College’s communication strategies cultivate unnecessary anxiety

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GRAPHIC BY KAYLA PAYNE / THE FLAT HAT

One would think that a 22-year-old graduating senior, living quietly in an apartment-style dorm with friends, would have no possible issues left to encounter with the College of William and Mary’s Residence Life.

One would be incorrect.

Let me preface my story by saying that the issue my roommates and I had was already resolved in our favor. The individuals from ResLife involved were lovely, and I have no problems with anyone related to our case or with the way it turned out. My frustration is entirely with the system leading up to the ordeal, which is something I’ve reflected on after graduating from the College last month. While it happened a while ago, I still find myself perplexed by the situation.

Shortly after New Year’s, I received an email from Community Values and Restorative Practices that contained an “Important and Time Sensitive Message” from the office. They had received a report about an “incident” December 19, 2019 that may have violated the Student Code of Conduct.

After calming down enough to process what this anxiety-inducing email really said, I was confused. I didn’t remember any incidents that could have caused a problem. More importantly, December 19 was two days after I had finished my finals and left campus for the fall semester.

I texted my three roommates, and together we figured out what happened.

My roommates and I have all been over the age of 21 for the entire academic year. This means that we happily enjoy the privilege of legally buying alcohol. We then sometimes keep the empty alcohol bottles, along with empty soup and salsa jars, and use them to water our many plants. When winter break began, we took our various plants home with us – leaving the bottles behind for use in the spring.

Now, understandably, alcohol bottles that hold clear liquid don’t usually contain water. But the code of conduct says those who can legally drink can keep bottles in their room, as long as they hold 750mL of alcohol or less.

We could have easily resolved the misunderstanding with a short in-person conversation between the four of us and an RA. Had they asked us why we had so many bottles, we could have explained that we were reusing them, shown the water inside, and moved on, chalking it up to the misunderstanding it was.

In reality, my roommates and I had to wait until two weeks after classes started – a month after the email – for CVRP to reach out to us again, saying they had already set up a meeting with our case administrator based on our academic schedules.

Furthermore, we weren’t all given the same case administrator – I had one, two of my roommates had a second, and another roommate had a third. Only when we met with the separate case administrators did we find out that the violation in the official report was having multiple bottles over the 750mL limit, which wasn’t even true.

“My main problem, now that it’s been over for a long time, is that the way all of the information was communicated to us made it so much more stressful than it needed to be. The lead up to the actual administrative resolution was nerve-wracking.”

These case administrators each turned out to be very kind, soothing, and reasonable. Once we all told our own sides of the story, our case was quickly resolved, and none of us were found at fault.

My main problem, now that it’s been over for a long time, is that the way all of the information was communicated to us made it so much more stressful than it needed to be. The lead up to the actual administrative resolution was nerve-wracking.

There were at least three emails sent to us before we actually heard the incident report at our in-person meeting. If my roommates and I hadn’t figured out what was going on already, we would have been completely in the dark. We asked questions via email over winter break, but nobody gave us the actual report, and most of the emails kept things vague.

Furthermore, each of the emails informing us that someone would, one day, contact us about the case was marked “Important and Time Sensitive Information.” This was despite the fact that we didn’t hear anything for a month after the first email, and then we had to wait another week to actually have our first meetings – none of which were at the same time, for the exact same case.

And this was an “incident” where we knew we hadn’t broken rules, and everyone involved was a senior. We know how the administration works, at least a little. If I had been an underclassman with a real incident, I would have hyperventilated waiting for more information.

ResLife and CVRP are on campus to care for students. Having spoken in person to some of the administrators and employees involved, I know the people involved do care. But the way the offices try to communicate with students when it’s not face-to-face is painfully formal, sometimes unresponsive and often uninformative.

This is actually a pattern I’ve noticed over the years: every individual working for the College that I’ve encountered has been a lovely, kind and caring individual who just wanted to help. On the other hand, most interactions I’ve had with the faceless, form-letter based institution as a whole have made me want to scream. Loudly.

Email Maggie More at memore01@email.wm.edu.