The Front Line, Appreciatively Finger Snapping

Resident advisers reacted well, to no one’s surprise.

The room erupted in appreciative finger snapping (the new clapping).

Clapping, I’m told, is potentially traumatic, giving rise to needless anxiety.  I thought the solution was jazz hands, but apparently snapping is okay too. Who knew?  Apparently, the incoming crop of RAs at the University of Michigan did, as they sat through a lecture on their duties as “mandatory reporters.”

But in recent years, the job has become much more intense. The federal government has laid out new guidelines about universities’ responsibilities in investigating, addressing and responding to allegations of student sexual misconduct. These measures have helped open a national conversation about sex and sexual assault on campus, and the role of the university in prevention, awareness and disciplinary measures. At the same time, binge-drinking and drug-taking, which often play a role in campus sex and sexual misconduct, continue to escalate.

Incoming college students, fresh the bosom of their parents’ oversight, are about to be given the opportunity to make personal decisions, whether to drink, to take drugs, to have sex.  For many, this is a new freedom, and with new freedom comes new feelings.  Many turn to their RAs for answers, viewing them as a friend, a confidante, who can empathize with their changes in lifestyle and ensuing new emotions.  And RAs are fed the answers from college administrators.

“We want people to have sex with people they want to have sex with,” Ms. Daniels told the students in their maize-and-blue T-shirts, Birkenstocks and backward baseball caps. “You are the front lines. You can be a role model, step in and say, ‘It’s not O.K.,’ or, ‘Be safe!’ ”

Do they really want young women to have sex?  It’s one thing to say that it’s fine to do, but “want”?  And so, new students turn for advice to more mature, knowledgeable students, who wear baseball caps backwards.  Except they’re not just role models, but the official watchers.

As an R.A., her obligations are different. If someone discloses information about a possible violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy, she must report it to a resident hall supervisor.

As proof of the need for sex snitches, New York Times points to the new AAU survey, which confirms its pre-existing certainty:

The school has been publicizing the results widely among its faculty and students. Ms. Daniels said: “I work in this field, so I knew the results would be dismaying, but even I was surprised by the numbers. It is sobering, very, very sobering.”

Sobering is an interesting choice of words, given the role alcohol plays in the problem. And it must be particularly sobering when those “surprised” by the dubious numbers are the generators of those very numbers.

Even as R. A.s are encouraged to befriend and offer mentorship to the students on their floors, they are designated “mandatory reporters” of any incident that may violate the school policy on sexual misconduct, which accounts for a range of behavior from rape to sending explicit photographs of someone over the Internet without their consent. Even something as difficult to measure as texting someone more than they may desire can warrant a report.

And the list of “incidents” that must be reported is not only far broader, but far more “difficult to measure,” such as the collegiately-crafted inability to consent to sex, despite actual enthusiastic consent, because of booze or drugs.

A student asked, “How do you determine the difference between intoxication and incapacitation?”

The answer was murky, underscoring how hard it is for adults, let alone college students, to identify clear lines. “Incapacitation is beyond intoxication, when you’re unable to make informed judgment, just totally unable,” Ms. Daniels said. “It’s a case-by-case thing,” she said, adding that she wished she could provide more clarity.

There may be a major in circular reasoning at Michigan, but if so, there is no requirement that RAs follow that course of study. Certainly, no one can follow Dean Daniels’ explanation, because she’s put it in the hands of kids who can’t figure out which side of their baseball cap to put in the front.

If all of this didn’t commence a process that could ultimately have a deleterious impact on another actual person, it would be a laughable bit of collegiate hijinks. I might even snap my fingers in appreciation, had this story been told at a Margaret Cho performance.

But this is where the process commences, with a new college student seeking the counsel of the wiser, more mature Resident Adviser, who not only informs the student that she’s been raped or assaulted based upon the vagaries to which she’s been indoctrinated, but then rat her out to the campus authorities to play her role in ending the campus rape epidemic.

Should a young college student be given a drug that causes her to pass out, and finds herself in a room with young men engaging in sex with her lifeless body, does she need an RA to explain to her she’s been raped? If she’s been forcibly held down while a boy touches her, will she need an RA to explain that she’s been sexually assaulted?  These are not now, nor were they ever, the issue.

The RA should certainly know how to help a woman who has been raped or sexually assaulted, although there is a huge question of whether she should refer the person to the police, because they are a victim of a crime, or to the campus disciplinary machine, which is where they’re told to go.

And yet, RAs are being trained not merely to help woman who are, in fact, the victims of rape and sexual assault, but to inform them as to whether they’re victims because they wouldn’t realize it on their own.  This is how the machinery starts to whirr and grind, when someone who can’t figure out how to wear a baseball cap reports back that another data point in the rape epidemic of may have happened.  Can you hear the finger snapping?

8 thoughts on “The Front Line, Appreciatively Finger Snapping

  1. losingtrader

    Having been invited to and attended a UM student party after the age of 50, I learned several things:
    1) Despite it’s vaunted reputation, The Ross School of Business is well known as the Ross School of Beer Pong

    2) Nobody who lives on campus should be invited to a party, and all of them should be held off-campus.
    3) Leopold and Loeb (one of them, at least) was a frat boy in ZBT at UM.

  2. John Burgess

    I wonder if it’s mandatory for RAs to report illegal alcohol or drug use in addition to sexual misbehavior. If so, that would pretty much finish off the “RA as buddy” trope.

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