The Oberlin Review

ResEd Responsible for Students’ Sense of Safety in Living Spaces

Editorial Board

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As in semesters past, the northeast wing of South Hall’s second floor — a space the Office of Residential Education has designated “all female” — is reserved for female students in search of peace of mind and a safe haven from a patriarchal campus and society. At the beginning of this module, without prior warning or a clear reason, ResEd decided to place four cis male students into a vacant quad on the same hall. While the men have been respectful of the shared space, they should have been placed in rooms elsewhere. College sophomore Alana Sheppard, along with her roommate and floormates who deliberately sought asylum on the floor for personal reasons, are now left feeling unsafe in their own living space. To add insult to injury, they have received few answers from ResEd representatives. ResEd also did not respond to the Review’s request for comment.

Sheppard sent an extensive and personal email to ResEd regarding the situation and its effect on her well-being. “We were confused as to why there were men living on this hall … I sent [ResEd] an email basically just saying, ‘I’m really confused as to why they are men on this hall.’ I even told them personal, vulnerable information about why I was moving there. It’s not about their behavior, it’s that I moved here to not live with men,” Sheppard said. A representative responded curtly to her and to each of her friends who had also contacted them.

After receiving a less-than-courteous response to her inquiry, Sheppard then contacted Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Housing Rebecca Mosely, who Sheppard was told had experience in handling similar issues in theme halls and the three first-year dorms. Mosely apologized to Sheppard for the inconvenience, explaining that ResEd had mistakenly placed the men in the women’s hall, but added that moving the students once again would constitute an injustice to the four men. In prioritizing the comfort of the four male students, ResEd not only invalidated its own designation of the floor as women-only but also disregarded the right to security of every student who chose to live on the hall.

There is no excuse for ResEd’s failure to alert the residents of a safe space hall when a new neighbor’s identity may violate the intended safety of the hall. Theme housing is awarded via application — anything from Movie Hall in Langston Hall to Baldwin Cottage, the women and trans safe space, requires review by the faculty and staff in charge of that living space.

By failing to provide appropriate housing for students with specific needs, ResEd continues to prioritize logistical efficiency over the mental health and well-being of all students living on campus.

This mishap points to a bigger accountability problem within ResEd. Sheppard notes that while Mosely claimed that there weren’t any other rooms available to the male students, a friend of Sheppard’s received an email containing a list of rooms available in South Hall upon applying to move.

Why some students seem to be favored over others is unclear, but the pattern persists year after year. As part of a residential campus that prides itself on its student community and cooperative living, ResEd should be held accountable for making sure every student’s requests for a safe and comfortable living environment are met.

In addition, ResEd must respond to these requests even if residential problems arise that are outside its control. In recent years, several lounges have been converted to temporary open triples or open quads to accommodate an influx of students. Significantly, Old Barrows, the women and trans safe space housing co-op, is in danger of being shut down in the next several years. This change will mean that there will be fewer safe spaces for women and trans students on campus. ResEd needs to enforce safe spaces more effectively to ensure that all students feel safe living in their assigned rooms.

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