Ever since I read it, Alice’s story has haunted me and kept me up at night. As a victim of sexual assault, this news has weighed extremely heavily on me. These stories have not only brought up my traumatic memories — they’ve broken my trust in housing. I believe victims and I believe Alice. I applaud her courage and strength to tell her story in The Michigan Daily. Thanks to her, the reporters at The Daily and all of the other staff members who came forward, it is now public knowledge that University of Michigan Housing and U-M Division of Public Safety and Security Housing Security have repeatedly caused harm and endangered the safety of students. Her story is just one of many of the residents and staff who have been victims of violence in University housing due to a lack of concern from professional staff and administrators.
I was a victim of sexual assault on this campus during my first week as a freshman. If I hadn’t received support from my neighbors and roommate, I wouldn’t still be here today. From the first person I told in my hall, I was believed. I found support in my peers yet I still feared telling my resident advisor (RA) and professors, scared of having to report my assault and relive it. Just a few days after I was assaulted freshman year, I would be elected secretary and later Residence Halls Association representative for East Quad Residence Hall. My involvement would continue as I became the RHA Executive vice president last year, and the president this year.
For the past three years, I have volunteered my time to build and advocate for the RHA’s vision, “to successfully create an environment where all University of Michigan Students have a decent place to live where they feel safe and welcome. In doing so, we hope to remove some of the stress of college and promote a productive and happy college experience.”
That vision has been shattered by these events. As RHA president, I have spent the last few weeks speaking with Housing administrators, RHA members, staff, students, friends, family, co-workers, my partner and many more about their own experiences and how to move forward. I have also spent the past weeks struggling to get out of bed, eat and rarely make it to class.
When I shared that I was sexually assaulted in a letter to the housing administration, it meant that it had to be reported to the University, I made it clear I did not want to be contacted and the University was told by the individual reporting that I should not be contacted. I went on to receive five emails concerning my assault. Yet, a clear lack of answers has been evident in my meetings with housing; when asked if locks had been added to the dorm referred to in Alice’s article, their response was unsure. They were also unaware of the status of the DPSS officers and other employees involved. It was even mentioned that new dorms might be planned in a similar connecting suite fashion as those mentioned in the articles, that is without locks on the connecting bathroom.
The current housing staff advisor to RHA is named in The Daily’s investigation of housing, as are many housing employees who work closely with RHA, almost all formerly in RHA or RAs as students. Yet still, our concerns are dismissed, and we are repeatedly told we do not understand RAs or Residents. Last year, when the RAs went on strike, RHA was advised not to get involved, as we did not represent RAs. Then and now, these come as attempts to stifle RA advocacy when it has been most needed. In search of a second opinion, I reached out to a former advisor and I was told: “Continue to listen to both sides with empathy. Make note of misalignment. Think critical(ly) about your position and who your responsibilities are to.”
I listened to both sides with empathy and found a clear misalignment in the values University Housing claims, and the realities of living and working in Housing. My responsibility as RHA president is not paying residents, but being an advocate for every student. I have a duty as RHA president to advocate for ResStaff, who have been actively harmed and had their safety directly jeopardized by housing. RAs are students and residents first and ResStaff second, and should be treated as such. As housing has failed to give RAs a platform for concern, RHA is committed to doing so. I welcome any and all RAs to reach out to me.
Agnes Dunne is President of the University of Michigan’s Residence Halls Association and can be reached at email@example.com