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Campus drug culture: The role of Res. Hall staff

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on drugs on campus.

Every pair of jeans is gone through. Every DVD is opened. Closets are searched. Sockets are removed from the walls and examined. Every inch is checked and double-checked.

This isn’t a police action. This is a dorm room drug search, performed by Residence Hall staff.

“It’s very effective,” said Executive Director of Residential Living and Leadership Nathan Thomas said. “In some analysis we’ve done, of talking to staff and observing what they do, we see that they know what they have to do. They understand the program. The program is efficient.”

Resident advisors and assistant  resident advisors go through days of training to be able to identify drugs and paraphernalia that comes in and out of university housing, being able to identify by smell as well as other tell tale hints. Naturally, marijuana is the most likely substance to be caught.

“Marijuana is the number one thing we find,” said junior studio art major Damon Taylor, a four semester RA who has been involved in around 15 drug searches. “It’s really the only one we can identify easily.”

Once resident hall staff gets into a room, it’s a whole other story.

There, other substances can be identified, although Taylor said that most of the time all that is found marijuana and prescription drugs that are being used recreationally.

The searches, which can last anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours, go through everything in the dorm room, with two members of staff splitting up and then rechecking the other’s progress. It’s a demanding process that can weigh heavily both on the student as well as the staff.

“Personally, I feel like it can be really awkward to go through some people’s possessions,” Taylor said. “It’s really an inconvenient thing for the people being searched. It’s a very demanding thing for three hours, both mentally and physically. You’re picking up and moving things and going through everything.”

Residential living has done everything it can to streamline the process and make it easier for RAs as well as residents. Messages to Residence Hall staff for the searches go out faster and to more people, searches are more efficient and the training staff goes through is more all encompassing and smoother.

That being said, there are always things that training doesn’t cover. Often, residence hall staff will be involved in a room search with people that may not be Bradley students in the room. Suddenly, whole new lists of variables are added to the equation.

“It is always in the back of my mind,” Taylor said. “There’s an element of the unpredictable in that most people are pretty docile when they’re on marijuana.

They want to get it over with, get their ticket and move on. Some people do take offense though. It’s not uncommon that we go into a room and find weapons. It’s a serious offense.”

The answer to this seems to be having a police presence there, but much of the time, there isn’t one. Bradley Police are alerted at the start of every drug search and they are called if there is someone in a room that is not a Bradley student, but for the most part, the staff walks into a room without protection.

“The biggest problem with the system is not what the students are doing, but it’s doing it without police presence,” said Ben Elkind, a junior advertising major and RA member of two semesters. “It’s kind of scary to barge into a room where people are doing something illegal, even when there are other people there to back you up.”

The general belief is that Bradley Police isn’t involved to preserve the balance between residents and the res hall staff.

“I think the police may be kept out of it to make it easier on the people involved,” Elkind said. “I think it also has to do with resources. It’s hard to expect them to cover all of the searches.”

With regular searches in the dorms and hearing about even more, members of residence hall staff couldn’t deny the existence of a drug culture on campus.

“Undoubtedly,” Taylor said. “The people who do it are going to be doing it throughout their time here. It’s part of the college experience. We’re more aware of it just because we’re going to understand it. I don’t think it’s been any different in the past or in different schools.”

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