Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Real Bullies: Housing Operations & Parents

As the Fall semester drags to a close, the phone calls from Housing Operations start to increase at an alarming rate, because more students are requesting to be released from their housing contracts. Without fail, each year around this time, I have a list of residents who have medical, financial, or personal excuses for not fulfilling their obligation to live in the halls. Some reasons are legit; I had one resident whose father refused to pay child support and the mother could no longer afford to pay for room and board. Another resident’s mother lost her job without notice two weeks after their student moved on-campus, and the unemployment checks were not stretching far enough.

However, there are also the lame excuses that are too pathetic to warrant my time. For example, I had a resident tell me she needed to be released, because she hated how her window faced the south side of the campus, yet refused to accept a room change. While some residents lack the creativity to manufacture good reasons for breaking their contract, others are too devious and dishonest for their own good. Sadly, plenty of my examples are lies fabricated, not by residents, rather by their parents who will not accept anything less than a contract break.

Last semester, after working with a mother for a week to build a solid case for a contract break, which was eventually denied, she called me up screaming as if it was my fault. Finally, when I told her there was nothing more I could do, she confessed that she was sending Housing Operations a letter from her daughter’s pediatrician that allegedly diagnosed her with anxiety and physical ailments as a result of a bedbug infestation. When I told her this was completely untrue, she threatened me with her lawyer and stated that she would do whatever was necessary to break the contract. What a great moral message to send your daughter, mom.

What frustrates me more than the conniving parents is how the Housing Operation office responds! In August, during training, Hall Directors are lectured on how stringent the rules are for granting contract breaks and that if a student fails to meet the limited requirements, no breaks will be issued. However, as December creeps closer, the office begins to reevaluate their available spaces for Spring transfers. Their eyes fill with dollar signs and the “student development” ideals are thrown out with the stale coffee grounds. No longer are they worried about holding residents accountable for sticking to a binding contract; they are more focused on how many people they can cram into any space big enough for a bed.

In the end, my peers and I try to teach residents that there are consequences for their decisions by upholding the very rules the Housing Operations office created. However, the sudden about-faces do nothing but inflate parents’ egos who believe throwing temper tantrums is the way to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes”,  and enrage residents who were denied earlier in the semester simply because their space was not needed at the time they requested a change.  I understand that college is a business now and that without 98% occupancy, my bosses job is at risk. However, at some point, we all need to take a united stand against parents who act like spoiled brats when they do not get their way. Too many parents threaten administrators, yet we continue to placate them. We need to stand up to the bullies and say NO!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Closing Time: You Can't Stay Here!

Nothing brings more joy than those two magical words: Hall Closing! For live-in professionals, these delightful moments are what make the semesters of judicial hearings, 3am fire alarms, and residing with residents bearable. On closing morning, I can hardly contain my desire to use my boots to push out the stragglers. However, with the promising bliss of a quiet hall comes the inevitable annoyance of searching rooms and documenting violations.

With each year, our lobby and hall signs become bigger, brighter, and bolder. We want to ensure that EVERY resident knows when we close and that they need to get out. Yet, every semester, there are at least 5-10 residents who are still in bed or half-dressed when the RAs knock on their door for inspections. Their excuses are variations of “I didn’t know I had to leave” or “my plane doesn’t leave until the afternoon”. They beg, cajole, and argue with my staff until I am called in, which results in me yelling at them for not reading the notice they signed for, ridiculing them for holding up our closing process, and scolding them for harassing my RAs. One semester, I had a resident take 90 minutes to shower, pack, and leisurely leave her room, only to try to swipe back into the building because she forgot her Twilight books. Neither Team Jacob nor Team Edward won that day.

