Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Should residential staff speak to student journalists?

Administrators should not hide the truth
(Collegian File Photo)

Nobody likes to hear about bad things happening at the University of Massachusetts, whether it be the downfall of late night dining, the silencing of the Southwest sticky notes or more serious stories like the recent racist incident at Melville. However, the fact remains that bad things do happen at UMass, and it is the duty of students to report on these issues and bring them to the attention of a broader audience. So why have student journalists repeatedly been denied information by the University?

I’m sure that to the UMass administration, prying student journalists are like that one kid in class with way too many questions: annoying, loud and seemingly always raising their hand just when you think they can’t possibly have anything left to say. UMass doesn’t want any negative publicity, and why would it? It’s a public university in the business of getting people to give them money. Nonetheless, when issues come up regarding student life and safety, isn’t it important to inform students?

Kacey Connolly, a resident of Washington tower in Southwest Residential Area, was writing a column for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian regarding elevator safety, or the lack thereof, when she experienced difficulty acquiring information from her residence staff. She repeatedly reached out to staff members in her building asking when the elevators would be fixed, and she was repeatedly shut down. Further, in a recent guest lecture for a News Literacy class, UMass alumnus Eric Bosco described the enormous challenges he faced from the University while reporting inappropriate conduct related to a 2013 heroin overdose.

Do administrators expect students not to talk to each other, particularly about information that concerns our lives on campus? I mean, come on. College kids are going to talk about stuff like this. Why are residence staff members trying to squash stories before they begin? Are they at fault, or are higher-ups putting pressure on them? How deep does this go?

Due to RA behavioral guidelines which say that “it is expected that they politely decline to comment” if approached by media, residential assistants themselves are not to blame. In fact, it’s hard to place blame on any one group specifically. RAs have to report to Residence Directors, who in turn have their own bosses. RAs are encouraged to de-escalate conflict situations in their halls. They cannot go to the media as an RA and they cannot divulge information about troubles within residence halls to reporters. This may lead to incidents being swept under the rug and belittled. Why can’t RAs discuss sensitive topics with the media? It’s because RAs don’t just represent themselves, or even just their halls, they represent the Residential Life department and ultimately, UMass as a whole. It is very much frowned upon, and even seen as a violation of their employee code of conduct, to handle matters within their halls. RAs are encouraged to hold floor meetings to broadly discuss issues as opposed to simply confronting and disciplining individual students.

Instead of suppressing the rash of incidents, wouldn’t it be better to address them and punish the people at fault? Let the newspapers publish the stories. Let people read about what’s happening on campus and better yet, let them read about the people who discriminate against members of the community and the punishments they have to face for their actions.

Let’s face facts – UMass has not appeared positively in the news lately, but there seems to be a few options to combat this outbreak: The horror stories from residence halls could be stamped out and quieted by the overbearing fist of the Residential Life department. Alternatively, ResLife could actually punish known perpetrators and make those punishments known. If people know they’ll get in trouble for doing something, they’re probably less likely to do it. I understand the need to protect individuals from public shame, but at what cost? Is that more important than the quality of life on campus? Let RAs talk to their peers in the media without fear of losing their jobs and their housing. Let student voices be heard.

Ana Pietrewicz is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    Ed Cutting, EdDOct 9, 2018 at 1:42 am

    This is infuriating — and I thought that the RA Union was supposed to put an end to it.
    So much for the RA Union, but I digress….
    It’s established Federal law that a public employee’s free speech rights are not eliminated because the citizen is a public employee. And it is well established that student journalists are real journalists with all legal rights thereof.
    So start playing hardball. File a sunshine request for each and every email about elevators (that includes those sent by the various RAs). And then just print them.
    If Residual Strife won’t let you talk to its employees (who are supposed to be talking to you if you live on their floor) then just print what they are telling their bosses. Perhaps then Residual Strife might decide that letting them talk to you is preferable….