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Harvey Wilhelm
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RLC staff faces overhaul

By Emma Friedlander

The College was required to refill all new RLC positions this school year. Photo by Alice Herman.
The College was required to refill all new RLC positions this school year. Photo by Alice Herman.

Grinnell College Residence Life welcomed five new Residence Life Coordinators [RLCs] to campus this school year, replacing all five RLCs who left the position last year. The need to fill almost all of Grinnell’s RLC positions in one hiring season was unprecedented and required a lengthy hiring process that began in the spring and carried into the summer. With an entirely different Residence Life staff, Grinnellians returning to campus have needed to adjust to their new RLCs and other changes to residence life. 

“Typically, an RLC position is an entry-level position, and it’s usually between one to three years. The fact that four of them left simultaneously – that was really unusual,” said Joe Rolón, Director of Residence Life. He states that the RLCs left for varied personal and professional reasons.

Although the College went through interviews with 30 different candidates last spring, many candidates who were offered the position turned it down to instead take positions at larger universities. By July, all five positions had been filled, and despite the difficulties, Rolón is confident that the new group of RLCs will bring needed diversity and change to Grinnell.

“It’s important to me that the RLC staff is reflective of the students,” Rolón said. “It’s important to have diversity, but particularly diversity of thought. Last year I was the only person of color and the only male in residence life staff. Now there are more males, but they’re from diverse backgrounds.”

The new RLCs include Elijah Genheimer for Loosehead, Adam Gilbert for Younker, Paul Gorelik for CaNaDa, Natalie Juarez for Clangrala, Leah Reuber for LaKeRoje and Brittainy Foley for Jamaland. The RLCs led programming and training sessions for first-years during NSO, but many non-first-years feel as if they do not know their RLC and thus are not comfortable going to them as a resource.

“I don’t know my RLC. I don’t know what their name is and I don’t know what they look like. So I don’t want them in my living space,” said Ella Williams ’19 in response to RLC walkthroughs of dorms at a student-only town hall on the College’s new alcohol policies last Tuesday.

John Gallagher ’17, a Community Advisor Mentor [CAM] for Jamaland, acknowledged that contact between RLCs and their residents has been limited and encourages students to take the time to get to know and communicate with their RLCs.

“The RLC is one of those positions that the students might not interact with as much, depending on who they are. Some of my students still don’t know their RLC, but hopefully they will take the time to get to know them,” Gallagher said. “In the first couple of weeks it’s hard for non-first year students to know them. But they’re going to hold programming, so hopefully over time there will be a relationship.”

Gallagher also recognized that some communication issues between RLCs and students are often due to a lack of understanding about Grinnell culture. He hopes that related problems can be handled through dialogue rather than frustration.

“Grinnell is a unique place for students and staff. We might have a different culture than people are used to – we’re all about trying to educate anyone that’s new on campus, whether they’re a first year or RLC, about ways to hold conversations on campus, words to use on campus that are inclusive of everyone,” Gallagher said. “Everyone is going to come from somewhere different, so my hope is that we can make this as educational as possible. When we just call people out and get mad instead of educate and try to make things better, we’re not going to be as productive.”

Still, some students, CAs and other students have expressed disappointment with RLC’s conduct toward students. Alleged incidents include RLC ignorance of preferred gender pronouns, misogynistic behavior towards students and insensitivity during NSO training.

“In a mental health training, talking about suicide signs, awareness and prevention, most of the CAs were moved by the anecdotes,” said an anonymous north campus CA. “Then they would look over at the RLCs and they were all smiling at their phones. It’s small things like that where we’ve noticed them being disrespectful, and things like eye rolling. I’ve heard [those complaints] from a few different people.”

Gallagher is also aware of these incidents, but again stresses that they should be solved through communication and student patience.

“Be willing to say ‘this is something that bothered me,’ or ‘at Grinnell this is one thing that we do.’ Like ‘we use pronouns when we introduce ourselves,’ or ‘we do something else that they may not do elsewhere.’ Not that it’s better or worse, but this is something that’s part of Grinnell’s culture.”

The presence of a new group of RLCs is especially contentious because it is simultaneous with the arrival of new alcohol policies on campus. Smounker RLC Adam Gilbert, whose position includes a focus on harm reduction, wrote the new alcohol agreement for lounge parties and played a significant role in implementation of the new policies despite only arriving at Grinnell this summer. Still, Gilbert is confident that his prior experience in student affairs at other institutions prepared him to manage these changes.

“With my part in harm reduction with Jen Jacobsen, we wanted to make sure that the process was as easy for students as possible. We tore apart the old alcohol agreement website,” Gilbert said. “I want to simplify it even further, and for the future, that’s going to be something that we try to implement. The policy overall hasn’t really changed that much – from a harm committee standpoint, we want to make sure that parties that happen in lounges don’t turn into large parties

Jen mentioned that the students haven’t been asking the right questions about the restrictions that the alcohol policy’s presenting.”

Regarding the lack of communication between RLCs and their residents, Gilbert expressed his hope that students feel open to getting to know their RLCs and seeing them as a resource.

“I’ve been encouraging students to come by my office and chat. I want to increase awareness of what a great resource the RLC can be,” Gilbert said. “A lot more people are interested in my dog than anything I do workwise.”

To improve retention rates of RLCs in the future, Residence Life is easing some of the RLCs’ responsibilities and improving their professional and social lives at Grinnell.

“This is the first year that we have student staff on call – that’s never happened before. A lot of what RLCs were responding to at Grinnell are not the responsibilities of RLCs at other institutions,” Rolón said. “We’re focusing on the role of RLCs as educators, so they have their own programming. I think having people starting out at the same time will help the social aspect. What I’ve seen this year that’s different from past years with the RLCs is that many of them will interact socially with other staff members outside of residence life, which I think helps retention … I’m hoping that now they’ve gone through training and NSO, they can immerse themselves in the Grinnell experience.”

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