Reed College’s Student House Advisers Balk at New Job Description

“Putting the HA in the role of a snitch isolates them from community,” says one unhappy parent.

Reed College campus. (CK Foto/Shutterstock)

As Reed College resumes classes this week, student house advisers are furious about changes to their job descriptions.

Reed HAs (a role typically known on other campuses as resident adviser, or RA) now must walk rounds through campus housing five times a week and serve as mandatory reporters of violations to the college’s drug and alcohol policies.

While walking around and narcing on fellow students are standard RA duties at most colleges, they’re new at Reed. And they conflict with the experimental counterculture Reedies are known for.

“Putting the HA in the role of a snitch isolates them from community,” says the mother of a senior HA, who asked that her name be withheld. “Because let’s face it—Reed does a lot of drugs.”

Another part of the problem: Some of the rounds are at midnight and cut close to the homeless encampment at Southeast Steele Street and 28th Avenue. (The city conveniently finished clearing the Steele camp Aug. 21, the date residence halls opened for new students.)

Karnell McConnell-Black, Reed’s vice president for student life, wrote in a statement to WW that the new duties are “part of fostering a community of care on campus” and that rounds were “clearly stated in the job description students accessed before applying for an HA position.”

These rounds are not just a quick jaunt down a dorm hallway: One HA with a particularly large territory to cover clocked hers at an hour and seven minutes (routes have since been shortened). The HAs already work in pairs and security officers are available to accompany them, McConnell-Black said.

The Reed mom is still nervous. “My daughter is 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds soaking wet,” she says. “She is no match for someone amped up on drugs or having a mental health issue.”

When the HAs expressed their concerns to the administration at a training session earlier this month, they were told their duties were a “living contract” subject to change at any time, the Reed mother says.

“A lot of us have no choice but to sign these contracts,” says one HA, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by the administration. “I can’t afford school if I don’t have this job.”

Reed College’s tuition and fees are about $85,000 a year.

With talks between students and staff breaking down—one August meeting included raised voices and tears—and the start of the school year looming, parents stepped in. Twenty-two of the 40 HA parents wrote a four-page letter detailing their grievances.

On Aug. 28, McConnell-Black responded to parents with his own four-page letter, which included a concession: streamlining rounds to make them shorter. He stands behind the mandatory-reporting policy, in part, because “HAs are going to be better protected [legally] by reporting up when they observe a concern.”

The anonymous HA fears the new reporting duties foreshadow a larger shift in campus culture.

“It’s gone from being Reed—which is a college of academic rigor where people can freely express themselves without judgment—to something much more corporate,” they say. “It’s robbing people of that Reediness that brings people here.”

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