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Columbia Spectator Staff

How to begin this column? Dedicated as I am to bringing prevalent but underreported undercurrents of Columbia life to light, it follows that I must begin with something truly outrageous. Naturally I turn to the source of the most scandalous, ubiquitous, and Orwellian rumors on campus—one of the most active and misunderstood actors in the Columbian underworld. Of course, I turn to ResLife. The stories begin around the fall of 2007—not long into the career of Assistant Dean of Community Development and Residential Programs Cristen Kromm.  The last year has seen an upswing on drug and alcohol discipline, and many attribute this to tougher ResLife enforcement. Rumors have been circulating that RAs have been given citation quotas, that the University is purchasing ID scanners, that ResLife is patrolling Facebook to locate parties to raid. ResLife denies the claims, but never offers any reason for the immediate myths or their roots. ResLife becomes the boogeyman, and the myth of the "War on Fun" is born. After several years of student discontent and inquiry met with radio silence from ResLife, Columbians now expect ResLife to move in mysterious ways. And they know that there is a sinister reason for it. Case in point, on Jan. 28, 2009, Kromm co-issued an e-mail casually informing students that the University maintains the right to randomly search rooms and will exercise this right during pre-scheduled fire drills. Ostensibly, this is a new measure to ensure that students evacuate the buildings efficiently. If the housing contract allows for searches already, though, why take the time to announce it? On Jan. 29, 2009, a resident of the LLC reported evacuating for a fire drill to which no firemen responded. Students grumbled and assumed that this message was merely the smokescreen for contraband raids. ResLife denied this charge, but offered no alternative explanation for their timing. Certainly there are explanations. Perhaps this is just a test of the equipment and the University has alerted the station ahead of time, or something of that sort. But having allowed this myth and so many before it to persist unchallenged, ResLife reinforces its position as a boogeyman and in a factual vacuum, myth takes root and becomes unofficial, underground history. Of course, Kromm should not be expected to respond to such petty rumors herself. That should be the duty of her well-trained student task force—the RAs—versed as they are in policy and its rationale. And if need be, on tricky issues, she can convey her position clearly though her regular meetings with CCSC representatives. So why do the rumors persist? Probably because Kromm and company pulled equally suspect maneuvers with their supposed allies, alienating RAs and CCSC representatives alike and giving them, too, reason to believe the worst. On Dec. 19, 2007, after the application deadline for new RAs and two days before the reapplication deadline for returnees, Kromm altered the duties of RAs without their input. Many RAs demanded an explanation for this action, specifically the timing, but Kromm remained largely silent. A number of senior RAs defected, suspecting Kromm to varying degrees (my favorite indicator is this Bwog comment from Nov. 23, 2008: "The Krommodor needs to be axed. Love, Former RA"). Similarly, over at least three meetings between Kromm and CCSC between March and April 2009, Kromm sidestepped questions for clarification on alcohol and quiet hours policies—specifically the new policy to report all incidents, even, as one anonymous RA informed me, noise violations where the offender willingly turns down the volume. CCSC representatives voiced fears that this would lead to unnecessary follow-ups, but their fears went unaddressed, leading Adil Ahmad, then CCSC VP for policy, to state that he felt Kromm was ignoring student concerns. By this point, Kromm and ResLife had effectively isolated themselves from almost all students. The Krommodor and ResLife boogeyman mythos persisted and deepened into distrust and firm belief in a fascist "War on Fun." By now, ResLife spends an undue amount of time running from this label. Kromm and her cohorts are notorious for skirting substantive issues and denying requests for interviews. And it is this secrecy, this constant and unnecessary refusal to connect openly and honestly with their charges, that transforms ResLife into a scapegoat, a sinister cabal, a shadowy organization. The Kromm approach to leadership has proven ineffective and harmful to faculty-student relations. ResLife should not show up on my list of shadow organizations. And hence my true motive in writing this as my first article: Dean Kromm, I am formally calling you out. If you value student cooperation and opinion one iota, grant one of us one candid interview. Give us just this one candid interview to dispel the rumors that grip the campus, to end this "War on Fun," and perhaps, if you're very honest, to put ResLife back on the right side of the shadows of misunderstanding. Mark Hay is a Columbia College sophomore. Unusual, Unseemly, or Unnoticed runs alternate Mondays.

War on Fun Unusual Unseemly or Unnoticed Residential Life