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UI lags in RAs’ IDs

BY DANNY VALENTINE | NOVEMBER 30, 2009 7:20 AM

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UI freshman Betsy Bates said she was really scared when two men knocked at her Burge Hall door around midnight one recent Friday.

Outside through the peep hole she saw two college-age people: One wore a T-shirt and basketball shorts, and the other wore a hoody and jeans. They said they were resident assistants coming to investigate a complaint. Against her better judgment, Bates said she opened the door.

“One of them asked, ‘Is your roommate asleep?’ That’s when I started thinking maybe these aren’t RAs,” Bates said. “Something could have gone terribly wrong.”

Though she later found out that the two men were indeed who they claimed to be, the UI does not provide IDs for its RAs, said Greg Thompson, the manager of Residence Life operations.

Many of the UI’s 10 peer institutions require RAs to carry identification when on duty or have identification available, according to a Daily Iowan survey of the schools.

Thompson said officials try to ensure that UI residents know who the RAs are through posters and fliers with their names and faces.

When RAs check on a dorm room, which is typically done in pairs for safety and legal reasons, they follow a set procedure: Knock, announce themselves, and ask if it is OK to enter the room to do a check, Thompson said. Traditionally, RAs say why they are there, but it’s not required.

Students do not have to let RAs into their rooms, he said.

He said he hears complaints similar to Bates’ once or twice a year and noted that some dorms have created temporary IDs in the past.

While on duty, all RAs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are required to wear a picture ID badge, which says their name, department affiliation, and the name of the school, said Kay Reuter-Krohn, the associate director of housing.

“It’s really done from the standpoint of trying to create a safe environment,” she said. “Students shouldn’t have to ask.”

In addition to Wisconsin, RAs at Ohio State University, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, the University of Texas-Austin, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities are required or expected to carry housing-specific IDs while on duty. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has ID cards but doesn’t require employees to carry them around.

Ohio State University’s RA magnetic name badges — engraved with University Housing and the name of the school in addition to their names — cost $4.45 a piece, said Barb Kefalas, the associate director for Residential Life.

The University of Michigan and the University of Arizona don’t require RAs to carry specific identification.

Aside from identification, the cards allow students to feel comfortable that a person is capable and trained to deal with any issues that should arise, said Gloria Allen, interim associate director for Residential Life at the University of Texas.

“It would make me feel comfortable that this person actually is a person of the university,” she said.
Most universities, including the UI, use myriad protection measures to ensure student safety, including video surveillance and locked front doors with card access.

Thompson said card access, which is only available in West Side dorms and Mayflower, will be added to all dorms in the next two years.

Susan Bates, Betsy Bates’ mother, said she was initially upset with her daughter for not asking for identification and then upset that there was none available.

“I think in this world, it could be male or female, someone could unfortunately harm the individual living in the room,” she said.


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