With New Student Leader interviews underway, the Student Programs and Leadership Development department’s code of ethics has once again been brought into question by students and staff alike.

According to the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards, “Representatives are not to engage or be in the presence of illegal activity, this includes but not limited to banned drugs, underage drinking, hazing, purchase of items for others to use for illegal activity, etc. Representatives who find themselves in situations where illegal activity is occurring are to either address the issue with the intent for the activity to cease or Representatives are to leave the environment immediately …”

The code of ethics mentioned above is supplemental to the one put forth in the Fairfield University Student Handbook, and is a one-year contract that “all student leaders within the Department of Student Programs and Leadership Development,” must abide by, on and off campus.

Last year, a petition started by former Co-Chair of New Student Programs Lorena Gullotta ‘14, challenged the clause within the former code of ethics that prohibited New Student Leaders from being in the presence of underage drinking.

Despite the petition, nothing has changed to the newly titled “SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards,” according to Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Programs and Leadership Development Kamala Kiem, M.A., M.Ed., who agreed to answer questions via email.

Kiem stated, “Although the specific policy in question was not altered, we considered significantly the feedback solicited as well as received voluntarily, surrounding the support that our student leaders need to uphold these standards.”

“Given the nature of our student leaders’ roles on campus (i.e. their tremendous influence and impact), we believe that they are called to a higher set of ethics and standards than the larger student body,” Kiem stated, in regards to the need for a supplemental contract.

Co-Chair of New Student Programs Eric Lynch ‘14, explained that given the merger of orientation leaders and first year mentors into the new NSL title, these students must be held accountable for the entire year, and not just during orientation. Other colleges, such as Creighton, Sacred Heart and Providence only require contract adherence during orientation, according to student leaders and administrators at those schools.

Many current and former NSL members at Fairfield have taken issue with the duration of the contract and how it follows students off campus.

“We signed that, one of the first meetings we had,” said former member of “Super Team 17” and current NSL member Kaley Nugent ‘16. “When we found out we were NSLs we signed that, that means the end of last year before we were even interacting with students, over the summer.”

Comparable universities, such as Fordham, Creighton, Sacred Heart and Providence hold their orientation leaders to similar standards, with less exhaustive or no contracts at all supplemental to their respective student handbooks.

Kiem stated, “ … we believe that in order to promote integrity and congruency of their values and actions, these standards should remain consistent on and off campus. How can their actions be considered authentic if they are only behaving ethically on campus?”

However, Director of Restorative Counseling Fr. Michael Doody, S.J. said he believes students are already expected to act in respectful representation of Fairfield, regardless of a secondary contract.

Though he believes the SPLD has a right to hold students to standards beyond the student handbook, he doesn’t understand why the SPLD Professional and Leadership standards are necessary. “I think the code of conduct in the student handbook should be adequate for everybody,” Doody said.

An “unfair” contract

Junior Ali Rogers is a current NSL member who made her decision to join based on her experience as a first-year-student.

“I think the transition into college is difficult for the majority of people, and mine was easier, so I wanted to help,” said Rogers, who will not be returning next year as an NSL.

However, Rogers and other NSL members said their decision to submit to the contract was not an easy one.

While none have disputed that laws should be upheld, many believe it is unreasonable to expect students to uphold this code of ethics at all times on and off campus.

Sophomore Adrian Perkowski, an NSL member who wishes to return or become a Resident Assistant, said he believes it is very difficult to never be in the presence of underage drinking.

“You can’t get away from it; it’s hard to get away from it in college,” said Perkowski.

Many NSLs oppose the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards because it complicates their private social life, leading some to call becoming an NSL member “social suicide.”

For Rogers, and many NSL members, the experience of working at orientation and mentoring first-year-students is what initially outweighed the contract which they oppose.

“It is definitely a sacrifice,” said Lynch, “but it is worth it.”

Perkowski agreed with Lynch, but said he believes the code of conduct creates a bad image and discourages students from applying for an NSL position.

A number of current and former NSL members have pointed to the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards for what they believe to be declining retention numbers among NSL members. According to Nugent, out of over 50 NSL members of the most recent team, only two are returning, a number consistently backed in interviews.

“We are still in the midst of our selection process and cannot comment on specific applicant data; however we would like to inform you that that number is inaccurate,” stated Kiem.

Current and former NSL members are not alone in their assumption.

“I think this sort of document, and the pressure put on student leaders could really diminish the kind of leadership we get,” said Doody.

Furthermore, students feel as if the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards have gone beyond assuring NSLs are role models for first-year-students, and has leaked into their personal lives.

“I was put on probation over the summer for Facebook pictures,” said Nugent, “I was put on probation for all of last semester.”

According to the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards, “Representatives shall promote professionalism, excellence, and integrity at all times, including but not limited to printed and online postings and interactions through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, etc.”

According to Dean of Students Karen Donoghue ‘03, the student handbook allows the university to take action when social media suggests they are in violation of conduct code.

“However, this only happens when incidents are brought to our attention, we do not monitor students’ social media sites,” said Donoghue, in regards to her office, which does not handle SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards violations.

Nugent and Rogers explained that when it comes to social media, evidence of a violation of the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards do not have to be explicit.

“Over the summer, what if I was at my brother’s graduation party,” said Nugent, “What if [alcohol is] just in the corner of the picture.”

Lynch explained minor violations are handled as such and that leadership in New Student Programs aims to aid NSLs with their struggles upholding the code of ethics, a position Kiem reiterated.

“Accountability varies from case to case. SPLD strives to be developmental through our accountability process,” stated Kiem.

However, Rogers and Nugent explained this uncertainty in the accountability processes is a stress on their social lives.

“Every single aspect of your life, when you sign that contract, is focused around being an NSL,” said Rogers, a sentiment other NSLs shared in interviews.

Creating conversation

The stress and inconvenience the SPLD Professional and Leadership Standards create has prompted many NSL members to speak out about their concerns about the code of ethics and the direction of the program.

“We’re open to conversation, we’ve always been open to conversation,” said Lynch.

Donoghue agreed and believes these conversations need to happen, but that she hasn’t heard any concerns since the petition from last year.

NSL members disagree and feel voicing concerns to leadership in New Student Programs is a “dead end.”

Lynch said students should always feel they are able to speak with leadership in New Student programs, as NSL members have done in the past.

“This code has changed from what it was to what it is today as a result of long conversations,” said Lynch.

Sophomore Lev Mocht-Greenberg, a not returning NSL, believes while that might have been the case in past years it is not currently as simple.

“If we felt like what we said mattered we would talk to them about it,” said Mocht-Greenberg.

“There is fear and so much pressure from them,” said Olivia Tourgee ‘16, a former member of “Super Team 17,” and a current but not returning NSL member. Sophomore Allison Kopp, another current, but not returning NSL agreed, adding, “they make us feel like children.”

Ultimately, NSLs have expressed through interviews their fear of an unfixable program in the coming years if New Student Programs continue on their current path, without making changes to this policy.

“At the end of the day it is a choice to be a NSL or a student leader within Student Programs and Leadership Development,” stated Kiem.

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