One of your primary duties as a resident assistant is documenting policy violations. You don't actively look for ways to get people in trouble, but you report any and everything you find. You're not a punisher, you're a messenger. That still doesn't make it easy to tell your friend that you have to write them up, especially when you live among your residents and, frankly, have to befriend some of them if you want to maintain any friendships other than your co-workers. But that's a confessional for another time. This time, I let personal relationships affect my documentations.
The Chronicle of Higher Education dubbed Athens, Georgia "a rive of booze" in an article posted at the beginning of December. The moniker isn't too far off. On any given Sunday during the school year, people walking on a downtown sidewalk will more than likely have a stream of stale beer trailing alongside them toward a gutter.
Along with the 90 University of Georgia and 240 Athens-Clarke County police officers keeping watch over the campus as well as the city, RAs see their fair share of drunken students.
I was an RA for nearly three years and was responsible for four buildings. Of course I had run-ins with drunk students. Of course most of them were underage freshmen. But there was a general agreement among the RAs I worked with that we let students be unless they were breaking, urinating on or throwing up on something. I never waited and watched for someone to slip up. It was never my job to purposefully try to get someone in trouble.
The real ethical dilemma of the situation, however, arises when it's one of your friends throwing up in a hallway. Before I was anyone's RA, I was their peer. I'll admit, it's much easier to document someone or call the police on a student for causing a scene that you aren't friends with. I always explained documentation to residents as being my job and that they didn't pay my bills. But when it was a resident I was friends with, their wellbeing sometimes came before my commitment to my job.
Minor infractions -- loud music, frisbee in the hallway, having a dartboard -- were ones I'd occasionally look the other way for. Those aside, one of the two most jarring situations I dealt with as an RA was finding a female student passed out in the middle of a hallway at nearly 3 a.m. She was curled into a ball with her face down in her arms. I couldn't tell if she was breathing. I didn't know her. In that instant, all I could think about was making sure she was OK. I wanted to roll her over. I wanted to check her breathing. But we're trained not to touch residents. Ever. It's a responsibility issue for legal sake.
I had to handle the situation by the book as closely as I could. I called emergency medical services and campus police. In the meantime, a security guard was able to cause enough noise with his radio to rouse the girl. Once she realized she had passed out in the hallway, she went into her room (the door she had been sleeping in front of) and locked the door. When the police and EMS arrived, they were able to question and assess her health.
She was arrested.
Thinking back, had she been someone I knew, I probably would have rolled her over and tried to wake her up. Actually, I know I would have. I might have called EMS, but probably not. I would have taken care of her like any of my friends, got her water and put her to bed.
But there's always the chance that she could have been one of the thousands of students each year to transported to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning. There's the chance that she could have choked on her own vomit. There's the chance she could've slipped trying to get into a lofted bed and seriously injured herself, becoming one of the estimated 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 that are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol each year.
And with all that in mind, I could have been responsible for a friend's injury, had that resident turned out to be a friend and had I not listened to protocol. So while I let friends slide on minor things, realizing all of those "what ifs" played a part in my decision to quit my RA job. Over my three years time, I had let it get personal.