List of students of concern by Res Life

By Oliver St. John

Many times, when talking to a resident assistant, dean, or resident hall director, students are led to believe that their discussion is entirely confidential. The administration at Macalester, however, uses a definition of confidentiality in this regard which may be unclear to some students. Therefore, it is important for students to know how the Res-Life system works and who in the system has access to information.The aforementioned interpretation of confidentiality is not as complete as some students may believe it to be; what it is is a promise that information imparted to RAs, deans, or RHDs will not be shared with any other students. There is, however, a system of sharing information between the members of the Res-Life system students are not always aware of, which I will explain below.

The process begins when student meets with a member of the Res-Life staff, specifically, any of the five RHD’s, Keith Edwards, Director of Campus Life, Peg Olson, Associate Director of Res-Life, Kathy McEathron, Operations Manager for Res-Life, as well as any of the deans, such as Jim Hoppe or Lisa Landreman. The above mentioned people then, during a weekly meeting, discuss what went on during meetings with students. Names are recorded and put on a List of Students of Concern alongside a brief description, lasting only a few lines, about meeting with a student. Students on the list are also rated on a scale of 1-3, based on the level of concern, the highest concern being student’s potential attempt to harm himself or others, the lowest simply being students the staff decides they should watch out for. Everyone in the Res-Life system is obligated by law to report any and all instances in which a student expresses a potential to hurt himself or others, as well as sexual assault.

All cases are treated similarly, regardless of the content of the meetings. The choices of whose information is put on this list is entirely at the discretion of the authoritative party. Examples supplied by Lisa Landreman, associate dean of students, during an interview included depression, death of family members, as well as, of course, potential suicide. “The policy is that it’s better to overreport than to underreport,” stated Max Kulicke, ’11, a former RA on Doty 3. Furthermore, the system applies to any meeting between student and aforementioned staff at all. Not only are students who are sought out by Res-Life recorded like this, but also students whose acquaintances might have come forward with a concern about them, or even those who may come forward themselves, seeking help or sympathy.

This system also applies to meetings or encounters students have with their own RA’s. According to Keith Edwards, RA’s are obligated to report to their respective RHD’s, when they are concerned about a student. RA’s, however are not told what happens to the information they share with their respective RHD’s. Few even know about this List of Students of Concern which is kept.

Lisa Landreman stated that the information recorded is intended to be as succinct as possible. However, the fact remains that what is recorded is entirely out of the student’s control. Furthermore, the student may be completely unaware that any record is taken at all. Luke Marcott, ’12 was extremely surprised to discover a record existed of his meetings with various Res-Life members after not only never being told about it but also being told that every meeting was entirely confidential.

The form of this List of Concerned students is a database which is accessible to all of the RHD’s, regardless of in which dorms the students in question live, as well as Keith Edwards, Peg Olson, and Kathy McEathron. This is done because the list is considered by Res-Life to be essential for the RHD’s ability to be on call, and all RHD’s are not on call all the time. Lisa Landreman has promised, in light of new circumstances that this will absolutely change, but this list is kept under very loose security.

Keith Edwards stressed that students should be aware that Res-Life likes to keep this list as short as possible, both for confidentiality and for convenience; when the system is no longer concerned about a student, he’s removed from the list. However, students information is not actually deleted permanently even once they are removed from the list. “They go onto an off-List which we keep for future reference,” Keith Edwards said.

While, as Lisa Landreman said, this is something many schools have been doing in response to the Virginia Tech shootings, as Keith Edwards made clear, Macalester has been using this system since as early as 2002. Of course, part of this is prevention and part of this is liability concern. This list can doubtlessly be useful. An example Max Kulicke gave was that if an RHD on duty encounters an intoxicated student who seems extremely unstable, the RHD will deal with the situation completely differently were he to see on the database that the student had said he was feeling suicidal in an earlier meeting with a dean or RA. Despite Macalester’s confidence in this system, it should be noted that after my interview with Keith Edwards, all RAs recieved an email telling them that they were not allowed to be interviewed by the Mac Weekly about Res-Life without the staff’s permission.

Macalester believes that this is the correct system, as it is efficient and successful. The problem, however, has to do with the control students have over their own information. With the exclusion of matters concerning physical harm, (which must be reported,) there is no policy for what is reported or the extent to which it is reported. The result is that the RHDs have a list of not only everyone who feels suicidal, but everyone who’s mother has died, and everyone who’s been feeling down, or just having a rough day. Furthermore, this is often done without the students’ permission, or even their knowledge. This is not in accordance with the Confidentiality Clause of the Student Bill of Rights. Max Kulicke said that it was his personal policy to tell students before he forwards any information, but there’s no obligation to do this. The result of this is that people without the students’ permission have access to their private information.

Talking with the Res-Life staff is not the only option students have if they need personal help. Each student is allowed up to ten visits with Counseling Services which is actually confidential, as is any and all meetings with the school chaplain. The Res-Life system is designed so that they can keep an eye out on students whom they’re worried about. If a student wants, or is in a condition where he needs to be watched out for, then this system is perfect; it’s active twenty-four hours a day, and it’s completely local. The problem is only that it is impersonal. Students only have a limited amount of control over who is watching out for them. Sometimes this is necessary. Other times, students should know they have a choice.

Macalester believes that this is the correct system, and Keith Edwards assured me that many Macalester students would be very glad to know that Res-Life is taking care of them in this way, once they read this article. However, if any students have any further questions or concerns they can talk to Keith Edwards, Jim Hoppe, or Lisa Landreman.

Oliver St. Paul ’12 can be reached at [email protected]