TW: Sexual Assault, Stalking, Sexual Harassment, Rape
Editor’s Note: The author of this contribution has requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions. In accordance with our ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws), the Editor-in-Chief is aware of and has verified the author’s identity. All names used in this piece are pseudonyms, whose real identities have been verified by the Editor-in-Chief. All claims made in this article have been corroborated in Focal Point’s official investigation of University Housing. Additional claims not included in the investigation have been verified by The Daily.
Dear U-M Housing,
You called my being stalked, threatened and sexually harrased by my residents a “personal matter.” It is not. It is a hazard and a direct result of the unsafe job you hired me for.
I am “Alice” from the Daily’s recent investigation about U-M Housing and ResStaff safety. Here is my full story.
I am truly amazed I didn’t become another “College girl raped and murdered” headline that year — the year I was a 19 year old “Traditional Resident Advisor (RA)” in a freshman residence hall on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.
My entire first year as an RA, I lived in constant fear because five of my male residents were harassing and stalking me. They memorized my schedule and followed me around campus. They threatened to break me. They cornered and harassed my friend. And after I reported the incidents, it only got worse. I caught the five men watching me while I slept in my bedroom because U-M Housing refused to put locks on all doors to my room. They discussed raping me while standing directly outside my door. They switched into one of my classes to continue stalking me. And one night, I caught them under my window taking pictures of me. The entire time, I was ignored by the Division of Public Safety and Security, lied to by my Hall Director and pushed aside by U-M Housing administrators.
It began on the second day of classes. I overheard my name spoken by five of my male residents living directly across the hall from me. They laughed and started talking about how excited they were to “break her.” It took me a second to realize they were talking about breaking me.
The air caught in my throat. What? ‘Break me’ how? I wanted to believe that the comment was innocent but their tone of voice said otherwise. I tried to voice my concerns about the comment to the other RAs, but they didn’t think the men were being serious about it.
The following day, the ringleader of the five men came by my room because he needed information from the first floor meeting that he missed. As his RA, I had to act like everything was fine, totally normal. That is always your job as an RA: provide help for whatever the resident needs. After all, every resident is a customer to the University. We treated them as such, with politeness and unwavering hospitality.
After I filled him in on what he missed, he started gloating about how nervous people became around him due to his tall, large stature. He said he loved seeing how nervous they were around him. He said ‘people’ but it was obvious to me that he meant women.
I saw the group of five men in places outside the dorm every day, which, on a campus of almost 50,000 students, is weird. It started innocently enough, saying ‘hi’ to them outside Mason Hall or South Quad.
Then, their presence became a pattern. I noticed at least three of them during many passing periods when I came out of my lecture halls, or sitting a few tables down anytime I was eating in any of the seven main dining halls on campus.
I became increasingly nervous everywhere on campus and started spending most of my time in the dorm community center — every residence hall’s mail and package room — surrounded by the other RAs. Last year, RAs stopped working at community centers, thanks to hiring more Community Center Assistants (CCA). The RA contract (the Letter of Appointment) was updated accordingly for this school year.
The other RAs would text me when the five men were in the community center looking for me, which happened multiple times each week.
After a few weeks, I started getting creepy notes in messy handwriting on my door. The notes included poems, private details about my life and lines professing love for me. Some were signed by the residents, some weren’t.
I dreaded returning to my room because I would have to walk past the men’s doors — if they saw me, then I had to engage in nice conversation as they purposely said things to make me uncomfortable. Afterward, I would hear them saying “fuck her,” “nice ass,” or “oooh I’d like to tap that.” I don’t know if they knew I could hear them, but it stung either way.
One evening, I was preparing to go out with friends, doing my hair and nails in the bathroom, when the ringleader knocked on my door. The loud knock startled me; I burnt my thumb on the curling iron. After a few moments of pause, he proceeded to bang on the door with what seemed like all his strength, and screamed down the hall in his frustration. I waited until I knew he was gone before running to my friends at the bus stop.
The next morning, I complained to Eric, one of my closest RA friends, about the previous night’s incident. He advised me to update my boss (our hall director) about the situation, which I had been doing any time something new occurred with the five men.
