Rutgers must address issues of abuse in residence halls

Nothing, If Not Critical

Residence Life provides unique living opportunities for Rutgers students. From the Douglass Residential College’s inclusive residence halls to the Livingston Apartments’ lovely study halls, Residence Life works hard to create housing for Rutgers students.

However, residence hall communities can quickly become unsafe. The close, intimate living spaces created within these communities, combined with the cumbersome school schedules of many Rutgers residents, often leads to community issues festering beneath the surface. If temperatures remain unchecked, this can lead to abusers gaining influence over others — mobilizing communities against their victims, for their own personal enjoyment.

During my three years at Rutgers, I’ve unfortunately found that abusers run rampant in living spaces that have no proper restraints. This was the case for a friend of mine — who, for the purpose of this column, I’ll refer to as “Scarlet” — recently came out to me about her own experience with abuse at Rutgers.

Scarlet is a senior. She spent her past three years at Rutgers living on campus, and many of her friendships were built around her residence hall. This began to change, however, after her ex-boyfriend abused her. Sexual assault and emotional abuse became a common occurrence within the relationship, and she felt trapped.

“I was having lots of lasting effects from the abuse he put me through,” Scarlet told me in private. “Which, aside from being raped regularly, involved lots of yelling, not listening to anything I had to say, purposely making me upset and then making me apologize for being upset, things typical with emotional abuse.”

Scarlet was stalked by her abuser, as he obsessively texted her, liked old Facebook posts and “even came into [her] room, at two in the morning one night, to scream at [her] about how [they] should be together.” Gaslighting became a frequent occurrence, as he attempted to convince her that he had been a thoughtful boyfriend despite his repeated abusive behavior.

Scarlet vehemently refused to get back together with her abuser. In retaliation, he began turning the residence hall community against her by spreading rumors about her across the hall.

“I found out there was a rumor going around that I falsely accused my [current boyfriend] of rape over the summer, which never happened,” Scarlet told me. Her abuser began spending time with her friends, and he began to plant rumors about Scarlet within the community.

At any moment, the residence hall community could have unified and stopped Scarlet’s harassment. Instead, the abuse continued over time, as the hall’s community began to take sides on the issue.

“I stopped being invited to Brower, to parties, even to just hanging out. My friends were talking to me less,” Scarlet said. Residents within the community became angry with her and began mocking her for her feminist views. An eBoard member within the hall even began publicly harassing her on Facebook.

The harassment only grew worse, as the community remained unchecked. Scarlet found herself bullied out of hall leadership.

“I was starting to face harassment to my face. I went to spring training for a leadership position in the hall that I had been elected for before breaking up with my ex,” she said. “And at this training I was excluded, and laughed at and whispered about right in front of me.” Scarlet was forced to leave her leadership position for her own wellbeing, yet this did not placate her harassers.

The tipping point came this month, after several hall members threw a birthday party for her abuser in her own room and stole all of the beer from her refrigerator. Scarlet felt this personally violated her privacy, and she finally left the hall for good. But Scarlet emphasizes that her story is not an outlier.

“Multiple people have been targeted by the community to make them feel uncomfortable enough that they would want to leave,” she said. “This happened to three people last year, and so far three people this year.”

Indeed, bullying and harassment within on-campus communities remains a serious problem at Rutgers. On-campus halls create close, intimate spaces that, without strict control, lead to abusers running amuck. Whether through hall leadership or personal connections, abusers manipulate others: building a network of enablers to harass their victims.

Earlier this year, the White House invited Rutgers University to serve as a pilot university for a sexual assault climate survey program. However, how can we create an accurate picture of sexual assault at Rutgers if our own communities sweep abuse, harassment and sexual assault allegations under the rug?

If Rutgers wants to stand with sexual abuse and assault survivors, the University must strive to end on-campus abuse. We must learn to stand with students like Scarlet and raise their voices high. Otherwise, survivors will be trapped in their own communities, with no room to escape abuse.

Writer's Note: All quotes and information attributed to Scarlet were published with Scarlet's full consent.

Philip Wythe is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English with a minor in political science. Their column, “Nothing, if Not Critical,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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