Being startled in the middle of the night by an unexpected fire alarm can be irritating, but it is an unavoidable part of dorm life. Thanks to RA policy, however, residents often begin to frantically look around their rooms for prohibited items instead of immediately evacuating the halls. For some residents, the idea that their RAs are allowed to go into their rooms and check for any unauthorized materials, including alcohol, looms over them during fire drills. During emergency situations, it is counter-productive to have groups of students who do not want to get written up spend time hiding their alcohol instead of getting out of the building as quickly as possible.
According to a blog post penned by an NYU RA a few years ago, one of the duties of the position is to take master keys and check rooms to make sure that all students have evacuated the building during a fire drill. RAs are also expected to report any violations of fire safety policies or other conditions to the residence hall director, which may include “hazardous/prohibited materials in rooms or hallways.” Some aspects of this rule are justifiable. When there is prohibited furniture or flammable items that could prevent a speedy evacuation, directors should take action. But the policy also means that RAs are allowed to go into a resident’s room during a fire drill and write them up for any alcohol in possession. It is obviously not okay for underage students to have alcohol in their dorms since the possession of these materials are against housing policy, but fire evacuations are not the time to enforce this rule.
NYU has sought to create a safe and legal campus with respect to drinking. But even after implementing understandably strict rules and mandatory online tutorials, the school knows that some underage students will drink. It is therefore ridiculous that the university creates an environment where students, who may or may not have alcohol in their room, think they need to hide it before evacuating the building. Residents can hardly know if an alarm is signaling a real fire or just a drill, so people who do not want to be written up will spend valuable time hiding their alcohol even in the midst of a potentially life-threatening situation.
This means that it is unlikely for an RA to find some alcohol lying around and, if a potentially dangerous fire were to occur, students would likely be putting themselves in jeopardy to avoid getting written up. If the administration wants to be proactive about alcohol awareness, they should address it directly, not during a high-stakes evacuation.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, November 13th print edition. Email Jack Campbell at [email protected]