A few hours later, Eric called me. According to him, he was walking to the bus stop when the five men cornered him against a car in the parking lot and interrogated him. They would not let Eric leave until he said where I was.
I immediately went to my boss — I wanted to report to DPSS what was occurring. I wanted to stop the five men, specifically the ringleader. I didn’t have a specific punishment in mind, I just wanted DPSS to get the men to stop threatening my friends and stalking me.
I was wary of working with DPSS. Officers had already ignored my concerns during duty rounds, and they had talked down to me when I had called for help with a multiple-resident conflict. They were also rude — practically ignoring me and always grumbling — any time I called about weed odors in the hallways.
In this instance, I figured the situation with the five men had gotten so bad that even DPSS couldn’t avoid helping me. I thought the meeting would take a while — I had emailed my professor telling him I would miss class. I told my friends I would be late to dinner.
An older male DPSS officer met me and my boss (the hall director) in the main office of the dorm. The officer was constantly checking his watch; it was obvious he wanted the meeting to be over before it had even started.
The meeting took maybe ten minutes total, and the officer spoke with increasing skepticism as I shared my story and showed him texts, video recordings of the five men, pictures with timestamps and the physical notes that were left on my door.
The DPSS officer didn’t seem to think most of my information was relevant. At the end of the meeting, the officer looked at me like I just wasted his time and said, “Honey, it sounds like they have a little crush on you. Why don’t you just confront [the five men]?” I found out later, after reading a copy of the report, that he neglected to put some of the information I told him into the DPSS report.
After this meeting, I shut down. My hall director had failed to stand up for me or try to help convince DPSS that this was an issue. Instead, the two of them agreed to have the officer talk to the ringleader and ask him to stop harassing me, because his behavior was “scaring me.”
Months later, I found out that all DPSS did was have a two-minute long phone call with the ringleader. Apparently — according to their report — the ringleader was very apologetic.
DPSS and my hall director arranged for the ringleader to apologize to me in my room. Alone. I had done everything in my power to avoid being alone with him again, and now I had to let him into my private room because “he’d changed.”
Unsurprising to me, his apology was wholly insincere, it lasted less than a minute and he sounded more amused than apologetic — I felt violated that he came into my room again.
Later that day, I heard the five men laughing about me being so scared I called DPSS. Their conversation made it clear that my decision had validated their goal of scaring me and they thought it was hilarious.
The dorm I lived in had an odd room layout. There were two access points in each dorm room: one door with a keypad lock from the hallway and one door from the bathroom with no lock.
My dorm room and the dorm room next to mine were connected by a bathroom (Jack and Jill style) but there were no locks on either side of either bathroom door. The resident that I shared the bathroom with — and anyone in her room — had full access to my room through the bathroom.
For the privacy of the resident I shared a bathroom with, I always kept my door to our shared bathroom closed. A few days after the ringleader apologized, I woke up from a nap to see both bathroom doors open. The five men were hanging out in my suitemate’s room. I got up and shut the bathroom door as they giggled. I spent the night on the floor of another RA’s room.
The lack of locks was an ongoing issue for RAs in this dorm, as many of us have woken up to a resident in our room or later found out that a resident snuck into our room without our knowledge —I know of three other RAs that year who had this problem. When we brought our concerns to our hall director, we were told locks would be a “fire hazard.” We were asked not to bring it up again.
We went to the U-M Housing administration and asked if they could help. Without a pause, their only response was, “Sorry to hear you feel that way.”
I fashioned a lock for the bathroom door out of pipes, a bike lock cable and a refrigerator magnet. It looked ridiculous but it worked. I put a screwdriver under my pillow before I went to bed each night. Jeans with a belt became my pajamas. I barely slept.
One night, a friend of mine texted me, unprompted. He was at a party, wanted to hang for a bit and get a ride back to his place. I obliged. Once we got back to my dorm, I went to the bathroom and he started asking weird questions about my dating life and sexual history.
The questions made me nervous. I was about to change the subject when a noise made me freeze — the five men were walking into my suitemate’s room. I bolted from the bathroom, and my guy friend took that moment to grab me and kiss me.
