College rescinds collective vandalism charges after student pressure

By Bailey Allen and Sabrina Lam

The college has dropped its plan to collectively charge Little Building residents a $16,000 vandalism fee in the face of staunch opposition from its student union.

Emerson’s Office of Housing and Residential Education announced on Oct. 28 that all residents of the main first-year dormitory would be charged after a trend of property destruction and defacement in the first months of the fall semester. College officials said that if the perpetrators did not come forward voluntarily, the damage fees would be collectively charged to the building’s residents as a whole.

The vandalism varied in extremity, with incidents ranging from writing inappropriate signage on community whiteboards to intentionally breaking elevators.

Last Friday, Christie Anglade, the assistant dean and director for housing, residential education, and student conduct, sent a community-wide email reversing the administration positioning, stating that “the college does not plan to pursue financial restitution from Little Building residents at this time.”

The decision to halt the charges was made because “the disruptive and damaging behaviors [had] diminished” at the start of the spring semester. Anglade also mentioned that the administration “heard from many students as well as members of the Student Government Association concerned about this prospect.”

Confusion, frustration, and outrage erupted among the first-year class after the announcement in October. Many believed the charges to be financially exploitative, especially considering the already-high cost of attending Emerson.

“Collective bargaining is the solution for this issue, and giving students the ability to have a say in their own contracts—whether it’s tuition or housing contracts,” said Dylan Young, a sophomore visual and media arts major and the student union’s internal communications chairman. “[Contracts] shouldn’t be published or updated without the students having a say and giving a thumbs up before it’s done.”

The student union mobilized by organizing a “Freshman Delegation,” a coalition of five elected students to meet with administrators such as Anglade and Jim Hoppe—the vice president and dean of campus life—to air their grievances. 

Anglade could not immediately be reached for comment.

Amiri Sillah, a first-year political communications major who serves as the union’s liaison to college administration, said it was unfair to charge every first-year student, especially because some of them had been the ones who’d had their dorms vandalized by others.

“Clearly we’re the victims as much as we are the possible suspects,” Sillah said. “And you say to them, ‘We’re going to charge you an ambiguous amount of money for ambiguous charges.’ Who’s going to step up for anything? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Khatima Bulmer, a first-year student in the union’s Freshman Delegation, also said that punishments should not be applied to those who were victims of hate speech vandalized on their whiteboards and doors.

“The institution was going to also financially discipline the marginalized groups that were affected by this atrocious speech,” Bulmer said. “I was furious at this realization.”

The Freshman Delegation created a social media campaign for students to post personal statements to the student union’s Instagram, protesting against the charges and urging them to be rescinded. 

“How could you demand even more money after families have sacrificed so much in order to afford Emerson’s exorbitant tuition?” Jaeden Footitt, a first-year VMA major, said as part of the campaign.

Bulmer said that administration officials expressed to them that they resorted to collective punishment in hopes for the perpetrators to come forward.

We all found it laughable that the administration truly thought that the few, or maybe even one, students would come forward and expose themselves,” Bulmer said. “Obviously, they don’t understand how humans, especially youth, handle situations like that.”

College officials argued that the vandalism was occurring at a level not seen before in the Emerson community.

“While community billing is not something that we have had to implement in quite some time at the College, the severity and frequency of the purposeful destruction of property has led us to this point,” officials said in the initial email from HRE.

David Sazdic, a sophomore VMA major who works in an outside organization and interior communications at the student union, said that the administration definitely heard the union’s collective voice.

“We had an influence directly showing the administration that we were ready to activate people and get people excited about this movement,” Sazdic said.

The student union will mediate a Town Hall on March 6 at 8 p.m. between administration and students to address the lack of student inclusion in bargaining agreements. The discussion will be held in the Beard Room in Piano Row.