Whew. Okay, building cleared—usually 2 hours behind schedule. Now comes the interesting part. And when I say interesting, I mean mostly disgusting. Checking the rooms flagged by my staff for outrageous violations can be hilarious, bewildering, or just plain described as a bio-hazard. One would think that if the residents are old enough to live on their own, they are old enough to flush the toilet, toss their trash, or fold their clothes. If you are one of those people, you’d be WRONG. The short list of issues I have found include: pet squirrels, a molded mayonnaise self-portrait on the floor, and brown stained women’s underwear tacked to a bulletin board. You do not know vile living conditions until you have inspected a dorm room. Thankfully, I only take photos and send judicial letters. However, at times like these, the question begs to be asked: who raised these slobs?

For the parents out there, please emphasize to your children that cleaning is a part of being an adult. You may have spent their first 18 years doing their laundry, vacuuming their bedroom, and washing behind their ears for them. However, once they move into my building, they are expected, and required by the student handbook, to maintain a level of cleanliness. By ignoring this crucial element of parental responsibility, you are harming both your child’s development as well as the experience of their roommate. If your child is a pig, I assume you are as well.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Go Get a Job, After You Take a Bath"

More protestors, more pepper spray, more national coverage. The Occupy Wall Street Movement has been underway for months now, and the demonstrations are attracting increasingly more violence from police. At the UC Davis campus this weekend, students and faculty are up in arms over the unwarranted use of pepper spray on peacefully seated students exercising their First Amendment right. “Free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history,” stated Mark G. Yoduf, the UC system president. For video and the full article, check out this link http://tinyurl.com/6nw6v8m.

Plus, shortly after the UC Davis story aired on Nightly News, footage from yesterday’s Republican Roundtable was aired; Newt Gingrich, when asked about the Occupiers, stated they should “go get a job, after they take a bath.” It seems to me that his generation, my parents’ generation, has conveniently forgotten about their time as protestors against the Vietnam War. Does Kent State ring any bells? Plus, I have seen the Woodstock movie—if anyone needed a hose-down, that crowd sure did.

I am outraged when I see authorities, like the police force at UC Davis, abuse protestors who are guilty of nothing more than taking a stand against a system they believe to be unjust. As President Yoduf said in the Los Angeles Times, college campuses have long been the site for educational discourse and demonstrations. If the protestors at UC Davis were throwing rocks at the police or flipping over buses, then I would agree with the pepper spray. However, from the video, the students were simply sitting on a sidewalk quietly and peacefully. Students have the right to demonstrate on college campuses as long as it does not violate the rights of others—that is one tenet of higher education that should never be violated.

Furthermore, if Gingrich thinks people are unemployed, because they just have not looked hard enough, then he needs to reevaluate reality. Gingrich secretly made investments in Freddie Mac even though he lambasted President Obama for doing the same. So, my point being, for someone who has no clue how badly the American people are suffering from the economic crisis and has hypocritically crawled into bed with one of the reasons we are in this mess, he sure is quick to judge young people fighting back. It may be easy for him to shower-up and become employed, but for the rest of us, who are not morally corrupt politicians, it is a little harder.

Once again, our leaders are ignoring the real issues: our graduates need jobs and our economy needs a boost. But, not by politicians in the back pockets of lobbyists or by Presidential nominees born with a silver spoon up their ass. Dear Mr. Gingrich, stop focusing on the protestors’ hygiene and start concentrating on the concerns they are addressing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Do Hall Directors Make?

Many of my teacher friends have posted Taylor Mali's inspirational YouTube video (seen here) detailing in hypnotizing beat poet fashion what teachers make. Mali does not reference salary, benefits, or pensions. Rather, he expounds that teachers make more than a paycheck--they make students work hard, challenge their thinking, and become better citizens. As educators, hall directors do the same thing for their residents.