It was gross. He reeked of alcohol. I tried to push him away, but he grabbed me and kissed me harder. I could hear the five men laughing with my suitemate, less than fifteen feet from me.
I couldn’t make a sound. I hadn’t been able to lock my bathroom door and feared the five men entering my room and joining if they heard what was happening.
My friend raped me that night. I tried to tell him to stop but he just smirked. I stopped fighting him after he was inside me. I gave up, I guess. There wasn’t anything I could do.
I didn’t want him to get any satisfaction so I closed my eyes as they welled with tears, determined not to let a single one fully form. I let my mind dissolve into the pain. I dissociated.
When he pulled up his pants, he kissed me on my forehead and asked for a ride home. His voice was muffled, fuzzy. I have no idea what else he said to me — I just got up and drove him home.
I broke down the second I got back to my dorm room. My chest felt like it had collapsed as I heaved and sobbed. Eventually I got up, took a shower and convinced myself I was fine.
The next morning I went to CVS for Plan B.
RAs are individuals with reporting obligations about sexual assault. We report to the hall director if something happens. The person who we work with every day, live in the same building with and who is in charge of us is the person we are contractually bound to report our episodes of sexual assault to.
This is something I have never understood. How can you make a rule stating that after one of the most devastating things happens to someone, you strip them of their final decision: who they tell?
I was fully aware that by talking to my superior, I would lose the little bit of power I had left over my body.
My closest friends were the RAs in my building. They would have to report to our boss if I told them. I knew I couldn’t talk to my friends until I was ready to relive that night with my boss, who I distrusted immensely, and U-M Housing administrators, who would get a copy of the report my boss would write.
I have held too many RAs, sobbing uncontrollably because their hall directors, DPSS and U-M Housing administrators won’t take their safety seriously.
RA training modules, delivered via Canvas, centered around keeping the residents safe and the University from having to assume liability. Training pertaining to RA safety was slim to none.
I worked with many RAs by the end of my time in U-M Housing. The majority of the female ones and many male ones told me they had been harassed or assaulted by the end of their time on the job. Residents’ fathers flirt with you. Residents’ mothers yell at you. Residents ask you out, turn you into an object and, in my case, stalk and harass you.
At no point do RAs receive training on what to do about any of this. If you try to tell your hall director, the first thing they say is that if you cannot handle it, maybe the job isn’t right for you — they constantly refer to the waitlist of people who want to be RAs and would happily take your spot.
RAs were able to force changes during the Fall 2020 ResStaff strike because there was no waitlist. Nobody wanted to be an RA during the pandemic. Therefore, RAs were no longer expendable. For the first time, ResStaff could not be dismissed.
When December began, my panic attacks about the rape got worse. I realized I needed support from my closest friends, the RAs.
I went to the hall director’s office and asked a few hypothetical questions about what would happen if I reported the sexual assault of an RA. My boss said that I could simply issue the report, that my name could be left off the report, that the report would be a hard copy and not in the electronic system. It could be vague. And wholly anonymous.
Because of those answers, I decided to tell my boss about the rape. Sitting on a folding chair in the oddly colorful office, I felt incredibly nauseous. I eyed the trash can.
After I finished my story, my hall director paused, typed on the computer, and turned around. “Oh whoops,” they said. “I made a mistake. Actually, your name will have to be on the report, it’ll be in the online system and I need a bit more information from you.”
I sat in silence for a few moments. I felt the panic rise in my chest.
Before I could reply, my boss said, “So, what was his name? And, what type of rape was it? Vaginal penetration with a penis? Or anal? Was it just fingers?”
I couldn’t speak. I felt my eyes getting red. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood.
“No.” I said. “I was sexually assaulted, that’s what you can put in the report. I’m not telling you any more. I’m not telling you who he was or how. And I am not talking to anyone else, especially DPSS.”
I walked out, my eyes welling with tears as I grappled with the reality that I’d just exchanged the most vulnerable piece of information about myself with my boss.
I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to force RAs to report their own sexual assaults to their bosses. It was the most demeaning exchange I’ve ever endured.
