On Wednesday Sept. 28, Alumni Hall underwent a fire drill, a fairly common occurrence for Springfield College students. Imagine the surprise of many residents to return to their rooms to discover that they had been written up by the resident assistants and resident director for various infractions of the rules, ranging from possession of a black light to open containers.
Students soon learned that during the fire drill the Resident Assistants had entered their rooms to search for any contraband they could find, and upon finding any evidence would tear the room apart to see what they could find.
Are we living in a police state? I can’t believe we are seeing this. A fire drill was planned for the sole purpose of emptying the building to search for contraband. Refrigerators were rifled through and closets torn apart as the RA’s went through room after room.
“Last Wednesday there was a scheduled fire drill while the R.A.’s searched all of the rooms to ensure that no one was hiding,” said a resident of Alumni Hall who wished to remain anonymous. “They also looked for any violations of the school’s alcohol policy. Due to empty beer boxes and [empty containers] that were hidden in my roommate’s closet both him and I were documented and I had my private refrigerator searched by the R.D. himself, who came up to every single room that had been noted for having a violation.”
The resident understood that he had violated the alcohol policy and had no issue with being written up for possession of alcohol. What bothered him was the manner in which it happened.
His room was searched during a drill designed to make sure the building responds safely to an emergency. His personal refrigerator, not a school mini fridge, was searched without his permission.
Several other residents were in the same position. Being written up did not upset them as much as the underhanded manner in which it happened.
I have a vast amount of respect for the resident assistants on campus. They work a tough, thankless job. I count more than one RA among my close friends and know that they are decent people interested in making this campus a better, safer place. They have a harder job than the Resident Directors, as they must walk a fine line between the administration and the student body, meting out punishments to their classmates and trying to lead a floor. They give up many parts of the social life the average college student takes for granted. I also understand why the school needs to try and stop underage drinking. I honestly believe that most RA’s do an excellent job in tough situations. But this was a bad call.
Nothing was done that was out of policy; residents sign a form at the beginning of the year allowing room searches. But this violates the student body’s trust. No one is arguing that anyone who was written up deserved it, but to deliberately plan a fire drill in an effort to catch students goes to far. Most residents are legal adults, and form or no form, their personal rights and privacy were trampled on.
“I honestly feel both disrespected and violated after the events of last Wednesday,” said a resident. “Not only was my personal property searched, but I also was treated like a child by the R.D.”
Another resident complained that the duo that wrote him up “left a less than professional note on my bed.”
He also was dismayed in the lack of face-to-face communication.
“There was never a point during the night that there was personal interaction between us,” said this student, “Which left us quite upset and with feelings of having our personal space violated.”
The fact that the administration acted in such a manner is disappointing. I want to hope that this was merely an isolated incident, but only time can tell.
A student should feel comfortable with his resident director and resident assistants and I believe this incident can only sour that relationship. There was no reason to go about searching rooms in such an underhanded manner. Why not conduct surprise room inspections, knock on the door, and actually interact with the residents?
Nothing illegal was done Wednesday night, but I believe that this incident was morally wrong. Springfield College has a long history of service and commitment to the community, a history of treating everyone equally and respectfully, but what about the community of students on campus?
“A fire drill is an emergency procedure and you are instructed to get out of the building as soon as possible,” said an Alumni Hall resident. “Students should not have to be worried about something that could possibly get them in trouble when their life is potentially at risk. I personally chose to come to Springfield College because of the exceptional job they do with treating their students with respect, and after Wednesday night I feel as if I was not treated with any bit of respect.”
The next time Residence Life decides they need to search students’ rooms I hope they do so in a manner that doesn’t hijack a safety procedure, move behind student’s backs and most importantly do so in a manner that respects the students of Springfield College.
Josh Ernst may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org