I am a hall director and I am more than a babysitter with a free apartment. I have helped form timid RAs into paraprofessional staff members, confident in confronting a 10-person party with dozens of alcohol bottles. I have guided freshly graduated high school seniors into first-year students capable of running a successful Hall Council E-Board along with developing well-attended programs. I have stood toe-to-toe with aggressive students accused of violating policy, only to have them apologize during a judicial hearing, never receiving a documentation again. I have counseled students who have been sexually assaulted, who were bullied because they just came out as homosexual, who have suicidal ideations, and who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

For the thousands of past, present, and future hall directors, it is important to recognize how crucial a position we all have. Parents moving in and leaving their "babies" maybe for the first time need to know we do more than change their child's room assignment. Faculty and staff unassociated with Residential Life need to know we are allies not barriers to helping their students. Our RA staff needs to know we are available for them; however, this does not mean we will always answer our cell phone, answer the 1:00am email asking for a broom, or ignore poor job performance. Our students need to know we will always be an advocate for them and have their best interests in mind; but, not at the sacrifice of them developing into self-reliant adults capable of making positive decisions. Finally, our supervisors need to remember how it was to be a hall director, recognize the many hats we wear (the same ones they wore at one point), and give us credit for our hard work along with giving us a break every once and a while.

So, when someone asks what does a hall director make, you can say a difference.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Smile, You're on YouTube

This post goes out to all present and future occupiers of residence halls everywhere: ResLife staff members have Facebook accounts, they watch YouTube, and they know you are posting stupid things on both. If you just hosted a huge party with 126 beer cans in your suite, do not upload the video of you dancing on your homemade stripper pole with a pink boa and beer in hand. I have busted many residents and have not hired RAs based on things I found online about them, especially Facebook.

One morning, about a year ago, custodians found a lounge table, three pumpkins, and an empty keg outside the quad by my apartment. Actually the table was more like a series of splintered pieces of wood and the keg was dented flat. After hearing rumors that a few known troublemakers on the 11th floor had posted their exploits online, I donned my deerstalker hat and began the investigation. I easily found their profiles, which were open to the public, and I queried YouTube, which yielded plenty of evidence proving their involvement in the table/pumpkin case.

What I found was shocking; their blatant disregard for rules and the arrogant attitude evidenced by their brazen posts were annoying to say the least. Their statuses all referenced the broken table and pumpkins. Plus, they had posted on YouTube a nicely edited video of two residents lifting the table, pushing it through an open window, and cackling loudly as it hit the pavement, shattering on impact. The other half of the video was the view from the ground where their roommate was filming the aftermath. Needless to say, when they visited me for a judicial hearing their pathetic denials only lasted a few minutes until they saw the video.

Here is my advice to current and future residents: do not be stupid. First, throwing heavy objects off a high rise building is dangerous and childish. Second, if you choose to be an idiot, do not be stupid enough to post your shenanigans online for me to find. Residents too often think they are well hidden on Facebook and YouTube--their hall director is too old, too square, too busy to check the Internet. Trust me children, we were using the Internet before you could walk. Third, if you are confronted with video proving you broke a policy, do not lie. There is nothing you can say that will convince me it is not you on my computer screen. Social networking has allowed me to not only keep in touch with friends from grad school and family across the country, but it has also granted me the enjoyment of snooping on my troubled residents. Isn't technology grand?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Drowning in the Fish Bowl

Friday night. Most Americans yearn for and fantasy about the weekends as soon as they start work on Monday. But when you live in the residence halls, the weekend simply means more noise, less sleep, and an influx of drunk/hungover residents in my lobby. Annoyingly so, this semester has been crazier than those in recent memory. I blame Kim Kardasian.

My apartment is situated in the worst spot possible--right off the main lobby. Every Friday and Saturday, students from all over campus congregate outside my door, blasting music and screaming at each other about how many rounds of beer pong they plan on winning. I hear every drunken boast and sexual innuendo. I see every barely-dressed gal run to an awaiting cab in 3-inch stilettos. And I smell ever cigarette lit up outside right under my A/C unit.

Once 11pm hits, I am a prisoner in my own home, unable to leave without drawing unwanted attention, since students unabashedly lean against my door, believing it to be a broom closet. Over the past two years, my drive towards mental health has led me to have a little fun at my residents' expense. For example, when a glance through the peephole reveals someone against my door, I start quietly tapping my fingernails, crescendoing into a loud bang with my fists at just the right moment to scare them away, which usually forces the first wave of students to give the apartment a wide birth. This is especially effective in thwarting students dumb enough to turn the door knob.