My issues with the five men only persisted. They used nicknames to talk about me without sounding like they were referring to me. Many nights when I was sleeping on my dorm room floor, I would hear them outside my door, commenting on my body while looking at the pictures of me on the bulletin board. On nights when the boys were talking about me and I could escape my room, I would crash in another RA’s room. We would watch Scooby Doo, or learn chords on the guitar.
In the winter semester, on the day before the University’s drop/add course deadline, I got to one of my classes and immediately recognized two new faces in the room. Two of the five men were sitting a few rows behind my normal seat. I knew this was no coincidence — they were freshmen in a lecture that did not even remotely coincide with their majors.
I sat down and saw their faces reflected on my laptop screen. They were watching me. I do not remember anything from that course except running for the exit every time it ended.
Midway through February, I had just gotten back to my room and was getting ready for bed when the five men stomped through the back stairwell. They were talking about me, using a nickname inspired by an event I had led in the dorm.
As they passed my door, the ringleader asked the others, “Wouldn’t you want to rape [her] if you could?” The men burst out laughing. They walked into their room talking about how much they wanted to rape me.
The world became fuzzy. My vision blacked out. I called one of the RAs, Leroy, and he came to my room. I couldn’t breathe. I was shaking so hard that Leroy had to grab me so I wouldn’t collapse. Leroy spent the night in my room on the floor, but even then I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know what to do.
Previously, I had followed the rules and reported what happened, just like U-M Housing told me to. It only made things worse. I kept debating whether I should resort back to my hall director or DPSS. The memory of how little the DPSS officer had cared about my last report was still prevalent in my mind. And my hall director had handled me being raped so poorly.
Instead, my main group of RA friends decided to rotate walking me to my room each night so I wouldn’t be alone in my hall after dark. This lasted until the end of the year.
When I think back on that year, I remember how my teeth were constantly chattering and my legs were always bouncing from anxiety — but I kept smiling. I wanted to be the best RA possible, even with everything happening.
Honestly, I think I did a good job. Being an RA is demanding but I lived up to the challenge. My residents had problems, from depression to chronic illnesses, and I always tried to be there for them.
I had residents sleeping in my room during insect infestations. I got take-out meals for sick residents, got groups of residents together who were struggling and planned outings for them, walked residents to University Health Services or Counseling and Psychological Services, pulled countless all-nighters helping residents through personal problems, responded to their messages at all hours and answered their questions and concerns.
My bulletin boards and door decorations were praised by U-M Housing administrators. I planned small celebrations for residents when they hit a big milestone: birthdays, half-birthdays (for summer birthdays), job/internship successes and passing hard classes.
Even though I did want to do my best for my residents, I also didn’t have a choice. As an RA, U-M housing can dismiss you at any moment, beginning or middle or end of the year, and you only have 48 hours to clear out your room and find a new place to live. The contract, called a Letter of Appointment (LOA), is very strict but also very vague — vague enough that U-M Housing could fire anyone at any time for any reason.
Losing this job meant no longer being able to afford the University. I knew without my RA position, I wouldn’t have had anywhere to live, or any means of getting food, until I found a new job. That wasn’t something I could risk.
The stalking never stopped. I still noticed the five men in the dining halls when I was there, passing me in the stairwells, walking a few steps behind me across the Diag.
One evening in mid-March, I heard the men try to figure out if I was in my room. One of the men said he’d go look and went outside.
I was confused. Then, I noticed him watching me through the four-inch gap at the bottom of my blinds, his phone held in front of him. My blinds stayed fully closed for the rest of the year.
At some point, even the community center became an unsafe place. During one shift, I was closing the community center at about 10:00 p.m. when a drunk resident from a different floor came down: he wanted a package. I started getting it for him when he came behind the front desk and tried to push me against the wall to kiss me.
I shoved his package into his chest and told him, “Go the fuck back to your room.”
I never told anyone about that incident, not DPSS, or my hall director, or the other RAs. DPSS had made it very clear they wouldn’t help, even with proof. And there aren’t cameras in most areas of the dorms anyway. Although, the idea of cameras in the dorms creates a catch-22. While I want them installed to prevent incidents like mine, I also do not think it would be safe to do so — I worry about there being video records of freshman girls in towels walking through the dorms.
