Take yourself back to your first semester at Emory. Try to remember the complicated emotions you experienced and the person who got you through them. For some, a roommate or friend from Orientation turned into their confidante. But for many others, first-year experience (FYE) residence life staff members may have facilitated the role of listener and educator. Resident advisers (RA), sophomore advisers (SA) and complex directors (CD) are dependable resources and mentors for on-campus residents. Despite the intensive training Residence Life staff undergo, the sessions do not adequately prepare the staff to educate residents on real-life consequences for conduct violations. Residence Life must update how they prepare RAs and SAs for their roles in order to minimize confusion about Emory policy and procedures, state versus local laws and potential consequences for both staff and residents.
When a staff member smells marijuana in a room, the standard Residence Life procedure requires the on-call RA to knock on the door to gain entrance. Once the door is open, the RA investigates the room for drug-related paraphernalia in plain sight or evidence of its presence in the room. If he or she finds marijuana or other illicit items, the RA is required to contact the Emory Police Department (EPD) since marijuana is illegal both on campus and in the state. Residents are typically warned of this process at their first hall meeting. Yet, despite this verbal warning there is not an easily accessible statement that describes RA investigatory protocol in response to potential conduct violations that residents can refer to after their first hall meeting. Additionally, it is difficult to locate specifics on state and local laws from Emory resources. As a result of this, it is imperative that SAs and RAs receive stronger training about Georgia and Atlanta laws to help increase awareness.
Section 1.2.3 of Emory’s 2019-20 Housing Policies states that Emory follows Georgia state law with regard to who can possess and purchase alcohol in a residence hall. The age requirement of 21 to obtain alcohol in the United States is a well-known and standardized metric across the nation. However, despite the drinking age being set by state law, the majority of alcohol-related violations are handled by Emory’s conduct board, not by EPD, which is protocol for other housing infractions. The Housing Policies also fail to give proper attention to the complicated issue of marijuana at an institution where first-year students come from all 50 states and abroad. Section 1.2.4 of the Housing Policies groups marijuana with all kinds of illegal substances, and Section 8.8 of University policy does not elaborate on state and local laws related to marijuana. There is no mention of the 2017 Atlanta ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. Revising existing policy to include specifics about local and state laws on drugs and alcohol would be valuable to the preparation of RAs and SAs who can communicate this information to their residents and increase their effectiveness.
Residence Life procedures and educational outreach have not done enough to inform residents about state and local laws and the ways that they play into a student’s Emory experience. Residence Life must update how they teach RAs and SAs about both Emory policy and relevant state and local laws to help shape more informed decision makers. Emory consistently demonstrates a close relationship with the city of Atlanta through its annexation and properties in the city, but the University fails to give students commonsensical information about the world outside the campus bubble. Former and current RAs, SAs and CDs should critically reflect on their experiences with policy enforcement and bring thoughtful suggestions on how to fix the system to their supervisors. With the start of a new decade quickly approaching, Residence Life should move into 2020 by developing stronger educational outreach programs with Atlanta City Council members and EPD and use staff suggestions to restructure future training.
Ciara Murphy (21C) is from Belmont, Mass. She was previously a sophomore adviser for Hamilton Holmes Hall.