The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Community Advisors claim poor hiring practices for student staff

Community Advisors share concerns with Residence Life about brand new RLCs leading the hiring process. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

For a number of Residence Life’s student staff, the office’s process of selection for next year’s student positions in late February was a reason to voice growing concerns with the department’s actions and policies. While there has been dissatisfaction on a number of issues, it was frustration with the hiring process that served as a breaking point, and a group of students wrote a petition expressing their grievances. Only roughly one-third of student staff signed it, and the decision was made not to submit it. Nonetheless, the petition’s major points were expressed to Residence Life, and only one change in policy has been made.

Many students who work for Residence Life were disgruntled about the fact that all of last year’s Residence Life Coordinators (RLCs), who oversee student staff, had left and were replaced by new RLCs last August. This raised concerns that the new hires lacked institutional memory and would impose policies that did not abide by the Grinnell community’s core values. According to some student staff, this fear has been warranted by actions over the course of the year, exemplified by how the hiring process was run for next year’s student positions.

“These are people who come in and then within, like six months, they’re already interviewing [students] for positions in an office that they won’t even be in the next year,” said Ric Tennenbaum ‘18, who works for Residence Life as a Community Advisor Mentor (CAM) and helped write the petition. “I found out that the group process portion of the interviews for new hires was created without even a basis of knowledge of what had happened in previous years … I feel like if there had any level of student staff input it would have been so much better.”

Joe Rolón, Director of Residence Life, disagreed with Tennenbaum’s assertion that the RLCs have not been at Grinnell long enough to run staff selection, and also disputed the notion that the process was a major departure from previous years.

“The RLCs who planned the selection process had all the notes and the reviews from how it’s been done in the past, so there weren’t any major changes,” Rolón said. “The student staff have never been involved in the creation of the questions. … This was the first year, I think, where students were questioning that. … I think what will help change things for next year will be actively having a committee of students working with professional staff to create that whole thing.”

Tennenbaum pointed to one question asked of all students in the interviewing process as particularly problematic: “What would you do if you disagreed with a Residence Life or Grinnell policy, or state policy, in your position?”

According to Tennenbaum, RLCs had admitted that they wanted students to commit to following policies strictly.

“We felt that was a really unfair and baiting question … If you tried to find any grey area, it was marked against you,” Tennenbaum said, speaking from personal experience — they were told that their response to that question was one of the main reasons they were not offered a position for next year.

“I shared that … if someone comes to me and I feel like they’re distressed and they might want to disclose something that would trigger some of my reporting duties … then I would let them know what I’m required to report and to whom, and then offer all the different resources that have different reporting structures,” Tennenbaum said while talking about what was important to them as a CA. “[It came to be] that I work around policies, and that led to me not being hired back.”

With concerns rising following the selection process, there were conversations about what action should be taken, led by some of the CAMs, who occupy the most senior student position in Residence Life. In mid-March these students decided to write a petition expressing their dissatisfaction and demanding change. The petition addressed a number of issues, including complaints that students who were open about mental illness were discriminated against in the hiring process and taking issue with the overrepresentation of white and domestic people on student staff. Additionally, the petition raised issue with what is perceived as disregard for transparency and student input, and claimed that the requirement for walkthroughs is ableist because of inaccessibility.

After it was distributed among the roughly 60 students who work for Residence Life, the petition only garnered about 20 signatures. Tennenbaum pointed to the absence of one big grievance easy to rally around for the lack of signatures, as well as a fear of putting things on a bad note among students returning to staff. Ultimately, the decision was made not to submit the petition, but those who had led the effort did make the department aware of their major concerns more informally.

In regards to the issue of mental health, Rolón stated that Residence Life has actively worked to support students with mental health issues and has never penalized them, but he did admit that there was a problem when it came to diversity.

“We do need to be more diverse,” he said. “We did make efforts to sort of increase our presence of students of color … and actually our new group for next year are much more diverse.”

While the petition lists a variety of concerns, Tennenbaum believes that underlying them all is a feeling that student input has not been valued. They took issue with “this process of empty gestures where they say that they’re listening, and yes, they will listen to us. That doesn’t mean that our words will carry any weight whatsoever.”

Rolón said that he does solicit and value student input, and he thinks that any feelings to the contrary would be assuaged if the department simply did a better job of following up with students to explain how input does often affect decision-making. However, Rolón also believes that some students do not understand that just because their input is valued does not mean they will get exactly what they want.

“Some students have told me, ‘listening means I tell you what I need and you automatically make that change,’ and that is not what listening is. Listening is taking in people’s input, processing it and then seeing if the change needs to happen,” Rolon said.

Tennenbaum appreciates that Rolón has been willing to listen to student concerns, and is supportive of the decision to involve students in shaping the student staff selection going forward. However, there remain disagreements about the facts of the matter on different issues raised by the petition, and it seems as if many of the changes the students seek are not coming anytime soon. Tennenbaum summed up the situation succinctly: “it feels like we’re stuck.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *