Women shouldn’t be assigned a dorm room on the first floor 

Sprague Hall on Jan. 3, 2019. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Trigger warning: mention of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment

My female friends and I have been warned over and over again: “If you’re being attacked, yell ‘fire’ instead of ‘help;’ Check the backseat of your car before getting in; Don’t get an apartment on the first floor.” It is sad that we have to hear these words so often. When I tell my male friends, they often seem confused. They don’t realize people are more likely to try to help if they think there is a fire and not an attack. They don’t realize there could be an armed man hiding in the backseat of a car, ready to attack. They don’t realize the real and lasting fear of living in a first floor apartment. 

UConn has several dorm buildings, and many on-campus residents are randomly assigned buildings, floors and rooms. People of all genders have been assigned rooms on the first floor. Recently, there have been several protests regarding how poorly the university handles cases of sexual assault . During these protests, victims of harassment, assault and rape shared stories of their experiences both on and off campus. Among these stories was one that stood out to me: a terrifying story about how a girl and her roommate were harassed by a man who stalked them and took photos of them. The man was later allowed to move in a few doors down from them. 

Stories like this are heartbreaking, and it’s extremely frustrating that certain university policies —ones that the university hasn’t put an effort into executing—could prevent many of these cases. Expelling rapists and assaulters, and making a bigger effort to investigate cases of sexual violence, are examples of efforts the university needs to make. However, one thing in particular came to mind when thinking about cases of stalking and taking photos: While it is an issue amongst all genders, more females experience sexual violence than males — 26.4% and 6.8% respectively. Women and girls are often afraid of getting a first floor apartment and can’t do much if they are randomly assigned a dorm room on the first floor by the university. 

There are two concrete steps that the university can take to help lower these rates. These two ideas alone will not fix the problem, but they will make a difference. The first would be to make the first floor of the UConn dorm buildings men only. Men have clear privilege when it comes to campus safety. This policy would limit the number of attacks through first floor windows. It would also decrease the number of people taking photos of students through their windows without them knowing. It is much more difficult for a stalker or attacker to access a dorm than is on the second or third floor, thus adding another level of protection for women on campus. 

The second option is to not have any students living on the first floor of dorm buildings. This option would be more powerful and impactful than the first option, since it would lower the rate of the same risks mentioned earlier for students of all genders. The main issue with this, however, is that the university would have to find more housing for those who they would previously put on the first floor. With the first option, this wouldn’t be an issue since the university already has single-sex floors. 

Students deserve the right to a safe campus, and the recent protests have demonstrated how unsafe our campus truly is — especially for women on campus. There is a lot of work — including expelling rapists and supporting victims of sexual violence — that the administration needs to start immediately. Making the first floor of dorms men-only, or not having dorms be on the first floor, certainly would not solve the problem, but it would be a step in the right direction towards a safer campus and making a stronger effort to support UConn’s students. 

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