Roommate troubles, anxiety issues, homesickness: These are all problems residents share with their Community Advisors (CAs). But now, CAs are mandated to record interactions they have with their residents — and one CA, who spoke to the Collegian anonymously for fear of losing his job, said the Office of Housing and Residential Life asked CAs not to tell their residents about the new policy.
When CAs returned to Kenyon in early August to start their training, the Office of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) presented them with the “Resident Interaction Form,” an official ResLife document in which CAs keep track of the conversations they have with their residents.
Two CAs, who spoke to the Collegian anonymously for fear of losing their jobs, feel the new form could compromise their residents’ privacy.
“This is just a blatant violation of ethics,” one CA said. “It makes me feel disingenuous. It makes me feel sick, honestly.”
Jill Engel-Hellman, director of ResLife and assistant dean of students, said three Assistant Directors (ADs) of ResLife were responsible for introducing the form, including Scott Gill-Jacobson, who left Kenyon to take a position at Florida Southern College. She said the ADs would best be able to answer questions about the interaction form, but defended the document, saying CAs’ notes would help them build better relationships with their residents.
“It’s a form of taking notes, and holding people accountable for doing their job,” Engel-Hellman said.
The Resident Interaction Form is often shared on Google Docs with a CA’s Head Community Advisor (HCA) and the AD who is responsible for the CA’s area on campus. The CAs can also find other ways to record these interactions, according to Alex Shaver, assistant director of ResLife, who manages upperclassman areas. On the spreadsheet, which was reviewed by the Collegian, there are categories for the resident’s name, academics, social life, home and family and personal health.
Both CAs said the form makes it harder for them to develop genuine relationships with the students in their halls.
“If you found out that, I, as your friend, had been recording every time we had ever spoken, it would just be awful, right?” one CA said. “That’s not what building a community is.”
The pair of CAs who spoke to the Collegian feel this issue may highlight a larger problem with the communication between ResLife and the CAs. A former CA, who also asked to remain anonymous, echoed these concerns.
The former CA said that, last year, she felt ResLife never took the input they got from their CAs seriously. She did not feel as if she had a voice while working for the office, even though she thinks the ADs try their best to help their CAs as much as possible.
“People sometimes asked us how we felt about things, but I never actually saw that taken into account,” she said. “It more felt like a brush-off — like a way to get us off their backs.”
This former CA beta-tested an initial version of what later became the Resident Interaction Form. The preliminary version did not contain the specific columns for different types of information — only a category for “Student Interaction,” but the CA still found it ultimately unhelpful.
The two current CAs said they never heard about the Resident Interaction Form before ResLife presented it to them during training in August; they said they felt blindsided upon its introduction. When CAs initially voiced concerns during that training session, the two CAs felt ResLife staff members did not listen to their concerns.
“We also felt helpless in the situation,” a CA said. “CAs who had more experience, who had been working multiple years, or potentially [were] on their last year, usually had more flexibility and had more of a voice in deciding … how they will be doing the job.”
Both CAs said the form has since become more flexible, but they wish ResLife would have gotten their feedback before beginning to use the form. One of the CAs met with Engel-Hellman to voice their concerns; this person said she was very willing to talk about the issue, but said ResLife has made no effort to coordinate a comprehensive discussion between the CAs and staff members about the form.
Engel-Hellman said no one has come to her with concerns about the form. She added that other colleges and universities follow the same community development model as Kenyon, which is a model used to help build relationships within each residential area on campus. She cited the example of University of Maryland, whose student Resident Advisors also have a form of taking notes. (Engel-Hellman formerly worked in the residential life program at the University of Maryland.)
Shaver echoed Engel-Hellman’s statement that the interaction form is part of ResLife’s community development model. Though Shaver has not yet looked at any interaction forms, he said he explicitly directed CAs to use the form as a tool, not as an invasive measure, and emphasized that it was there to help the CAs find out what they need to do for their residents. As a general rule, Shaver said CAs should not discuss aspects of their work with other students.
“I expect that the students are getting to know each other,” Shaver said. “That CAs are saying ‘I’m seeing this trend when I’m talking to people, so let’s program toward that need.’”
Shaver also said the columns on the form are guidelines for CAs: They are not required to record this specific information.
“I think the misconception is that I’m coming to you and I’m saying, ‘Ok, I’ve got to know something about your personal life. I’ve got to know something about this, I’ve got to know something about that,’ and fill it in as if it were a check list, but it’s not,” Shaver said. “If you volunteer something to me, I’m going to do good by you, and I’m going to keep it vague, and I’m not going to be specific, but I’m going to use that in the way I’m building community.”
No CAs have come to him with concerns about the form, according to Shaver, but he said the form was developed with HCA feedback. He said there was initially some concern among the CAs when ResLife introduced the form in August, but he and other staff members assured them that they have complete control over the content CAs record.
The two CAs who spoke to the Collegian said they keep the information they record vague, but still feel uncomfortable taking notes on any aspect of the interactions they have with their residents.
“I personally haven’t used it a lot, because I am uncomfortable with it,” one of the CAs said. “But [CAs] don’t have to complete a whole profile of this resident. So it really depends on the CA. I think there is a level of autonomy [in] what we are recording.”
Engel-Hellman and Shaver urged CAs to talk to them if they have concerns, and Shaver added that he has not heard concerns about how ResLife communicates with the CAs. But, referring to the Resident Interaction Form, Shaver said a CA has to fulfill certain expectations as an employee, and that this interaction form is one of them.
“I haven’t had any CAs come to me. I would say that I think I have a good relationship with them,” Shaver said. “And frankly, I would say, this is a job, and surely we want student feedback. But I’m paid to do this work, and I’m paying them to do this work. And if they aren’t comfortable with it, then maybe it’s not the job for them.”