Anyone who knows me understands how appreciative I am of a good laugh. My experience in the field of higher education has been limited to that including residence life, primarily, which has served as a veritable wealth of situations warranting a good laugh at the expense of others. Living in a residence hall, at 27 years old, with 250 of my favorite 18 year olds… you know you’re gonna laugh. Or cry. Depending on what you consider “fun.”
In recent months, I’ve taken up some hours working in the office of student conduct, hearing student cases to determine individual responsibility and appropriate sanctions. Granted, the educational aspect and developmental opportunities are rewarding… but… I’m really in it for the stories. Students, in general, have magnificently concocted tales and excuses to justify behavioral infractions. So phenomenal are these stories, that I can’t help but share.
Let’s recap a few of this semester’s gems. Early in the academic year, I was scheduled to meet with a young male student who’d been found by the police to be trespassing in a construction area while illegally transporting alcohol as a minor. The police had chased him down (he ran… of course), and when they caught up to him, they confiscated a can of beer from his pocket. Rather than to summons this student to court, the police officers decided that it would be in the best educational interest of the student to be referred instead to our conduct office. You’d assume that by the time this had reached the office of student conduct, given the previous interaction with police, that the student in question would be somewhat humbled and indebted to the university for bypassing the state penal code… but no. The script went something like this:
Me: So, you’re here because of an incident from last weekend. Can you tell me your “side” of the story?
Student: Yeah. Well. I was kind of set up… I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I got in trouble.
Me: In this police report, it states that you were trespassing in a well-marked restricted area, in possession of alcohol as a minor, and that you ran from the police after they identified themselves.
Student: Yeah, but that’s the thing. Nobody asked why I was there, or why I had the beer, or why I ran away.
Me: Ok, why?
Student: So, I was supposed to meet some friends in between the two buildings. We didn’t know there was construction, and when I got there, I couldn’t see them. So, I thought maybe they hadn’t seen the hazard sign and had climbed over the fence to go in. See, I knew that was dangerous because it was marked “DANGER: DO NOT ENTER” and I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. So I went in the construction site, but just to look for my friends and tell them that they shouldn’t be in there. And then the cops came.
Me: And why did you run away from the police?
Student: Well, I didn’t know it was them.
Me: They didn’t identify themselves by stating (reading from report), “Stop. University Police. Stop.”?
Student: I think they did say that, but I couldn’t hear because I was covering my ears.
Me: Covering your ears?
Student: I was cold.
Me: Ok, so when the police finally caught up to you, they found a beer in your pocket. Can you tell me about that?
Student: Sure. The reason I had the beer in my pocket was because on my way down to the construction site –
Me: (interrupting) To make sure that your friends were alright in the event that they hadn’t seen the big red DANGER sign…
Student: -- yeah – so on my way down I saw a beer can on the ground. And it was full.
Me: So you picked up some trash you found and put it in your pocket?
Student: Yup. Because I figured I could just recycle it when I got back to my dorm. In the recycling room… Because we’re a green campus… and we recycle.
Me: Good. Good. You’re right, we do like the recycling. So, let me get this all right… While going to meet your friends, you encountered some litter on the ground, and decided to pick it up – for the general good of the campus – and then when you got to where you were to meet your friends, you noted imminent danger and, while trying to locate and warn your friends of said danger were attacked by the police, who you hadn’t noticed chasing and yelling at you because you were cold and covering your ears? Is that right?
Student: Yes. And I also want to say that it wasn’t the policeman’s fault that he had to chase me. I wasn’t dressed appropriately and I was running to stay warm.
Me: Duly noted…
So, there’s a fantastic example of a student interaction during a conduct meeting. Usually the excuses involve some sort of alcohol case… “No, I wasn’t drinking… people were drinking around me and they probably breathed a lot on me,” “Wait, even on campus you can’t drink until you’re 21?” or “I didn’t know it had alcohol in it.” Right.
Very recently, however, I encountered the excuse of all excuses: The Holy Grail of student conduct meetings. I was privy to the self-incriminating “I’m a dumbass and I don’t even know it” excuse.
To set up the story, a colleague and I were to hear a case involving five students suspected to have been smoking marijuana in a residence hall. The RA had smelled what she believed to be marijuana, and had called the police. As the police arrived, they similarly smelled something “burnt,” however also noted that the odor had been covered partially by a spray fragrance of some sort.
The students, during our hearing, were relatively compliant. However, when it was mentioned that the police reported that the odor of marijuana had been covered up with some nature of spray, one of the students decided to take the initiative to explain what exactly had been going on.
He explained that, no, there was no marijuana being smoked in or around the residence hall, so that’s not what they were smelling. And no, of course they didn’t try to cover the smell of weed with perfume. “Actually,” he stated, “ It was AXE deodorant spray, and I wasn’t using it to cover the smell of weed. I spray it on my testicles and then light it on fire to remove pubic hair. I do this all the time. It works.”
Now. As a woman, I frequently have a hard time understanding the general “why” behind most male actions. This particular situation was no exception. I was really struggling at this point. Trying to remain professional (and to appear somewhat developmental and “disappointed” in nature) involved me looking directly at the table. At this point, I couldn’t even look at this fool. Eyebrow positioning wasn’t even an option, because eye contact would likely result in hysterical laughter and/or some sort of physical “wrap upside the head.” Fortunately, my colleague, a very patient and professional man, interjected with “If you want to keep those things, you know, you can’t set them on fire.”
Originally, we had brought charges against the students only alleging potential alcohol and marijuana use. What to do now? Should we tag on an additional charge involving “fire safety,” “self-endangerment,” or “behavior which poses a significant risk to the self or others?” The allegation letter would read something like,
It is alleged that on a certain date, at a certain time, you were found by residence life professionals and paraprofessionals to have ignited your testicles for purposes of hair removal, you dumb fuck. If found responsible, the maximum sanction is suspension from the university, and possible suspension from independent living, if I have anything to say about it.
You are scheduled to have a meeting with conduct officers on a certain date and time, at which point, we will subtly mock you until you leave the room, when we will really let loose. Failure to participate in this meeting could result in a finding of responsibility in your absence, which I might recommend so that you don’t actually or formally have to admit to being so colossally challenged by the nuances of day-to-day life. Please do not hesitate to contact this office in the event of questions of concerns, as I’m sure you’ll have a hard time digesting this information because it’s not etched in pictograms on the inside of your cave.
Sincerely, I’m making fun of you right now,
Why (oh, why) can’t there be a charge of blatant and inexcusable stupidity?