At the end of the year, residents started leaving for the summer. I helped with organizing travel plans, packing, moving, housing for next year, storage — this included helping the five men. Even after everything they had done, I was still expected to be a good RA. I helped them pick out a dorm for the next year and found ways to store their belongings.
The day the five men were leaving, I got messages from all of them thanking me for being such a good RA. I couldn’t process any of it. Leroy and Eric tried to tell me I was being gaslit.
I was confused and wanted to forget, so I did. I told the five men thanks for being great residents and watched them leave.
I was still 19 years old, a teenager.
Time passed. Classes started and ended. COVID-19 began. Having so much time away from campus, I started unpacking my emotions. Eventually, I stopped having panic attacks about the five men.
I decided to return as an RA, as the payment of housing and dining was the only way I could keep affording the University. I had almost forgotten that each year, U-M Housing reserves the right to move ResStaff wherever they want.
Less than 24 hours before I was supposed to move in, I got a phone call from one of the U-M Housing administrators — I was being moved to another dorm on campus due to COVID-19. At first I was relieved to be getting away from the dorm I had been tortured in.
Then the world went gray. I had helped the five men find a room in the exact dorm I was now being moved to. I hoped it was a sadistic joke.
I wanted to laugh at the irony but was too terrified. I asked if the five men were going to be in my new dorm. My request for that information was denied. The only option I was given was quitting — I wouldn’t be allowed to move dorms now that I had received my placement.
School started in two weeks and I didn’t have the time nor money to find a new place to live. The dorm I was being moved into is substantially nicer than the one I was in before. Many acted like the change was a blessing, not my worst nightmare.
With no other options, I moved into the dorm despite my deeply-held anxiety. I convinced myself to give it a chance, as people were dropping their dorm placements daily due to COVID-19. Maybe I would get lucky?
I connected with my new staff easily, made bulletin boards and door decorations, lofted my bed, and tried to enjoy myself with the looming dread of the first day of move-in.
Then, the most amazing thing happened — I was told the five men would not be in the dorm. For whatever reason, they either switched dorms or moved off-campus. The weight was suddenly gone; I cried with joy.
Soon after move-in, ResStaff went on strike due to the awful conditions U-M Housing asked us to work in during the height of COVID-19. During this time, the virus was spreading with 99,950 positive cases just in the last week of September 2020. RAs were offered no personal protective equipment (PPE), we had inconsistent access to COVID-19 testing, we were being asked to interact with residents who had COVID-19. We were working on the frontlines of a global health crisis without any compensation.
There’s no happy ending to this story. I have upgraded from sleeping with a screwdriver under my pillow to sleeping with a taser. The nightmares have never completely gone away. I still picture the five men standing in my doorway. I still remember the pressure of someone on top of me.
One of the five men works at a U-M building I used to frequent often. I stopped going there. At times, the five men still try to follow me on social media or contact me. I don’t respond.
One evening at the start of this school year, I went back alone to walk around my old dorm. The memories bombarded me like a repressed childhood memory. I thought back on the holiday parties, paper plate awards, pictures, walks to the dining hall, sledding, hide-and-go-seek, tag, water balloons, picnics, snow ball fights, skunk families and so much more.
After everything that had happened, I always wondered why I was so fond of that dorm. It’s hard to hate a building with so many amazing memories. Unfortunately, as those memories returned, so did many of the others I’d tried hard to forget.
I never initially intended to publish what had happened to me. But in the span of three years as an RA, four RAs told me they were having suicidal thoughts due to experiences related to their job. I believe that U-M Housing will not change unless we do something.
RAs are still not being trained to deal with issues that affect their own safety.
To those of you stepping into RA roles at the University: Know you are incredibly appreciated, and I hope you never go through the things I did. Hold the other RAs close — they care about you.
To U-M Housing: It is time you seriously restructure the RA position in a way that prioritizes your employees’ livelihoods over the University’s private interests. Provide them training on how to protect themselves. Do not dismiss their safety. Believe their stories, the same as you would any other University employee. And most of all, protect them.
Please, please, please. Protect them.