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Student Handbook changes raise concerns


On September 6, Dean of Students Ben Newhouse sent out an all-campus email informing members of the College community of the changes made to the Student Handbook for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The changes included policy updates in the categories of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy, Student Fundraising Projects, Check In and Check Out Procedures and Expectations for Student-Athletes.

While most of the changes clarified policies that already existed, the policy for the check-in and check-out procedure changed significantly.

The new check-in and check-out policy states in part that “Non-graduates are required to check-out within 24 hours of their last final exam; Graduates are required to checkout by noon the day after Commencement.”

This particular policy change, which took place over the summer, was prompted by what Newhouse described as “a pretty incident heavy process between the end of finals and actual move out date” last year.

“We had hospitalizations [and] we had other issues that escalated in nature because of problematic and risky behavior related to alcohol and other drugs,” Newhouse said in an interview with The S&B. “I’m not certain that the staff member who was on-call slept very much that entire few days because they were in a consistent response time.”

While Newhouse could not disclose specific details related to those incidents due to student confidentiality, he said that such incidents created complications at an already hectic time of the semester.

Newhouse stressed that this policy was implemented, first and foremost, for the safety of the Grinnell community.

“Really, this came from a place of great concern over the safety of the members of the community and recognizing that what occurred wasn’t sustainable and needed us to shift our practices,” Newhouse said.

This new policy was, as Newhouse said, “mostly an administratively led decision,” and the SGA Vice President of Student Affairs Saketan Anand ’21 expressed concerns over the lack of student input in the decision-making process.

“As far as I know, so far, there has been no student input or feedback in their process of policy making, which concerns me,” Anand said. “SGA wasn’t notified [and] students weren’t notified that this process was going to take place. [Newhouse] did say that this was because … he was really busy with [New Student Orientation] and this was a decision that was made after school ended last semester, but still I think I would have expected more transparency for students.”

According to Anand, SGA received an email from Newhouse on August 30, asking them to look over the email that would be sent out to the College community to inform them of the change in the Student Handbook.

While Anand admitted that he “didn’t look over the policy too closely, which I think is my bad,” he also said, “The whole point of us receiving the email was … not ‘What do you guys think about this policy?’ It was more of like, ‘What do you think about this email?’” pointing out that the SGA was not asked for input on the actual policy itself.

In light of this new policy, several students have expressed their concerns via various platforms.

“After the email got sent out, there was a Facebook post, and then I was notified, and then I just started hearing from so many people that it’s not okay,” said Anand.

Such responses from students prompted Anand and SGA Diversity and Outreach Coordinator Tucker Haddock ’21 to meet with Newhouse.

“Tucker and I together expressed the concerns that were brought to us by students, and I also put forward my concerns about the way the policy was made,” Anand said.

Both Newhouse and Director of Residence Life Dennis Perkins expressed their understanding of the concerns put forward by students.

“I recognize the concerns that have been raised because this is a significant shift and this is different and I do feel … that we will be reasonable as we have been in the past of granting exceptions when they are quite reasonable and supporting students [at what] we know is a stressful time of year,” Newhouse said.

He also added, “I think there’s a little bit of a mourning of some of that social time that came post finals that students valued. … So, I hear that, and I understand it. … I recognize that for some students that’s going to feel like a real loss and it’s something that they very much valued.”

Both Newhouse and Perkins admitted that while they had anticipated some of the concerns put forward by students, other issues brought up are things that had simply not been considered. Such unanticipated reactions have allowed them to recognize issues in the policy that had not been apparent before.

“I think whenever you roll out a policy like this there are things that come up [to which] you say, ‘Okay we got an answer for that, we can talk about that.’ Then there are things that come back to you [that make you say] ‘Oh, I’m not sure we thought a whole lot about that,’” Perkins said.

Newhouse said, “I think [what] the conversations have really clarified for me is the importance of being really clear [about] shifting the process by which the student can request for an extension or shifting of the move out date to a much more formal – whereas before it was a much more informal – process … and really clearly providing communication about what that looks like and who they’ll expect to hear from. So that was really helpful.”

Indeed, many of the logistics of the policy have not been made clear yet, and when asked about how the administration will keep track of each student’s last final and when they need to have left, both Newhouse and Perkins admitted to not having an answer.

Perkins clarified over a follow-up email to The S&B that “There might be a system, but the logistics have not been completely worked out. However, because there is a policy in place the consequences may be greater if a student violates the policy after they have finished their finals and should have already left campus.”

Newhouse has been in conversation with SGA as well as students who have come to him with concerns, and he believes such engagement has been an important part of the process.

“SGA [has] engaged us in conversations. … We continue to talk and have conversations and value their insight and input and their thoughts on the matter. [We] always value partnering with them about … their perspectives and what they’re hearing from students.”

Anand also said that such conversation has been valuable.

“I appreciate that we have a relationship of mutual respect, but also there are things that we’re [going to] disagree on,” he said.

Anand expressed that he is by no means satisfied, saying that members of SGA will continue to have conversations with Newhouse and other members of the administration concerning the policy changes.

“My concern is that they found a difficult solution to an easy problem. The problem is probably a small portion of campus [that is disrupting residence halls]. … But the cost is being shared by everybody. … Ben has committed to continuing to talk about this and so hopefully SGA can continue to speak to Ben about … this, and maybe even residence life will be looped in on the conversations about this. But for right now I think where we’re at is, Ben recognizes that all of our concerns are valid, and I recognize that Ben’s concern is valid,” Anand said.

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