Last Friday, I received the following e-mail written by a former RA at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. While I have had to redact certain portions to protect the writer’s identity, it speaks for itself:
I am frustrated by the university’s claim that [the Bible study ban] has been a “long-standing policy.” I was an RA for two years in [redacted]. During my first year, the hall director at the time did not explain this policy during training. There was no mention, as far as I can recall, of any restrictions on Bible studies in the dorms. During this year, we held Bible study once or twice in my room, as an RA, and I didn’t even think twice of it—as it wasn’t an issue. However, my second year as an RA we had a new hall director, [redacted]. During training, she clearly stated that we, as RAs, were not allowed to have Bible studies in our rooms, for exactly the reasons the university is claiming now. I remember feeling frustrated by this, as it had never been a restriction before. Furthermore, it seemed as if we were the one dorm in which this “policy” was being placed; as such, it was NOT a universal policy among the dorms. I asked for an explanation of the policy, which she very willingly gave, but did not express my thoughts at the time. Honestly, I just figured that I would have a Bible study in my room anyway, if need be, as I disagreed with the legality of the issue. We never ended up needing to use my space for the study.
I am an active member of [redacted], as well as the campus group, [redacted], and have been attending or leading Bible studies for the past four years. During my second year as an RA, I very much disagreed with the restriction placed upon us. I spoke with a member of my church about the issue, and she urged me to report it to some higher authority, as it clearly limited our constitutional rights. Unfortunately, at the time, I did not pursue the issue further (although I regret not doing so). However, I decided to step down from the position after that year. Although I felt burnt out from the job and may have considered stepping down regardless of this issue, the Bible study ban certainly set my decision in stone to not be an RA the following semesters. However, to my regret now, I did not formally explain my reasoning (i.e., the Bible study ban) for stepping down from the position to the hall director at the time.
Although I can somewhat understand the university’s position on this issue regarding RA rooms being “work space,” I disagree immensely. As an RA, that room is also living space. Obviously it’s a complicated issue, but being an RA does not mean you sign your life away—including your beliefs and stances on issues or religion. I feel that this is what the university is proposing that RAs should be expected to do. Granted, with the RA position you are in a sense “on duty” around the clock. You are expected to be a role model in any situation on or off campus. However, I don’t believe that any job should have the legal right to limit individuals’ ability to express themselves or their beliefs in their living environment. Although the university makes the amends that they are not limiting students’ ability to express their beliefs outside of the dorm, what fails to be recognized is that a person spends a great proportion of time in [his or her] living space; as such, in my opinion, this “ability” to freely practice religion only outside of the RA’s room or dorm is no freedom at all, but instead a gross limitation.