Norwich’s new rook cell phone policy: A bad call?

Two rooks use their cell phones in their barracks on the UP.

Despite backlash from upperclassmen, the rook cell phone policy has been changed for the class of 2021, starting with the beginning of classes this fall.

The changes were announced in a letter released on Aug. 16, 2017. “It was matter of when, not if,” said Cadet Colonel Timothy Weinhold, 21, a senior criminal justice major from Concord, N.H. and the top Cadet in the Corps.

The policy letter identified rules on “cell phone usage and restrictions,” explaining that rooks are now authorized to have their phones in their possession, but are prohibited to use their cell phones, unless they have a commandant’s permission or the phone is required for their academics.

In past years, rooks were not allowed to have their cellphones except for a ten minute phone call on Sunday. They were awarded the privilege of having their phones per the regimental commanders orders.

According to Weinhold, the new Commandant of Cadets Colonel Michael S. Titus did not come up with the change in cell phone policy. “Col. Titus walked in and the policy letter was on his desk,” said Weinhold, explaining that this new policy was one of the “final pushes” from Colonel Russell Holden, former Commandant of Cadets. He said the idea of changing rook’s cell phone use “has been in discussion since last year.”

The “liability and safety of rooks” was the biggest concern that pushed the policy to begin the start of the academic year, because rooks “no longer have direct communication and 24/7 supervision from their cadre” like they had during Rook Week, Weinhold said. The RAVE system uses calls and text to notify students if, or where, an emergency happens and “it is the only way for the rooks would know if something bad is happening on campus.”

Connor Guzda, 20, a junior communications major from New Fairfield, Conn. and a member of the cadre, concurred with Weinhold’s statement. “From what I know, it (the policy) was put in place mainly for the RAVE emergency system.”

 

Guzda is cadre for a rook platoon but is not necessarily a fan of the new policy or the need for it. “Cell phones are not a necessity for getting in contact with rooks,” Guzda said. “I am always in contact with my rooks via email. They know to check their emails continuously during the day for important changes or information.”

Sonja Jordan, 20, a junior communications major from Enterprise, Ala., who also is cadre, agreed with Guzda. “Last year when they tested the system, everyone on campus heard the siren and received multiple tester emails along with phone calls and several texts,” Jordan said.

“If some emergency were to happen,” Jordan explained, “with curfews rooks have, the small campus and the great number of upperclassmen, no rook will be alone on this campus and they are bound to be near someone with a phone that will tell them what is going on.”

According to one of Jordan’s superiors during her NCO academy training, the second reason why this new policy arose is due to West Point’s cell phone practice and how “it is ridiculous that we are the only ones (military university) that takes away phones.”

“It is true that we have our phones, but we received them after our six-week training before the academic year,” said Donovan Velez, 19, a West Point plebe interviewed on the rules at the Army Military Academy. “Overall, we have unlimited access to our phones, but we are restricted to use it during academic classes, training and certain cadet areas. Which to my knowledge, plebes have always been able to do.”

When asked whether that had any influence, Weinhold said, “I don’t think it is because of West Point nor I think we change because of what other people are doing.”

“I knew that this new policy would have its pros and cons, but I do not think it is a big deal and affects rook Norwich tradition,” Weinhold said. “Twenty years ago, laptops affected the rook tradition and now we do not think twice about them, and in five years the same will probably happen with cell phones.”

For cadre, the main issue is getting rooks to follow the new rules. Although the Rook Cell Phone Policy letter states that rooks are not authorized phone use during all training events and during academic classes, rooks have been “taking advantage” of having their phones, according to Guzda and Jordan.

“This policy has made it hard for cadre to give quality (rook) training” Jordan said. “I know that my rooks are most likely losing sleep because they stay up on their phones, and not focusing on academics and during rook training, like STT, because they are thinking about what’s popping up on their phones.”

“As cadre, I have seen a drop in discipline within this rook class,” Guzda said. “If this rook class continues to lack discipline, when they are cadre they will badly influence the new rooks and create a cycle of poor discipline for the years to come.”

Rooks are neglecting the “integrity” that cadre are taught to “instill in them” and are using their phones secretly, Guzda said. “During the first week of academics, I caught three rooks using social media on their phones and had to give them Class Ones (disciplinary action forms).”

Having their phones has opened the door for more harassment, bullying and a fair number of frat cases (inappropriate rook and upperclassmen relationships). Jordan said. “I have heard several stories about rooks posting inappropriate photos and talking to upperclassmen.”

Jordan explained that previously, rooks only had “rookie email chains,” as commenting tools, but now rooks have multitude of social media platforms to harass and bully one another. “I can’t go through a rook’s phone, not that I personally want to,” Jordan said, “but if they were harassing someone or talking to some upperclassman inappropriately, I would not know.”

Jordan said there is a larger issue at play. “If it wasn’t for my phone being taken away from me as a rook, I would not have earned my 3.0 GPA freshmen year,” Jordan said. “I would not know how to disconnect myself now, as a junior, to do my work.”

After going through similar rookdom experience, “phones can be a distraction, but only if you let them. It is on you to manage your priorities. So, if you allow yourself to have your social media take priority over your academics, that is your mistake,” argued Velez, the West Point student.

“There are hundreds of college students who have their phones and are academically successful,” Weinhold added. “So, I don’t think this new policy will hinder their academics.”

“It will be interesting to compare last year’s rook class GPA to this year’s.” Weinhold said.

But when reflecting on previous rookdoms and comparing them to this year’s, “I am seeing that it is harder for rooks to overcome homesickness now and they are not branching out as much.” Jordan said.

“If I had my cell phone as a rook, I would probably never have developed my relationships with my rook siblings and fellow rook buddies.” Jordan said.

“Being disconnected pushes rooks on to focus on academics, training, athletics and building relationship with those around you while making it easier for the rooks to adapt to their new lifestyle and environment,” argued Jordan. “If it were up to me, I would only allow rooks to use their phones for the ten-minute Sunday phone calls.”

In her view, the changes removed the “meaningfulness of the Sunday phone call” and the “motivation” that she got by that call, as a rook, is “nonexistent” now. Guzda agreed.

With rooks authorized to possess their phones at designated times and some “taking advantage” of the policy, “It is less challenging for rooks now. They now no longer have to earn the privilege, like my rook class did,” Guzda said.

“I know it (the new policy) may not sit well with the cadre,” Weinhold said and “I understand the mentality, but this change was going to come eventually.”

“For me personally, rooks having their phones doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies and I would love to disconnect the rooks from the outside world to focus solely on rookdom, to build them from the ground up,” Weinhold said. “But it is impossible to do that in today’s environment, because even their laptops by itself exposes them too much and keeps them connected outside of rookdom.”

Comments

  1. Cristy May says:

    I totally agree that it has been a mistake to give the Rooks their phones. My son is a rook and as much as i like the fact that i am in contact with him that also means he is in contact with his friends and girlfriend back home. I had resigned myself (and he too) that he would not have his phone until February. I feel he would have been more focused on his academics if he didn’t have it.

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