If a resident complains about speech of a Resident Advisor or Staff Member
Create and maintain a system that students can use to elevate their concerns if a Resident Advisor says something they find troubling. Be transparent with residents about how that system works. If a student is alleging a Resident Advisor is engaged in any form of harassment it should be raised to appropriate disciplinary channels speedily. This guidance is not designed for such instances, but rather for circumstances where the Resident Advisor has engaged in potentially offensive, but protected, non-harassing speech. In such cases, responses other than those involving disciplinary action may still be necessary.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Students have broad rights to free expression. If a Resident Advisor engages in speech that does not rise to the level of harassment but nonetheless offends, the students do have a right to voice their criticism. It may be necessary to remind staff and students of the basics of free expression, but also to ensure Resident Advisors are clear on their roles and responsibilities.
Context will matter a great deal in determining a response to this scenario, as will specific policies regarding Resident Advisor conduct. Consider carefully if the offending speech in question occurred while the Resident Advisor was on-duty, serving in a professional capacity, or not. When possible, try to support protections for free expression by Resident Advisors, particularly when they are off-duty. However if an action in question raises concerns about a Resident Advisor’s ability to fulfill their duties or responsibilities with regard to residents, it is reasonable for Residence Leaders to initiate a disciplinary response. Even falling short of that, consultation, counseling, or educational programming for the Resident Advisor may be considered as appropriate.
REFLECT AND ENGAGE
If your own words are being criticized, consider whether the language you used was necessary to convey your idea. Also consider why your speech was upsetting to someone else. If, after a conversation, you conclude that your language was ill chosen, be clear about your mistake. If you feel that your language was justified, explain your perspective calmly and honestly.
If you have heard second-hand that something a Resident Advisor said was interpreted negatively, consider reaching out and setting up a time to discuss the incident.
Resident Advisors and Residence Leaders must make an effort to understand why the resident was offended and how best to open up a productive conversation. If the resident has indicated that a group or groups were affected or offended, create opportunities to listen to those voices.
If what was said was particularly controversial or alienating, consider taking additional steps to restore trust in the residence building. While students have broad free expression rights, every community member benefits from approaching highly controversial speech sensitively and with a mind to nurturing an inclusive campus climate. Resident Advisors have broad responsibilities, usually including the responsibility to facilitate an emotionally safe environment for residents. Often, students speak out not with the purpose of disciplining a Resident Advisor but to vocalize a sense of alienation. Consider a range of responses before taking action.