Resolving the Townhouse Turmoil



Vanessa Persico

Two incidents that have occurred over the past month concerning the “Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Safe House” Townhouse have aroused indignation and anger, although one of the incidents was not a deliberate targeting of that house.

As stated in a campus-wide e-mail by Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs and Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson, “[The townhouse is meant to be] a safe zone for those who support or are members of the LGBTQ community.”

In the first incident in mid-September, an unidentified intoxicated individual “stumbled” onto the porch of the Safe House and made derogatory comments.

The second incident, occurring on Saturday afternoon of Homecoming weekend, involved five individuals, who had been at a party at Townhouse 2B, entering the Safe House without permission and refusing to leave when asked to do so repeatedly.

According to junior Steve Hayden, Safe House residents were in a heightened state of sensitivity with regard to their living space.

The five men entered through the propped-open door of the Safe House and sat down to watch television in the living room. One resident came downstairs, noticed the intruders and told them to leave. They refused, and Hayden heard the commotion.

“I saw five increasingly rowdy guys downstairs,” Hayden said. “I yelled, ‘get the f— out of our Townhouse.'”

Four of the individuals left. Hayden threatened to call Campus Safety on the last one, who replied with a threat of physical violence. On his way out, he attempted to punch Hayden. Hayden gave him a final push out, and the intruder threw beer on Hayden and on furniture in the Safe House living room. People outside began to throw beer cups at the house and shout at them.

A little over a week afterward, Hayden wrote a submission for the Commentary section of this newspaper reacting to the event. Campus Safety quickly began an investigation as to the true identity of the intruders.

In addition, junior group leader for Townhouse 2B Jon Freeburg and junior group leader for the Safe House Carrie Griego met and decided to go through the Townhouse Community functions to address the situation.

They set up a two-hour mediation session for all residents of both Townhouses, facilitated by Assistant Director of Residential Life Kim Russell and senior Sara Duffy, but only about 16 residents showed up. They resolved to hold events together, aiming to build their relationship.

As of Wednesday, all five of the intruders had come forward and issued statements at Campus Safety. Three have identified themselves as recent alumni of Colgate and apologized.

On Wednesday morning, Freeberg e-mailed the men’s Lacrosse team, many of whom had been at the party, to encourage anyone with information about the incident to assist in Campus Safety’s investigation.

Two first-year Lacrosse players responded. In their statements, the first-years stated that they had only been following the alumni’s lead, and that they left quickly when residents of the Safe House objected to their presence.

“This is an incident with three alumni who had obviously been drinking at the Homecoming tailgate,” Freeberg said. “They thought it was a funny prank to create an awkward situation.”

Also included in these statements were assertions that they had not known the theme of the Townhouse into which they had entered.

“Our information is that they didn’t know it was a Safe House,” Johnson said, stressing that there had been a “very unfortunate” editorial mistake in hers and Roelofs’ joint e-mail that created the impression that the intruders did know it was an LGBTQ Safe House.

However, Johnson and Roelofs understand that the incident occurred in an extremely sensitized atmosphere; the Safe House is of course known for its LGBTQ theme, and Townhouse 2B is commonly referred to as “the Lacrosse House,” even though its residents include soccer players and non-athletes, as well as lacrosse players.

“Had these houses had different labels, different connotations, it wouldn’t have been so charged,” Roelofs said, “But it’s still highly inappropriate behavior.”

“Despite the fact that members of [the LGBTQ community] weren’t specifically targeted in that second incident, it still raises the concerns of that community,” Johnson said.

This was illustrated at Wednesday’s Supporters’ Network meeting, where students and faculty questioned Roelofs, Johnson and Director of Residential Life Jennifer Adams on the incidents.

“No one is really, unequivocally held accountable,” Grants Assistant Chris Hoffman said. “Part of the frustration that comes out of this is that there’s nothing to show people down the road, ‘if you do “x,” this is what happens to you.’ The consequences should be something tangible other than having a conversation.”

Johnson said that the e-mail that she and Roelofs sent out was meant to eliminate this idea that they have done no more than make a teachable moment out of the incident. They had intended the e-mail to articulate strongly the serious stance that they take toward such disruptive and disrespectful behavior, and also to clarify that there was an investigation going on, but that the perpetrators who had come forward had not intentionally chosen 3A based on its LGBTQ theme.

Beyond that, Roelofs said, the ball was out of their court.

“I don’t think [we] could have done more with respect to the students involved without committing an error ourselves,” Roelofs said.

Adams also said that her staff responded appropriately. “Our role is the education piece, and I didn’t expect anything different from Residential Life staff than what they did,” she said. “Residential Life separates itself from discipline as much as possible.”

Freeberg expressed a concern over the negativity that has arisen toward 2B in the aftermath of these incidents, especially given that no residents of 2B were actually involved in the uninvited entry. He said that the dialogues truly are helping the two Townhouses move in a positive direction with their relationship.

“We’ve moved forward and we’ve worked really hard to make this positive,” he said. “As a house, we’ve moved past it.”