Other times, I have abruptly opened my entrance way only to watch with glee as several residents topple into my apartment with dazed looks on their faces. They are too surprised to notice that they fell into the hall director's home; they just mumble an apology and run for the safety of the open lobby. And, on at least two occasions, I have chosen to take my garbage out during the evening chaos, "accidentally" hitting at least three girls lounging at the base of my door with my bags. The last time I did this, I had to call Campus Safety, because they were pretty belligerent and intoxicated. Guess which side of the story CS believed?

Despite the fun I have annoying students on the weekend, I think I speak for most of the live-in professionals out there when I say I long for the time when I have a apartment or house that does not share residency with hundreds of students. The free apartment is nice, but it comes with a hefty price tag in the form of therapy bills, medication, and gallons of concealer for the bags under my eyes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Academics versus Athletics

Having just read “Personal Foul at Penn State” (http://tinyurl.com/6trhlza), an editorial in the New York Times, I do not know what I am more sickened by, the actions of a pedophile or the blatant cover-up by the coaches, the athletic division, and maybe the university. According to Maureen Dowd, Joe Paterno, Head Coach of the Penn State football team, knew of at least one incident of rape of a 10-year-old boy by Jerry Sandusky, his assistant coach. Paterno was told by a graduate assistant, who had seen it happen in the boys’ locker room; however, he did not contact the police. In his words, Paterno believed the incident to be nothing more than two males “horsing around”. Additionally, Dowd stated Paterno was present at Saturday’s practice, being watched by his loyal Nittany Lion fans, obviously not fazed by the black mark on their school’s reputation.

In contrast, earlier this year, Dr. Antonio Calvo, a Spanish instructor at Princeton, was abruptly released from his teaching position after several graduate students and a professor attempted to prevent his reappointment (http://tinyurl.com/3olb88v). Calvo’s opponents cited his harsh management style and inappropriate comments as reasons to remove him from the university. For example, Calvo told a female graduate student she deserved to be slapped and referenced “a male student’s genitalia in an e-mail, using a common Spanish expression that implores someone to get to work”.  Sadly, after being fired, Calvo committed suicide in April.

Clearly, Calvo’s comments and behavior have no place in an academic setting; however, Calvo’s actions are far less severe compared to what Paterno and his crew are accused of covering up at Penn State. How can one justify continuing the employment of a complacent coach in the sexual abuse of children, yet remove an instructor (although not innocent) who may have only needed mandatory counseling or cultural sensitivity training? In my mind, sexual assaulting young boys for years is more deplorable and worthy of being fired than inappropriate comments; both are horrible examples of collegiate behavior, but one should guarantee termination. Simply put, it demonstrates a disturbing trend among universities and colleges. Sport programs are given more support than academic departments, including ignoring ‘indiscretions’ athletes or coaches commit.

As much as I detest the current state of sports, especially collegiate and professional football, I understand that these institutions are important to our culture. Athletic scholarships provide educational opportunities to students who may never afford college. Sport teams provide campuses with a unifying force to stand behind, crafting school pride and traditions. However, at what cost? Some student athletes are placed upon pedestals that make them feel untouchable by the law and other university departments; coaches ignore scandals involving their star players, because they are under pressure to produce winning seasons; and the school does not want to admit embarrassing or criminal behavior in order to protect their admission numbers.

Sports can be a positive aspect of collegiate life, but only if the ones responsible keep an eye on the well-being of their players—and all others involved—rather than an eye on the score and their pensions. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Residence Halls

Whether you agree with the Occupy Wall Street movement or not, you cannot ignore the reasons for their anger and disillusionment. Not only do we have ridiculously high unemployment, but a report came out today stating the wealth gap between the young and old is at its “widest ever” (http://huff.to/uoLinn). When I first heard the headline on The Today Show, I assumed they were about to say the older generation was suffering because of the stock market and their low-yield retirement funds. Boy was I surprised, and depressed, when they stated student loan debt and mortgages are drowning the younger generations in debt instead.

