It was a cold night, last semester. Leaving the parking deck, I could see red and blue lights flashing at Walton dorm. Being a parasitic scum of society, I decided to investigate. The reporter in me said this was breaking news, and that meant an easy $8 for a story.
A young black man was being put into a car by the UA’s finest and there were several students standing around looking worried, alert and cold. Addressing them respectfully, I inquired about what was causing such a mess. “I can’t tell you,” said one of the girls. After several failed attempts at questions, I asked for her name. “I can’t tell you,” she said.
When one policeman remained and the students were back inside, I approached the gentleman in the same decent manner. He told me that there was nothing wrong and that there was nothing to report.
Was I in some cleaned up version of segregated Mississippi?
It’s unlikely that fellow did anything worth noting and is probably still alive. But we will never know whether he met a fate similar to Hurricane Carter or Rodney King because UA housing allows little to no access to information about what’s going on there.
Much of what happens on campus goes through Housing in some form or fashion. Randy Alexander, Director of Housing has made it his policy not to allow the numerous RAs to talk about any issue that comes up. Alexander said it is wrong of RAs to be quoted as such, because it could appear as though it is what housing officially says.
OK. Fair game. That was the reason Lucifer created PR men and spokeswomen. But this doesn’t explain why three people I talked to were afraid to say anything about issues that related to housing, despite false promises of gold, jewels and, most importantly, anonymity.
One issue dealt with the new funding program that Housing put in place to distribute student fees, called H.I.S.S. There were questions as to how the money was being distributed amongst RAs and students who had expressed interest in creating specific dorm programs.
These very simple questions about how students could utilize their own fees could not be sufficiently answered because most of those people who apply for the money are RAs.
Vexed with not being able to produce a story – which requires facts and quotable opinions from a variety of sources – and collect my $8 check, I approached Alexander again and asked if any RA was able to speak. He said that students simply can’t act as representatives of housing but that they aren’t told not to say anything.
He seemed almost taken aback when it was insinuated that perhaps RAs weren’t speaking out of mortal fear that they would be branded with a hot iron or, worse, reprimanded and fired.
Despite many attempts to get RAs to talk, as students expressing a personal opinion and not as RA’s talking as spokesman for Housing, no one would budge. Informing students that their own student fees might possibly be stringently held by housing isn’t going to make news in this paper.
The list of stories and information that The Traveler can’t cover because the no-talking policy goes on. We could not report parts of April Love’s story and frequently can’t report on alcohol, underage drinking and pot in the dorms.
One of two things needs to happen. Housing must adjust its no talking policy and clear up any ideas that they encourage Nazi-like tactics that keep RA’s from talking to the press. Or, RAs and other people who feel that they are being silenced on issues that effect them need to step up and speak up.
Tomorrow, forget about a single act of kindness and try for a single act of civil disobedience. Without it, we may not know where all the H.I.S.S. money is going, how many students regularly vomit in the dorms, or if Joe Blow was taken to the local precinct and beaten like an ugly step child.
Jeff Winkler is a journalism sophomore.
[Original version available here]