June 07, 2013 by Devon Harman
The housing contracts of three Drexel University freshmen were terminated in late May after the students were caught dropping water balloons from the 14th floor of Towers Hall April 8 at 11 p.m.
Freshmen Daniel Laikhter, a computer science major; Kyle Houseman, a game art and production student; and one other student who wished to remain anonymous were all residents of the 14th floor and involved in the incident and required to vacate their rooms within 48 hours of receiving the sanction.
Upon being written up by the 14th floor resident assistant and the Towers Hall resident director, the students were not informed of the possibility that their housing contracts might be terminated.
According to Assistant Dean of Student Conduct Stephen Rupprecht, “Resident assistants document what they see, hear and smell. They should never predict the outcome of a conduct case. The students in question will often ask what sanctions they can expect, but it’s best for the resident assistant to not speculate. … In these types of cases, the students would never be told at the time of the incident that they have to vacate their rooms within 48 hours.”
The incident was in violation of the “projectiles” section of the Student Handbook. According to the handbook, “No student shall throw or cause to be projected any object or substance that has potential for damaging or defacing University or private property or causing personal injury or disruption. Dropping any item, or causing any item to be dropped from a window, is a violation of this policy. The owner/occupant of a residence hall or fraternity/sorority property room is responsible for anything that leaves his/her window.” The handbook cites that the first violation of this policy will result in loss of housing.
According to Rupprecht, “water balloons are not classified as a projectile until they go out a window or are thrown into the air.”
The students have lost their housing contracts until Sept. 8, have forfeited their housing deposits for the 2012-13 academic year, and are banned from entering any residence hall for the remainder of the term. Additionally, Laikhter has been put on disciplinary probation for exactly one year and is required to “prepare a PowerPoint presentation that can be used to educate new residential students about the dangers of projectiles or dropped objects from windows. The presentation must include a minimum of 20 slides and a minimum of 5 reputable sources,” according to records obtained from Laikhter.
Rupprecht explained, “Some will argue that sanctions for this type of case are severe, and others will argue that sanctions are not severe enough. We do our best to issue sanctions that best serve the student and the community as a whole.”
When deciding sanctions, Rupprecht explained, “After an incident is documented, it must first be reviewed by professional staff from the Residential Living Office and then referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. The SCCS staff will then review all referred cases to consider what charges, if any, will be issued. A case file then needs to be created. At this point, the student(s) will be notified of a scheduled meeting which could take place anywhere from two to 10 days after notification. If a student accepts responsibility for the alleged violation(s), sanctions would typically be issued the same day, but students retain the right to appeal any sanctions issued and have seven business days to submit an appeal.” He added, “The student conduct process is not a rushed process by any means.”
The students in the incident did appeal the decision. While Laikhter was granted an appeal, a unanimous vote declined the request for appeal for the other two students.
“Most appeals are based on severity of sanction. Any denial would be based on the appeal board not believing that the student made a compelling enough argument to have the sanction(s) amended.” He added, “The appeal board is composed of students, faculty and staff, with the majority of members being students. Both hearing and appeal boards are always chaired by a student.”
“I just thought that water balloons didn’t fit the definition of projectiles in the student handbook,” Laikhter said. Laikhter presented information to the appeal board, supported by mathematics that considered pitching speed and air resistance, which explained that water balloons do not have the potential to damage or deface any property or cause personal injury.
“I brought up that [water balloons] go through rigid government standards because they are intended for children. I said the mass of a full water balloon is less than a beach ball. … I also brought up that other students throw things out of windows all of the time. I heard a janitor in passing once say that he found a package of bacon that was thrown out a window.”
Houseman added, “Water balloons are especially made to break on contact. None of the force from the water balloon is applied to the person it hits. When a water balloon hits you, it hits one radial point of its shell, and the rest of the water disperses and splashes everywhere. It’s the dispersion that makes it harmless,” he said.
Prior to his appeal, Laikhter was sent tips for both a student and adviser responding to a student conduct hearing. He was also told that a list of witnesses directly associated with the matter may be considered to speak on his behalf; however, no character witnesses would be permitted.
Houseman appealed in regard to the severity of the issued sanction. “I told Mark Green, [Assistant Director for Student Conduct and Community Standards] that if I was kicked out of housing, that that could potentially affect my staying here at Drexel. He told me to appeal, and that would help me out.”
Personal friend, former floormate and freshman music industry major Billy Cook said, “I don’t think the consequences were fair given that there is so little time left during the term.” Cook added, “It was pretty harmless, and all the University had to do was talk to them about it. I don’t think that anyone needed to get into massive amounts of trouble. … For alcohol, you have a hearing, you pay a fine, they call your parents, and you take a class. I think that’s about it. Why is this not the same punishment? They would learn their lesson just fine.”
Houseman and Laikhter said that the University did not assist them in the process of finding a new place of residence or offer to assist the students in doing so. Additionally, the third student involved reportedly lives in a Philadelphia suburb and has not been able to find housing for the remainder of the term. Rather than commute to and from campus, the student allegedly has been sleeping in 24-hour University buildings and using the Recreation Center for hygiene purposes.
Rupprecht insisted that “staff at the University will always provide assistance to any student who seeks it. Those who ask about off-campus accommodations will be directed to the Off-Campus Housing website and to local realtors, including Academic Properties Inc.”
A senior education major who wished to remain anonymous commented on the incident, “I was written up my sophomore year for drinking alcohol. I had to have a meeting, and it basically just got dropped over break; I guess it was reasonable. What happened to those kids is ridiculous, but I’m not surprised. When my fraternity was kicked off campus, the brothers in the house were told they had only an hour to vacate.”
The students initially searched for water balloons at the CVS on 3401 Walnut St. When unsuccessful, they purchased the balloons from the CVS at 3925 Walnut St.
“We were just bored and trying to have some fun. We went out of our way to make sure we didn’t hit anyone. We actually went outside to pick up the little balloon shrapnel pieces. We tried to be cooperative,” Houseman said. The students had dropped the balloons on the grass area on the east side of Towers Hall.
There were no screens in the window from which the water balloons were dropped. Laikhter said, “If this is such an issue for them, they’d actually put in the screens. Any work order that I’ve sent in to them they’ve never fixed unless it’s extremely important. I’ve had a broken mirror, no blinds, no screen since the beginning of the year.”
“I think that [screens are] something they should check during their safety checks … because it’s not just water balloons that get thrown out of here. You can actually fit your body through,” Houseman added.
Rupprecht denied knowing why there are no screens in windows. However, he said, “Screens in windows will not prevent anything from going out a residence hall window because those who want to throw something out of a window will remove them. It’s best for students to use good judgment.”
The University has written on its page for undergraduate admissions, “While Drexel has a reputation for academic excellence, we know that students can’t truly thrive without a comfortable, engaging environment.” Cook said that since witnessing the sanctions issued to his friends, he is less comfortable at the University.
“I feel more afraid. I’m scared to do anything because I love it here, and I would never want to leave … I understand that the University has a duty to maintain order, but I feel like this was such a heavy-handed response to what happened. I love my school, and I respect the people who are in charge … but to go out of their way to do this to a [few] freshmen was a little disheartening,” he said.
Rupprecht acknowledged that incidents such as these have occurred in the past. He also said that the entire student handbook is reviewed annually and amended as needed.