Signed by all students living on campus:
“The student hereby expressly agrees that authorized individuals of the University or Residential Life staff shall have access to the room covered by this Agreement in order to conduct health and safety inspections, check for maintenance required, damage to the room or furnishings, janitorial and maintenance service, or compliance with University rules and regulations, and when otherwise appropriate, in the reasonable judgment of a University staff member.”
Students can expect the staff to utilize these guidelines as follows:
At times, staff members will knock on a door because there is too much noise, occupants are loudly encouraging others to drink, or if there is a smell of alcohol or drugs out in the hallway. A room resident should answer the door and step into the hallway to speak with the staff member. If the staff member has clear reason to believe a violation is occurring, he or she may ask to enter the room.
Resident Assistants (RAs), Resident Mentors (RMs), and Hall Managers (HMs) have authority to access a student room using a master key, but they will rarely do so. They are instructed to knock and if they are denied access, call University Police. Generally, University Police will contact the on-call Residential Life Coordinator who would be the likely person to access the room.
For the safety of the staff and to handle incidents equitably, staff members are instructed to ensure that all people in the suite are located and identified. As such, staff members may look in walk-in closets, bathrooms, on balconies, and in suitemate rooms if necessary.
In the event that University Police enters a room (usually because of large amounts of alcohol or suspected drug use – often from the alleged odor of marijuana), their priority is to secure the room. That is, they will identify and question people who are present, ascertain potential health and safety risks (such as disarming a student with a weapon), note any material in plain view that may violate policy or laws, and secure any questionable property (to ensure evidence is not being destroyed). If the officers present feel that there is additional property in the room that violates policies or laws, they will contact the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students for a written authorization.
University staff members (most often University Police) with written authorization to search a room will use their training guidelines to search the premises. These guidelines are consistent with typical police procedures. Student Residential Life staff will never be permitted to search rooms. This includes, but is not limited, to opening drawers, cabinets, or coolers, looking underneath beds (unless items are plainly visible), or going through student private property or University property used for storage.
Leaving alcohol, drugs, or weapons in a room after occupants have been approached would result in an incomplete intervention. Staff members are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that all items in violation are removed from the premises in order to avoid continuing violation.
All University staff members who are investigating a possible alcohol violation are trained to ask residents to open the room refrigerator to ensure that no alcohol remains behind. Students may refuse this request, but can expect that the Conduct Board will ask about that refusal. Refusal to open the refrigerator does not result in an assumption that there was alcohol in the refrigerator.
Staff members are required to witness the students dump their own alcohol or to have it confiscated by University Police, who will dispose of the alcohol in a less tense setting. Other confiscated items may become evidence, but all confiscated items are considered property of University Police and will be disposed of properly.
Staff members who see room doors that are ajar may knock and ask if the occupants of the room are okay. If no one answers, the staff member may pull the door closed to make it less of a target for theft. Generally, staff members are not authorized to enter rooms in this condition unless foul play is suspected. Staff members will not routinely check closed doors to ensure they are locked.
Staff members are not authorized to search student property unless there is a reason to suspect a violation. A student with a bag that contains items in the shape of twelve packs, for example, may be carrying soda and should not be subject to questioning or a search. A student carrying a case of beer in plain view is subject to being questioned about his or her age.
Can University Police officers arrest me?
Yes, the campus officers are certified Peace Officers and have the right to restrain and arrest students. The campus officers try to avoid any physical altercations with students and to avoid arrests. They do have the authority, though, and unfortunately have to exercise that authority from time to time. Students should be as cooperative as possible with officers. They can also write something called JP tickets, which means the recipient will have to face a local magistrate. They do this only when they feel it is warranted.
Does the University have the right to search my room without a legally obtained search warrant?
As a private institution, the University has a contractual agreement with the students through Trinity’s policies. Procedures under Student Rights and Responsibilities and the Board and Residential Agreement allow for searches of rooms.
So is this the same as a search by San Antonio Police?
Generally, illegal items found during searches conducted by University staff members would not be admissible as evidence in a legal proceeding. Only in the most extreme situations, when violations would be referred outside of the campus conduct process, will local authorities be called in by University staff. Those authorities would usually need to obtain a court-ordered warrant.
Are staff members required to identify themselves when they knock on my door?
No. Nevertheless, the staff members are trained to not trick students, but be upfront about their identity. Usually staff members will knock and announce: RA, RM, HM, Residential Life, Security, maintenance, etc.
Why does a staff member have to come into the room?
It would be irresponsible and inconsistent to allow a disturbance or ongoing violation of policy to continue. Staff members are required to confront suspicious activity and follow-up appropriately.
Do I have to open the door when a staff member knocks?
Failure to do so will result in an escalation of the incident. Student staff members will contact University Police and immediate supervisors. Students are advised to cooperate, otherwise the follow-up to the incident will not just be about the violation, but about respect for the community as well.
How does the University define beer as a safety concern for a search?
If the staff allows violations to continue and a student is injured or dies from a fall from a balcony or from alcohol poisoning, the University would have to answer to parents and others as to why the violation wasn’t pursued with more vigor. This is true for suspected drug or weapon violations.
Can I just give consent to a search instead of waiting for a written search document? I am willing to cooperate.
To avoid ambiguity, our procedures require the written documentation. Students should know exactly what is happening as it happens.
What if other things are found in the search?
Generally, the authorization for search will note that illegal items are sought (weapons, drugs, alcohol in rooms with underage students). Candles, unauthorized refrigerators, and pets would not be confiscated, but the resident will be asked to remove these items to be in compliance with reasonable University policies.
Students who feel that the Residential Life staff members have not followed these procedures should submit a complaint in writing to the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students. Students who feel that the University Police staff members have not followed these guidelines should submit a complaint in writing to the Director of University Police. The student conduct process is not set-up like a court of law, which uses formal rules of evidence, and generally cases aren’t “thrown out” because of improperly applied procedures. The University is, however, committed to respecting the rights of students at all times and will safeguard those rights with vigilance in a culture of safety, civility, and honor.