The new freshman experience

The shiny, new, eco-friendly Broadway housing building that opened in September seems to be experiencing a turbulent infancy with a surge of disruptive and at times criminal, behavior from some of its new residents.

According to Mike Soto, director of Campus Public Safety, the Broadway has already been the setting of vandalism, drunken and crude behavior, a sexual abuse case that is currently under investigation and two alleged assaults resulting in police involvement.

One tenant, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the situation does not seem to be improving, that parties are a big problem and that some residents feel too intimated by their loud neighbors to complain. There have also been many instances of female students being harassed in the building.

“Many of the female students are afraid to leave their rooms alone,” the student said.

The student also voiced concern about vandalism and that they fear for the fate of the new eco-friendly rooftop garden, opening up soon.

Often regarded as the flagship of Portland State’s drive to become a more traditional, residential university, the Broadway Housing Project opened in September to much fanfare. All units were rented by the day it opened.

One of the alleged assaults occurred on Sept. 22 and involved a female resident who threatened two male visitors with a knife, one of whom suffered cuts to his hand as a result of wrestling the knife from the woman.

The other alleged assault occurred on Oct. 23 and was a “closed-fist assault,” in which no one was seriously injured.

Though the assault and sexual abuse cases stand out, the majority of complaints filed with the Campus Public Safety Office within the last two months have been for less serious, but nonetheless disruptive, incidences such as the vandalism of an empty apartment, objects being thrown out of apartment windows, graffiti in the stairwell and the elevators, and even urination on one resident’s front door.

The kind of activity that the Broadway is experiencing is not necessarily unusual in college housing, according to John Eckman, assistant director of Auxiliary Services at PSU.

In regards to the disruptive behavior, Eckman said that some years simply see more activity than others do in campus housing. He added that activity surges will also move from building to building, as well as from floor to floor.

For now the surge is happening in the Broadway and, for the most part, it is taking form in loud parties and drinking, both of which spill into common areas.

Fifth floor resident Morgan Harvey had some trouble with his noisy downstairs neighbors in early October. Harvey said he had gotten home around 1 a.m. on a Saturday night and was unable to sleep because a neighbor’s music was loud, and he could feel it in his studio. When he attempted to confront them, he was harassed and shoved into a wall.

“He [the neighbor] came to the door and started yelling at me,” Harvey said.

Harvey then contacted the on-call resident assistant and was referred to campus security. Security arrived shortly thereafter to diffuse the situation.

“The RAs seem to be expecting that stuff,” Harvey said. “So that’s not a good sign.”

He has not had problems with his neighbor since then. But, he said, the building still suffers frequently from litter and graffiti, including spit, beer bottles and vomit in the stairwell.

Late one Thursday night, he said, a tenth floor resident was letting off firecrackers out the window, which brought about 20 students out of their studios.

Harvey said that although it is disappointing, it does not surprise him too much since he is living in college housing. Still, he expected that the brand-new Broadway would be nicer and signed a one-year lease when he moved in.

A lot of positive activity is also flourishing on the new building’s eight residential floors, Eckman said, and he cautions against focusing solely on the negative activity of some residents.

About 400 students moved in at the same time and, for the most part, did not know one another, he says. They have been quick to get acquainted and are forming a community.

With a stronger community, Eckman said, more people will hang out with one another and, inevitably, “some floors will party more than others.” Nevertheless, residents are also getting together to hang out and cook or study. Eckman also pointed out that eighth floor residents recently organized and conducted a river clean-up day.

Scott Nine, assistant director for Residence Life, believes that disruptive activity surged in the first couple of months in the Broadway because of “400 new folks living in a community setting for the first time, not understanding policies.”

Residence Life, located in the Broadway building and overseen by the Auxiliary Services Division, was created when PSU began to take over management of campus housing buildings from contractor College Housing Northwest.

Residence Life is generally responsible for the overall well-being of students in campus housing, which includes handling student housing complaints and violations. According to Nine, the student conduct in the Broadway, and in all student housing, is being addressed.

Resident Life has its own resident conduct code and an internal process to handle violations.

Thirty-five residents have been involved in the conduct process this year, Nine said. Most of the students he talked to said they were not aware of the policies they had violated and that a large component of the conduct process is really educational instruction, which involves community building service in an effort to teach residents what living as a part of community means.

Currently, 10-20 students are involved in the conduct process.

Some students may also receive administrative consequences for housing violations, which involve the denial of access to certain buildings and floors, or the loss of guest privileges.

In some cases, Nine said, students have been evicted: three residents from the Broadway and one resident from another building this year.

For PSU, there has been more alcohol-related activity on certain floors and more police activity with certain groups in the Broadway, but Nine said the activity is similar to that of the Ondine last year and is not uncommon in traditional residence halls across campuses all over the country. About the vandalism in the Broadway, he said it is not atypical or even excessive, just “starkly apparent because it’s so brand new and beautiful.”

Nine regrets that he did not include policy literature in each of the building’s studios, he said, but he thinks that things are starting to calm down now.

A resident assistant is located on each residential floor. Part of the resident assistants’ job is to get to know the students on their floor, hold regular floor meetings, as well as be available for residents to share concerns with. Resident assistants walk the floors every evening and confront loud situations. Several members of senior staff at Residence Life, including Nine, are trained in mediation and conflict resolution, and are available by phone 24 hours a day in event that situations escalate.