As a hall director living in a residence hall for more years than I would like to admit, I am anxious to find a position at the next level of Residential Life, Admissions, Financial Aid, Judicial Affairs…anywhere they will take me. However, as I watch with sadness as my peers struggle to find jobs, I wonder what other live-in professionals will do in this terrible job market? At my current institution, like many schools, we do not have unlimited terms of service for hall directors. Too many of my peers have been told they needed to leave the position even though they had not yet found replacement employment.

Just last year, one of my fellow hall directors spent their last year sending out, no exaggeration, 150 resumes to schools all over the country. “Devon” started his search being very selective; he would only apply to jobs within our state. But, then as the months rolled by without a single interview, he branched out to the surrounding states until, eventually, he distributed his resume to states on the opposite coast. “Devon” had a few interviews; however, the jobs always offered salaries too low to make living possible. With all his education and experience, he was never able to find a suitable position that made the live-in job worth it.

I understand that history is cyclical. Our grandparents struggled through the Great Depression. Our parents suffered through the 1980s stock market crash. And we are experiencing whatever mess this is. I wish I had words of wisdom for other professional staff looking for the next step in our field; however, I do not. We can only hope that the economy bounces back and that going to college, earning great experience, and working hard makes people successful again.

Until then, I guess I’ll practice flipping burgers and asking if “you’d like fries with that”.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Anti-Social or Professional Boundaries?

When you first join Residential Life, you are immediately surrounded by like-minded people who do not look at you with pity when you explain that you live with 300-500 college students. As a new hall director, having that instant connection helps with the transition into the “fish bowl” that is our profession, and provides a sympathetic sounding board when your staff tries to staple their door tags to their residents’ door. They are supportive, understanding, and likely to have sage advice, especially for the newbies. However, some hall directors, once they are comfortable with the new job and new school, choose to branch out to other people for friendship.

Residential Life has the tendency to make bonding with your peers and your staff a job requirement. If you fail to accept every Happy Hour, Gingerbread House building, or movie night invitation, you are labeled “anti-social” or “not a team player”. So, what happens when you no longer want to spend every lunch, dinner, and free evening with your co-workers?

For my first year, I spent a lot of my social time with other hall directors. Tuesday was movie night in my co-RHD’s apartment, “Thirsty Thursday” was a standing date with my mentor RHD, and Sundays were pasta night with my RA staff. If I was not with my co-workers, we were on Facebook chat or texting constantly. There was no separation or professional division; my supervisor touted me as his “model hall director” who really “got” the spirit of community building. Despite my department’s dedication to work/life balance, I was rewarded for spreading myself too thin.

What made me stop? My live-in partner and I became more serious, and I realized what was available outside of Residential Life. We began making friends with people outside the “fish bowl” and spent a few nights a week off-campus. The change in attitude from my supervisor and my peers was almost immediate. It was shocking how quickly I went from being the “model hall director” to a negative influence on my staff. I stopped attending the group lunches and the pasta nights, because I had a life outside of Residential Life. Even the professional staff I was closest too started to call me “anti-social” and “uninteresting”.

The moral of the story: as a hall director, you need to have separation between your work life and your life-life. There is no Residential Life honor or space on the resume for Professional Burnout. You can be Super RHD by attending every RA program and making every Friday night movie-a-thon; however, you will not be able to sustain it for long. Life gets in the way: your partner wants to see you, your family needs your attention, your pet fish needs to be fed. There is always something that will suffer if you spend all your time focusing on the RAs, the residents, and the job. Make time for yourself and do not let any supervisor or co-worker label you as a bad professional for taking a break from the barrage of social commitments that Residential Life brings. It’s not worth it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Harassment is Not Only for Politicians

