Beginning in mid-January, students began noticing an increased presence in their residential buildings of Area Coordinators (ACs) and other staff from Residential Education and Housing (ResEd), as well as Campus Safety. In an email sent out to the student body on Friday, Jan. 20, Director of ResEd Stephanie Knoppa explained the situation.
“The goal of the Area Coordinator role…is to provide support and connections to students living on campus and to be highly visible for residents,” Knoppa said. “I have asked my staff to stop by each building daily to increase connections and offer support. For example, one of our Area Coordinators stopped by a building and there was an issue with the oven. Because of this inteaction the oven was replaced the next day. You will continue to see our staff throughout our facilities and taking part in events as a way to engage with students.”
However, to many residents of Lawrence’s group living spaces, houses and lofts designated for specific student orgs or members of marginalized communities, these interactions felt more intrusive than anything. Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG) House Residence Life Manager (RLM) Haley Siculan, a senior, said that these visits went on for a little over a week but have since concluded. According to them, the visits were mostly in the evening, and were described as “intrusive” and “uncomfortable.”
“It was odd, and it felt more like surveillance rather than check ins,” Siculan said. “Especially because we never knew when it was going to happen. People were on edge. We were just doing homework, cooking dinner…those kinds of things. But it got to the point where I didn’t want to be in the house around that time because I knew I’d be interrupted.”
Junior Matthew Pavlik, a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, who lives in Beta house, said that a better relationship with ResEd would be great, which Siculan agreed with. However, both thought that the visits were not the way to build a better relationship. Pavlik recommended that ResEd reach out by posting their names, faces and email addresses around residence spaces and suggested that if they are going to enter the group housing spaces, that they provide some kind of prior warning.
Sometime after the visits stopped, Siculan said that the heat in SLUG House stopped working at around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night and the temperature had dropped to around 56° F. Siculan called Campus Safety, who came by and said there was nothing they could do, and Facilities had gone home for the evening. SLUG House’s Area Coordinator D’Andre Weaver came later at night around 10 p.m. Siculan said that they were up past midnight trying to get the issue resolved.
According to residents of SLUG House, SLUG House residents were told that the heaters were supposed to be cleaned yearly, but they had not been cleaned in years. An anonymous student associated with SLUG feels that it’s ironic that ResEd was sending staff in to check on things but failed to check the furnace, a sentiment Siculan agreed with.
“It showed that the daily surveillance did not help in the moment where we actually needed someone’s help,” Siculan said.
Affinity Group Coordinator Helen Boyd Kramer said that residents of Alliance House contacted them asking to talk about the ResEd visits. Kramer then spoke with Dean of Students Brittany Bell and Vice President for Student Life Chris Clarke about the concern.
Kramer said that the students who reached out felt like they were being dropped in on without any notice and that they were also concerned about ResEd using group houses to house students who hadn’t signed up initially. Kramer said that she is currently working with ResEd on creating a process by which students who house together based on affinity or identity will be formally recognized as such.
In the Jan. 20 email, Knoppa acknowledged the students’ concerns.
“This was not meant to appear or feel as if the professional staff are patrolling buildings,” Knoppa said. “It is purely intended to provide support and connection. I apologize for not communicating this ahead of time and for any stress, fear and uncertainty this may have caused.”
Assistant Director of ResEd Kyle Lockhart said that the decision to try and improve relationships with group living spaces was a department decision enabled by an increase in staff this term. Lockhart stated that ResEd’s goal as a department is to establish connections with all on-campus residents.
“As far as my interactions during my visits, there were some residents that understandably had questions about the nature of the visits,” Lockhart said. “I assured everyone, the goal of the visits is to create a social interaction and communal outreach from our office to them. Overall, the visits were positive, with residents appreciating me stopping by and helping file work orders for things that weren’t working correctly or needed attention.”
Lockhart and Knoppa attended the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) General Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8 to address student concerns. Dorn said that she thinks the staff have good intentions, but that the random searches make people feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Knoppa said that staff shouldn’t be going through peoples; things and characterized the interactions as “check-ins” as opposed to “searches.” First-Year Class Representative Jasmin McGee mentioned that she experienced a surprise check-in while she was trying to sleep and expressed a desire for better communication between ResEd and students about these interactions, echoing Pavlik and Siculan’s earlier sentiments. Knoppa said that ResEd staff should be coming in the late afternoon and early evening and that they are taking time of day into consideration more when conducting these interactions.