Upon discussing the recent resident advisor meeting surrounding mandatory reporting practices, this editorial board recognized the validity of many of their arguments. Ultimately finding requiring RAs to report incidents of sexual assault eliminates the idea of a residence hall as a “safe space” and strips RAs of their ability to help their residents.
Notably, we acknowledged the difficulties presented by the fact that RAs wear a number of different hats. They are employees of the college, responsible for the safety and comfort of their residents. At the same time, RAs are peers to their fellow students and develop personal relationships with their residents. The best RA is a friend, someone that a resident should feel comfortable coming to with any number of concerns or issues. The foundation of these relationships is trust.
Another hat worn by RAs is that of a student. Within that capacity they interact frequently with other students in formal classroom settings, informal social settings and extracurricular activities, all while carrying the mandatory reporting responsibility. The RAs quoted in the article say that the impact of their responsibility to report leaches into these interactions as well. This is especially applicable for RAs involved in clubs active in the fight against rape culture.
Based on a number of statements made during interviews with TKS, mandatory reporting has caused a rift between RAs and their residents. While it may not have a day-to-day impact on regular interaction, there is little question among RAs that mandatory reporting comes into play at the times when communication and aid are most important.
When a resident, friend or fellow club member approaches an RA with a sensitive issue, it would be difficult to believe that they are not in some way seeking the input of an authority figure. RAs have authority in the sense that they have undergone training and have been selected for their position, in part for their temperament, which drives someone to seek a position of support within the campus.
RAs are the most approachable, available and visible college employees in the eyes of many students. Their hours are not limited, like those of the counseling center or faculty members. They are closer in age and live in the closest proximity.
And apparently, the very people they are supposed to be helping are no longer talking to them.
This is a problem. To maintain a practice that inhibits students from seeking help, from their supposed advisor no less, defeats the purpose of having such an advisor in the first place.
Students need a safe space and they should not have to check their speech around a friend and advisor because of the mandatory reporting policy. Foregoing the requirement for RAs would be the first step in establishing safe spaces on campus.