purpose is. I’ve guessed, but I don’t think I’ve ever been told that.

RAs have sin natures too so there should also be a system of accountability between students and RAs; one that is widely known throughout the Bryan community and drastically lowers the ability for RAs to have power trips or exercise unnecessary authority.

Like I said, I don’t think students who are RAs should have authority over other students. I think it fosters resentment and disunity. I would much prefer an adult who is older than I am, who I can respect, to be enforcing rules on campus.

I also don’t think it’s fair to RAs that they have to have the responsibility of monitoring Bryan students. Some, I can tell, feel really uncomfortable with that part of their “job.” They know it alienates them from a lot of other students on campus. It also distracts them from being able to benefit from things like chapel because their focus is on other students’ behavior.

Maybe RAs would do a much better job sharing the light of Christ to other students if they could focus more on being friends and peers than having to be Bryan policemen.

These are my thoughts, but I’d much rather hear yours. Send a letter to the editor at triangle@bryan.edu.

(I ask that if you witnessed the incident with “Luke” and “John,” please keep the identities of the parties involved to yourself. This article isn’t about getting retribution or spreading gossip, but about addressing an overlooked issue of importance within the Bryan community. Thanks.)