Respect is one of the core values of this institution. We sign the Honor Code every year as a mark of respect for fellow students and the faculty and for the educational mission of the school. Respect is certainly an underlying value in our residential system as well. You cannot create a healthy, diverse and inclusive community without students respecting one another, and you cannot create a healthy living environment if students do not respect the common spaces and facilities they reside in.
With the neighborhood system currently up for much-needed reform, any changes in the housing system must pay due notice to a central issue of dorm living: How do we live together in a manner that meets a common standard of decency and respect? We hope that the College, through the neighborhoods, will adopt a policy that will foster residential communities whose members are capable of freely and rationally engaging one another to solve minor civil disputes.
Currently, students are too prone to automatically call Security in response to noise and odor complaints, among others, without actually engaging with their sources. We believe that upon receipt of a phoned-in complaint, the policy of Campus Safety and Security should be to refer the situation to a Baxter Fellow or other student intermediary as a first step in resolving the residential dispute. In practice, the Security dispatcher, upon receiving a phoned-in complaint, would ask, “Have you confronted the source of your complaint?” Emphasis should be placed on students addressing the problems of dorm life through a reasonable chain of action. First, address the perpetrator of the perceived offense and kindly present your viewpoint. In all likelihood, your neighbor will respond favorably and be more considerate of your concerns in the future. If he or she is not, try contacting a Baxter Fellow about the problem. As a last resort and in instances of possible physical or psychological harm to your person, you could then contact Security.
We believe this policy will help foster a community of individuals who are capable of handling their own problems, given the involuntary nature of the dorm system. If we as students could pick all of our neighbors, then complaints would seem to be ridiculous. Given that we currently have little choice in choosing our neighbors (aside from choosing a pick-in group), we ought not be subject to unnecessary interactions with Security simply because a problem arises out of sharing a hallway with people you don’t know. It seems fair to say that in a typical situation in which Security is called to resolve a problem, for almost every imaginable scenario (even when dealing with drunk belligerents and especially with marijuana smokers), there is no reason for students to involve disciplinary forces in the initial communication of the problem. Of course, we do not expect students to have to confront others who are displaying signs of violence or even the threat of it.
In order to create a dorm environment that encourages communication and respect among neighbors, JAs and Baxter Fellows, the de facto “leaders” of dorms, should take on a more active role in opening discussion of common house-related issues. At the beginning of each year these leaders should organize a meeting to set basic house rules or at least discuss what residents desire out of their dorm life. At this point, debate and discussion over acceptable dorm behavior could occur and include common room usage, noise acceptability and other issues of potential conflict. We believe this will foster a healthy community of individuals who are willing to speak up for their own views and not feel as if they can only get what they want by calling the authorities. In addition, it will promote a true community, where people will be encouraged to engage everyone else as opposed to living the passive, anonymous existences that inhabit many of our houses. Allowing for students to take control of their own social destiny through empowerment of public engagement seems to be a goal worthy of thoughtful consideration in the reform of our housing system.
One can argue that the shy, introverted person should not be forced to engage in the difficult conversation of “Please stop playing loud music at 2 a.m. on weekday nights.” We ask, however: How can a communal living situation succeed if the participants are not willing to engage each other in an open and honest manner based on shared respect? The neighborhood system can only work if we are actively invested in the space we live in. We must burst out of our bubbles and engage the people around us. If the original purpose of the neighborhoods was to encourage diversity, what more effective means of achieving this end than asking students to be accountable for resolving issues of communal living on their own?
Steve Luther ’11 is a political science and history major from McKinleyville, Calif. Jimi Morales ’11 is a political science major from Houston, Texas.