The Residence Halls Association (RHA) released a letter Friday afternoon calling on the University of Michigan to improve safety standards in residence halls. The letter was accompanied by a list of 30 total demands focusing on physical safety in residence halls and the role of the Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) in University Housing.
“One element most first-year students immediately understand about the University of Michigan is its desire to create a home for students,” the letter reads. “This notion is ingrained in the fabric of the University, making it all the more upsetting to see the lack of security students, including staff, feel while staying in residential housing.”
This letter was born out of the recent Focal Point investigation and an anonymous Statement piece published by The Michigan Daily, both of which detailed unsafe housing conditions and policies for residential staff members.
“This is by no means a complete list — it was compiled by the RHA Executive Board and Assembly following the Michigan Daily Focal Point investigation and the Statement narrative,” the conclusion of the letter reads. “It is based on current and past resident and staff experiences, conversations with housing administrators, news investigations, and housing reports.”
Heather Guenther, communications director of Student Life, wrote in an email on Friday saying the University is prepared to work with residential staff on these demands.
“We have yet to receive a letter from RHA, but as always we value our partnership and are ready to work together with them to benefit our community,” Guenther wrote.
LSA junior Mairead Cain, RHA executive vice president, said she feels this list is a first step in creating concrete, positive change in residence halls.
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Cain said. “I think our list of needs kind of dictates a lot of doable ideas that can be implemented and that aren’t out of the realm of possibility.”
A major focus of this list is implementing physical safety measures for residential staff, including ensuring all residential staff’s doors have locks, and staff are able to move rooms or buildings in the event that their safety is compromised without having their contract terminated.
“No resident shall have access to ResStaff rooms, under any circumstance,” the first item on the list reads. “All ResStaff doors must lock. Locks should be fitted on ResStaff doors immediately or ResStaff should be moved to appropriate accommodations.”
LSA junior Agnes Dunne, RHA President, expressed the importance of prioritizing the safety of residential staff.
“One thing we’ve heard from ResStaff constantly is it has to be easier for ResStaff to move,” Dunne said. “When ResStaff has concerns for their personal safety, that has to be taken as a top priority, as it would in any other job.”
The list of demands also outlines improvements in the reporting system for residential advisers and residents who feel unsafe. The current reporting system designates all residential staff members as mandatory reporters, meaning if they hear of any allegations of sexual assault or harassment, they must report them to their hall director.
“Review the reporting system within Housing,” the list reads. “Create a system in which Residents and ResStaff can report safety concerns to an office other than their direct supervisor, Hall Director, or in building DPSS. When a report is made immediate necessary action is taken to ensure safety.”
Public Health junior Janna Girotto, RHA Vice President of Finance, said she believes the current reporting system is not one that encourages people to speak up.
“If something happened to an RA, their hall director is the person it would be told to first,” Girotto said. “So someone that they have to work with very closely with, which might make many people uncomfortable. And then typically Housing’s DPSS could be involved, which could also be a source of discomfort.”
The letter also included concerns about the culture that discourages residential staff from reporting instances of assault or harassment.
“The culture of Michigan Housing and the University of dismissing the concerns of students is creating a climate which endangers student safety,” the letter reads.
Dunne echoed this sentiment and said fear of repercussions or retaliation may further deter reporting.
“I think now there’s kind of a culture of not speaking up,” Dunne said. “(In) a lot of these cases … RA safety was further put in danger by the processes that took place after it was reported.”
Girotto emphasized the need to take cases of sexual assault and harassment seriously, both in University housing and on campus in general.
“I also think it’s important to note that this isn’t just a housing issue,” Girotto said. “It’s across the whole university. So I think it’s important that sexual assault cases and harassment and safety on campus is a top priority for administration moving forward, across the board.”
Editor’s Note: Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom is a member of the Residence Halls Association. Shanbom did not participate in the writing or editing of this article. Daily Staff Reporter Marlee Sacksner is a member of the Residence Halls Association. Sacksner did not participate in the writing or editing of this article.
Daily Staff Reporter Samantha Rich can be reached at email@example.com.