While I personally have never experienced any disciplinary actions from Res. Life, I also have never felt encouraged, supported, welcomed or felt as though Res. Life encouraged any sort of community. During my three years living on campus, it felt like Res. Life was morally policing my peers and me as we waded through making normal mistakes and having common experiences that most college students have, doling out arbitrary punishments and enforcing only some of the rules some of the time.
For example, while directing my senior project, Time Stands Still, an actor in my play and dear friend Chris Parks (who has given me permission to write about these events), was facing disciplinary action from Res. Life.
This play already had an incredibly short rehearsal process, only five weeks, and there were only four actors in the show. Theater is a very collaborative art; without any one person’s presence, the entire project is in jeopardy. Can you imagine my panic when one of my actors was not allowed to be at rehearsal for an entire week?
After a minor alcohol infraction (an RD discovered empty beer bottles in their suite, where there are three roommates), Chris was suspended for five days and fined $300. Never mind that suspending a student from classes and fining them an obscene amount is an archaic and ineffective way of morally policing students, let’s talk about the punitive aspect of this punishment to Chris. They were never given any options or any voice in this process. There was never the thought of, “hmm, maybe they have nowhere to go if we kick them off campus.” There was most certainly never any thought of who would, by extension and by our communal nature of living, be affected by this.
I want to reiterate that this happened with about two weeks left in the rehearsal process of “Time Stands Still.” This was my senior project, something I had been working on for over a year, something I poured my heart and soul into and was the culmination of my time as theater major. When I learned that five very valuable days in the final period of rehearsal was being robbed from me, I panicked. Where was the restorative justice, where was the place for my voice and the voice of all the other students involved in this production to be heard? An overly harsh prescriptive punishment had been given with no thoughts to the personal student or anyone else in their community.
Me being me, I made my voice heard. I immediately sent an email to Res. Life voicing my concerns for the play, and how its success depended on having Chris as an actor. An email was sent back and I was hushed with what felt like false reassurances that the whole community is always taken into account when infractions happen and punishments are necessary. However, during the waiting period, I lost even more valuable rehearsal time. While the play ended up fine, thanks to many long, extra hours of work put in by everyone involved in the show, it was in real danger during this holding period with Res. Life. There was no restorative aspect, no thought to the community at large, only thoughts of punishing this student who dared to have a few empty beers in his recycling.
I am certainly not suggesting there should be no accountability for infractions, but perhaps Res. Life should rethink what it means to live in a community when sentencing students to harsh punishments. College is a time we all grow, try new things, make mistakes, and continue to learn and grow from them. Is such harsh punishment really the best way to encourage students to learn from their mistakes?
-Amanda Chandler, Contributing Writer
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