Those of us who live in the residence halls have all seen them: the desk assistants.
These are people who sit behind a desk, sometimes until 3 a.m.
At first, it might seem like they get paid to listen to music or talk to people, but they actually have a purpose to fulfill- — at least, according to the dean of students office.
The desk assistant (DA) is there to ensure the safety of the residents and the building itself. The desk is placed near the door so that the DA can observe who comes in and out. If they see someone they do not recognize, they are supposed to refuse that person entry into the building.
They are also not allowed to let someone who does not have their ID card in the building.
Anyone who locked themselves out is supposed to call the police station on campus, who will then contact a resident director on duty.
This is how it is supposed to work. The reality is quite different. The desk assistants let people in regularly. I know because I was one of them, and I observed such behavior all the time.
There were times when I had to call the police because the electronic lock would not recognize my card.
Their response time left much to be desired — nor do I feel comfortable about calling the police every time I get locked out.
Anytime a police officer shows up with a handgun and a pair of handcuffs on their hip, I suddenly feel a lot less safe.
As a result, the desk assistants I met let people in.
Some people habitually forgot their cards.
Some people came back intoxicated and could not get their keycard to work.
The desk assistant has no authority to report someone or even write an anecdotal about inappropriate behavior. Instead, the DA is supposed to call the resident assistant on duty, who will then handle the problem.
At the early hours of the morning, I imagine this can be a great inconvenience.
Rather than entrusting the desk assistants with the power to fulfill their purpose — the safety of the residence halls — they are instead given another mission. They are there to ensure that resident life maintains its authority and control over everything that goes in the residence halls.
This is an authority which is exercised in uneven ways.
A man using a bathroom on an all-woman’s floor can be documented. This can happen even if the man in question does not go to SU or does not see any labeling of the bathroom itself.
Words like “safety” actually mean something other than what they are supposed to.
Safety, as defined by the residence life staff, can only occur when everything that goes wrong is reported to them. The problem is further complicated when resident assistants refuse to do anything about a problem on the grounds that they did not see personally.
How can such practices make anyone — except the resident life staff themselves — safe?
In fact, what is going on here is no different than what is going on anywhere else in America. Power is being given to the few while taken away from the many.
Is it any surprise that many people choose not to stay in the residence halls under these circumstances?