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ResLife clarifies policy on RPL-resident relationships

RPL Code of Ethics clarifies that RPLs can be relocated for violating relationship policy

By
Contributing Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Office of Residential Life clarified its policy about relationships between Residential Peer Leaders and their residents this year, explicitly stating that any RPL in a “romantic relationship” with a resident under their responsibility could be “relocated elsewhere on campus,” according to the 2017-18 Residential Peer Leader Code of Ethics, which was obtained by The Herald.

In comparison, the 2016-17 Code of Ethics instructed RPLs to “not pursue, develop or engage in any inappropriate emotional and/or physical relationship with residents,” though it did not outline any clear consequences of relationships with their residents.

The policy prohibiting relationships between RPLs and their residents is “not new,” but ResLife has been updating documentation and processes “to provide transparency to both students and student staff,” wrote Kate Tompkins, associate director of ResLife, in an email to The Herald. “The update to the RPL Code of Ethics occurred with the last hiring cycle which occurred in spring 2017,” she wrote. Tompkins declined to comment further because ResLife “looking at all of (its) policies” and is undergoing a program review, which will be finalized in the spring.

Policies regarding relationships between students employed in dorms and their residents vary by university. At Penn, resident advisors may not engage in any “sexual or exploitive” relationship with a resident on their hall, and they can be investigated by the university for doing so, according to the resident advisor contract. At Northwestern University, a residential assistant can be fired for dating a resident, according to North by Northwestern.

According to three RPLs who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak to the media as RPLs, the policy change came after an RPL dated their first-year resident last fall.

While ResLife relocated this RPL, incidents like this are not always reported or addressed, the RPLs said.

“It’s just a weird balance of power, having this person — who’s your (RPL) — date (you),” one RPL said. “If you’re a freshman, you’re very vulnerable.”

RPLs undergo training before the start of the fall semester, but they do not spend much time discussing rules regarding relationships with residents, according to the three RPLs.

“Not one of our (hour-long training) sessions is dedicated just to ResLife policy,” said another RPL, adding that when discussing the policy amongst coworkers, many RPLs were unaware of the existence of the RPL Code of Ethics.