A Night with the CSOs
She was, by her own admission, “boring” in college; she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke cannabis or tobacco, and worked twenty hours a week to pay off loans. Her friends were always joking around that someday Christin Griesler, the girl who had come from a very conservative household in southeastern Alaska, would rebel.
She went to college to do Pre-Med, then ended up working in social services with children and people with disabilities. Now she works the graveyard shift of Community Safety at Reed, drinking a strong cup of coffee at 9 p.m. and concluding her shift at 7 a.m.. She locks up academic buildings, drives around campus, and responds to calls from her earpiece. On the front seat of the car she drives, the upholstery is punctured and a hunk of yellow foam protrudes.
When she first came to Reed, she never wanted to interact with students. She was uncomfortable with it, and so are a lot of CSOs — a surprising number of them are introverts, and interaction with students is always fraught with a power dynamic which is difficult to navigate. Then a senior Reedie told her that students wanted CSOs to interact. Now, she enjoys seeing students, laughing with them, building rapport, hearing about what they’re interested in and how they’re feeling. She finds them fascinating, and it’s one of the best parts of her job. But it’s a one-way street, Christin says; she has to be alright with being misunderstood, lied to, liable. The Quest asked her if there was ever a time she’d interacted with students in a way that she regretted or wanted to apologize for.
At one point, after a hard day personally, when she was in a weird frame of mind, she went out onto the Great Lawn to find people smoking weed. She was short with them, rude, and disrespectful. She gave out AODs and as she walked back from the picnic table where they’d been sitting, she thought to herself: FUCK. I shouldn’t have done that. She went to patrol an academic building, so she could take a breather and get into a better frame of mind.
There have been other times when she has acted in ways that she doesn’t believe were right,and wishes that she had done her job better. Christin says her work is not being done well if any students feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. She believes that the job has to be about recognizing when you screw up and has to be about constantly learning, centering the people she is here to serve and keep safe. She talks about these things while we drive, on a Friday night, in circles around the north parking lot. The issue that seems to bother her most is how or whether to apologize to students toward whom she feels she acted poorly.
The job is sometimes awkward for Christin because Reed is a place of work for her, while for the students she works with, it’s a home. She also sees herself in students; she’s older now, and can look back on her college years. The Quest asked her if there was any advice she would give to Reed students. “It’s not so dire,” she said, “and it’s okay to fail. You all are so brilliant, and you should remember that. It's hard because at Reed, the average goes up, and you're not the smartest kid at school anymore. You will be fine.”
She wants students to know that failure is not always “the end of the world.” In college, Christin had a really bad professor for Organic Chemistry, so she failed a test and then dropped the class. Her advisor told her she wasn’t smart enough, and that was why she dropped the class. Women weren’t accepted in STEM. She took the class again with a different professor and did well. Her advisor said passing was a fluke. But she’d succeeded, and after that, when she had her advisor’s class, she answered his questions in a contrary way but was always right. And he was pissy about it, but it was super funny.
As many students know, the CSOs are seeking to form a union. They are in a period of “crazy staffing issues,” lacking two full-time positions and three on-call positions. Although they are now actively hiring, often they don’t have enough people working a given shift. This impedes their ability to respond to events on campus, and makes officers feel unsafe. If there’s only one CSO on duty on a given night, there’s no backup for if something goes wrong or if someone they’re escorting off campus reacts violently. If two important calls about student safety were to happen at once, the single CSO would not be able to attend to both.
Thursday morning, April 18, two CSOs called in sick. For a while there was only one CSO at Reed, Christin, who stayed overtime after her 9:00 p.m.–7:00 a.m. shift, functioning as both dispatcher and CSO. The doors of 28 West were locked, a sign put up, and the community safety office closed. Were something to have happened — an accident, a medical emergency — nobody would’ve been around to respond. This led Dashiell Harrison, a CSO and a Reed alum, to post on Facebook that he was “truly disturbed with what this department has become.”
“A lot of us have been in management,” one CSO told me, “we know what that’s like, and how to do it well. We look at Community Safety and we see it not being done well.”
These staffing concerns are at the heart of the CSO unionization effort, but so is a question of values. In its letter to Mike Brody, the CSO union wrote that “Reed is not living up to [its] ideals with respect to CSOs and the community safety department.” A school that claims student safety as a core value jeopardizes it by understaffing its Community Safety Office. A school which vaunts its unofficial motto, “Communism, Atheism, and Free Love,” according to a CSO, “fails to pay some of its employees a living wage” and overcharges its students for food.
The CSOs also are not given an official training module on bias, gender, or race, although they have occasionally been instructed on these matters by faculty and talk about them amongst themselves. Christin had to lead and advocate for a training module on verbal de-escalation. The CSOs are told to use the right pronouns for students and which keys go to which doors in Eliot or Vollum, but that’s about it. Their official training consists of shadowing current CSOs, sitting through some classes, and learning how to write up AODs.
“AODs are always awkward,” Cynthia Begg told me, over a cup of coffee at 28 West. “Usually, we’re as nervous as you are, shaking as we write them down,” she said, miming the writing of an AOD. “Christin’s good at it. She can have an AOD interaction with a group of students where everybody walks away laughing.”
An AOD can only be given, however, if a student has a “distributable” amount of alcohol (that is, a bottle of wine or three or four beers) or if a student makes a “furtive movement.” The CSOs also no longer confiscate pipes or bongs, but do confiscate weed. According to CSOs, the purpose of AODs is to have a system in place to track anyone who might be abusing alcohol and other drugs on campus, not to punish them, because a decade ago the federal government was thinking about prosecuting Reed with a law generally used to shut down crack houses, so the administration had to do something.
Outside Vollum, Christin finds one can of unopened Rolling Rock. She pops it open, and laughing to herself, pours it out into the plants nearby. “We have to pour out all alcohol,” she says, “one time I confiscated a bottle of spiced rum from some Clarkies. It was so funny. They said I should keep it as a personal gift because it was really good and expensive and they hated seeing it poured out. But I had to pour it out because it would be inappropriate and wrong for us to benefit from enforcing policies.”
She then searched for a recycling bin for the empty beer can. It took a few minutes. There was one inside Vollum, but she was unsure if it was a recycling bin just for paper or for cans too. After deliberating a bit, she tossed it in.
“Aren’t they supposed to have accessible recycling bins around buildings like this?” I asked, “to save the environment and stuff?”
“I guess Reed should,” she said. “I don’t know, though.”
Like this potential lack of recycling bins, 28 West is lacking staff for five positions. In light of this understaffing and other concerns, CSOs are continuing their effort to unionize.