With the two sexual scandals in the college athletic sphere continuing to grab headlines, it is necessary to point out that Residential Life is just as guilty—or at least my department is. Thankfully, I have not heard of any my peers molesting young children; however, there are plenty of stories, both rumor and truth, of Hall Directors having sex with their staff and residents. I would love the chance to ask the professional staff members why they did it. Was it for the power? The sex? The companionship? What made them do it?
Two years ago, our department discretely fired Edgar, or let him quit on his own, depending to which rumor you subscribe, because he admitted to sleeping with a resident in his first-year building. Okay, this student was 18 years old, past the age of consent in my state, but our employment contract clearly states romantic and sexual relationships with students and staff members under our supervision are strictly forbidden. Why was he compelled to risk his job for a fling? Was this an ego trip? Was he lonely? In addition, did Fannie feel she had the right to say no? Did she love the idea of having a taboo relationship with someone who held all the power? Were they in love or were they just in it for the sex?
Plus, this was not the first time Edgar was caught in a compromising position. The year before, he openly discussed how he was giving out his personal cell phone number to residents he had counseled for domestic abuse and alcohol addiction, and would visit them at their room in the middle of the night when they would call him. Edgar claimed he was just a supportive shoulder and that he did not want other professional staff members involved. Again, does a first-year student who is dealing with a traumatic experience like being beaten by her significant other have the frame of mind to push off an advance from someone she sought out for help? Should the peers who knew about this behavior contacted Edgar’s supervisor sooner? And, like Paterno, Edgar’s supervisor sat on the information for a good while before acting—what should happen to him?
Another issue arises when you consider that some Hall Directors or Graduate Assistants are only a year or two older than staff or residents. In fact, one of my Grad Assistants awhile back was a year younger than my oldest RA. At what point is the line crossed over from tight-knit bonding, which is required as a Residential Life team, to harassment or an inappropriate relationship? The nature of our positions is living with our staff and the students we counsel, yet how can we stop emotional attachments that are just plain creepy from forming? I am not advocating for more HD/RA relationships…yuck! But, what I am pushing for is a more open conversation about how the Residential Life position almost encourages unhealthy boundaries to be created.
We are expected to be friends with our staff and be available for our residents in their time of need. Can we really be surprised when a few relationships develop? Of course, can we really be surprised when the older professional does not take the responsible role and say no? Where do we draw the line and how can we identify these issues sooner?