Whenever I hear about powerful people, like Herman Cain, defending sexual harassment, or at the very least, their actions, my blood boils. I will not quote the legal definition, but if someone tells you, it bothers them, it is most likely harassment. Here’s a novel idea: stop it. Somehow, our society has not caught up with the date on my desktop calendar—it’s 2011! Why can’t we accept that those in powerful positions are not allowed to make sexual comments, sexual gestures, or sexual advances to anyone with whom they work? If you are so horny that you cannot keep your sex jokes to yourself, go check into sex addition therapy with David Duchovny and Tiger Woods.

Unfortunately, political candidates and officials are not the only creeps responsible for sexual harassment. Even the cotton-candy-and-rainbow-gumdrops-world of Residential Life is not safe from employees who ignore “no”. During my first few years as a hall director, I suffered through a constant barrage of harassment from a custodian who was known to have a foul mouth and unprincipled demeanor.  As I soon found out, no one was willing to stand up to him, which simply perpetuated the hostile work environment he created.

The employee in question, “Casper”, would stand outside my office and talk just loud enough for me to hear him say to his peers, “unlike professional staff, I actually have work to do” and “professional staff…more like unprofessional staff”. This comment was made at least once a week around my office door, which was just off the main lobby where the heaviest traffic was. Several of my RAs heard it, residents heard it, and my supervisor heard it. Additionally, “Casper” enjoyed repeating the same “thank you for your freshman girls” joke to anyone who would stand around long enough for him to start it. Basically, he confessed his favorite part of his college experience was when the fraternities invited the na├»ve freshman girls to parties with lots of free alcohol.

When I finally brought these incidents to my supervisor, he acted more coward than boss. He refused to acknowledge my concerns with anything other than a smirk and a brush of the hand. I was being “too sensitive” and I needed to “lighten up”. It was explained to me that given the antagonistic relationship between Residential Life and Cleaning Services that had been in place since before I was in college, there was nothing he was willing to do to help me. Basically, I was told to suck it up.

In the end, I was moved to another area of campus, far away from “Casper”. But, what does this tell our professional staff, our RAs, and our students? Our Residential Life programs across the country focus on developing students into self-advocating adults who can assertively stand up for themselves. However, the very department responsible for educating the future generation is nothing more than a sniveling, passive-aggressive child. Let this be an example of how Residential Life departments, businesses, and government officials need to be better. They need to stop harassing and intimidating those they dislike and mind the manners our kindergarten teachers taught us: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Room Change Chaos

It is November, which means my residents have magically discovered my office and are now requesting their room assignments changed. Every year, I hear the most ridiculous reasons for why the roommate they have had no problems with since August is really Damien Thorn.

Yesterday morning, I was on the phone with a distraught mom, because her daughter's roommate smelled of sweat after lacrosse practice and her kid did not want to approach her. When asked why her child was not willing to have a mediation meeting with her roommate, the mother gasped in horror, "My daughter is a moral Christian and she would never be so rude as to tell another girl she stinks. You need to call her mother. This is a private family matter".

After 45 minutes of circular conversation, I was unsuccessful at convincing the mom that her daughter needs to learn to be assertive and self-advocating. Later in the day, I received a phone call from the father of my 'troubled' resident. As much as his wife was mortified, the father was indignant. Somehow, it was my fault that his angelic offspring was saddled with the worst roommate in the world. In fact, it was so bad, she was unable to study or attend class without constant anxiety. This monster of a roommate was ruining his daughter's dream college experience.

Finally, after another 35 minutes of my life wasted on a pointless phone call, I was free to contact the student, who by the way had never come to see me or her resident advisor about this issue. The resident, "Annie" was upset that her parents had gotten involved. She said her and the roommate, "Brenda" had already worked things out last week; she just forgot to update her parents. However, she wanted to move to the East campus, into a single room facing the lake, on a quieter floor with a male RA if that was available. I told her no...she left with a scowl.