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Dual Community Advisor role presents conflicts of interest

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: Front Page


Roaming residence halls at quiet hours, community advisors are a major authority in upholding alcohol-related policies for social gatherings on campus. They fulfill a responsibility shared by university police—to prevent illegal underage drinking—but face the inherent dilemma of walking into parties and dorms with loud noise full of their friends and classmates.

Brandeis lays out its core alcohol policy in the Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, stating “Brandeis University upholds and supports local, state, and federal laws with regard to alcohol beverages.”

“At the university we have some responsibility to enforce state and local laws … It would not be responsible for us to have policies that weren’t aligned with the laws that are in place for the city and state … We could sit here and debate for hours about the legal drinking age … It’s not really for us to decide,” Senior Director of Community Living Jeremy Leiferman said.

Leiferman described the duties of the community advisor by explaining that it is not strictly about breaking up parties despite those perceptions from the student body.

“If a student has registered a party, the CA might stop by just to check in, but not to do anything … to break it up. Generally CAs don’t break up the parties unless they’re going past one or unless [they’ve] gotten out of control … It’s not an expectation that CAs are going around just breaking up parties.”

While Leiferman acknowledged breaking up parties is one aspect of a CA’s job, it is not something CAs enjoy.

“It’s not why they became CAs—to break up parties,” Leiferman said. “They became CAs to be a leader and to build community on campus, and this is a part of their responsibility being a leader and building community. But for most of them I would guess it’s probably their least favorite thing.”

Situations become complicated for students, however, who are engaging in underage drinking in dry quads such as East. In these quads, no alcohol is allowed and a CA who finds a student in possession of alcohol is obligated to have the student pour the alcohol out, and then report the incident to the Department of Community Living.

The issue CAs face, however, is figuring out what constitutes reasonable grounds to report someone in East for possession of alcohol.

Leiferman explained that if a student is severely intoxicated, then medical attention is required. A CA while on rounds may pass by a very loud room and then upon knocking and entering discover alcohol.

Community Living’s policy is that students can become CAs as sophomores for sophomores. Potentially, according to Leiferman, a sophomore could even be a CA in Ziv for older students. This can obligate a sophomore to break up a party where alcohol is served, and at which someone their age and year—even perhaps a friend of theirs—is the host.

In this awkward scenario, Leiferman explained that students shouldn’t allow it to happen.

“If you were friends with a CA, why would you want to put one of your friends in that situation? … I think the responsibility lies with the student, not the CA. … It’s a challenge for CAs to have to balance the CA role and the responsibilities there and also their friendships.”

Leiferman offered a solution to this problem in dealing with the difficult situation before it happens. “We encourage the CAs to have conversations with their friends before that situation happens to set up some expectations with them.”

Leiferman acknowledged that instances may occur in which CAs “let things slide” in that sort of scenario.

Whenever someone is in a “power” situation compared to someone else their own age, there is always the concern about how well authority will be kept.

Dean Gendron, however, director of the Department of Student Rights and Community Standards, indicated that he does not think it is about a power differential at all.

“CAs do carry responsibilities and expectations that flow from their positions as community advisors, but their positions are certainly not intended to create a power differential,” Gendron said. “Indeed, their positions are created to alert residential students to members of the community whom the university has trained and nurtured as role models familiar with campus resources and networks that can increase student success.”

Leiferman furthermore described that the Department of Community Living takes this into account when considering if someone can be a CA for a floor of students their own year or age.

Gendron explained that a student is bound to uphold standards of conduct, including their responsibilities as a CA, even when not on Brandeis’ property or even when Brandeis is not in session.

“Rights and Responsibilities applies to active students, whether they are physically on our campus property or not,” Gendron said. “Our policies apply when a student is traveling during winter recess or when a student participates on a volunteer vacation. Anyone may hold a Brandeis student accountable for upholding our standards through the Student Conduct Process.”

Erika Lamarre, director of Community Living, echoed this sentiment but without emphasis on a student’s obligation to act. She rather sees it more as the CA’s prerogative.

“CAs when on-duty or not on-duty may address situations they encounter or can act as a resource for students in need of assistance.”

Other students acknowledge the difficulties associated with being a CA—especially the awkwardness of being obligated to report issues as they come up regardless of whether or not the CA is friends with an offender or not.

When asked how a CA should go about implementing alcohol policy without damaging friendships, Kevin Zhao ’14, found the situation to be incredibly difficult and jokingly tossed ideas around.

“That’s a tough one. … Don’t become a CA. … Don’t be a CA [for] your friends?”

Rachel Gofman ’13, explained how to go about coping with the awkwardness associated with breaking up parties of friends.

“I would tell my friend ahead of time ‘this is my job’ and not to take it personally, but it’s part of the duty.”

Gofman also explained, however, that if she were a CA she would demonstrate to her residents that her responsibility lies with her hall.

“I’d tell my friends—or people my age—that my job is basically to make sure you guys don’t do it here,” Gofman said. “Whatever you do [outside] is not my business … so if you have to do it, go out for it.”