August 23, 2014
Ithaca, NY 67°F | Mist

Opinion

Guest commentary: Residential behavior betrays code of conduct

Kelsey-Johnson_TM
Tucker Mitchell

People are defined by the communities they are a part of, so how do students react when their chosen college community fails to live up to the standards that it has set?

Ithaca College’s code of conduct promises “an environment that encourages scholarship and personal growth … and an understanding of and respect for the rights of others.” Beginning last semester and through this semester, I witnessed offensive drawings of genitalia throughout my residence hall dorm, male students entering the female bathroom and bullying. At one point, my roommate was physically and verbally intimidated to the point of tears by a former football player who had entered the restroom while she was present. The residential assistant on my floor was moved to the First-Year Residential Experience dorms, so there was no one on my floor to end this behavior.

I was told in an email from my residential director that, as an upperclassman and transfer student, this would be a great opportunity “as a community member to address the issues” and confront the situation myself. So, after the third boy used the women’s restroom as I stepped out of the shower, and laughed at me when I asked him to leave, I threatened to press sexual harassment charges. It was only after this threat, as well as a call to the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, that the boys were judicially referred. I was verbally taunted until I moved out.

When I suggested to the Terrace Area Coordinator that I believed the only functional solution was to place a residential adviser on my floor, I was told this was not feasible, and as upperclassmen and transfers living in Terrace 11, we were expected to act more mature. Having the two boys move out was never given as an option. The only options presented to me were to move or remain in the hall.

I refused to feel unsafe in the place that was supposed to be my home away from home. When I finally decided to move this semester, the only available residential option I was comfortable with was a single. I approached the assistant director of residential life about getting a cut on the cost because I felt forced out of my residence hall. She informed me that to make such a request would be futile because, even when there is a financial need to move, sometimes the college will not cooperate.

My experience is not the worst on campus, and the aggression is not solely directed toward women. Female students use the male bathrooms as well. However, I was not in the wrong. But I was told to pursue adjustments in the living situation. Requiring the violated individual to make the adjustment to the living situation, while the violators are allowed to remain in their original rooms, hinders the livelihood of the violated. It does not foster personal growth or respect in the violators.

Though the code of conduct is not an enforceable rule or law, its words will be mute if we have a campus culture that does not live by it. The college’s handling of this situation placed the financial and logistical burden of the solution on the victim. I expect more from the college. Our community must understand that if we allow these microaggressions — such as the harassment I experienced — to stand, we cannot be surprised when macroaggressions follow suit.