By Zainab Iqbal
Published: October 29th, 2018
“Sometimes you girls act like you don’t want it when you really do,” a maintenance worker told Christine DeLisser. They were in the elevator at the Residence Hall (RHBC). Just the two of them. One was a man abusing his power. The other? A young student. He started to gyrate toward her until she put out her hand and pointed to the camera.
“Oh, them shits don’t work,” he said.
DeLisser started attending Brooklyn College in 2016. The following semester, she moved into RHBC. Why wouldn’t she? It was advertised all throughout Brooklyn College. In September of last year, she experienced her first incident of sexual misconduct. The maintenance worker asked DeLisser about her boyfriend. It was just a casual conversation until he began talking about sex.
When he began to move toward her, DeLisser pointed at the camera. “I was just trying to have him not come any closer,” she told The Excelsior. The elevator doors opened on the next floor and DeLisser quickly walked out.
The following month, her kitchen sink was broken. She had asked several times to have it fixed. Finally, two maintenance workers came to fix it. One of the workers was the man from the elevator. He stood next to DeLisser while the other guy worked under the sink.
“I felt OK because I thought somebody else was there and he wouldn’t try anything,” DeLisser said. But that is exactly what he did.
He reached in to give DeLisser a handshake and she reached back. But when she did that, he pulled her in and proceeded to move his mouth toward her neck, “as if he were going to kiss it or blow on it,” she recalled.
“It made me feel very uncomfortable and I just pushed back and I was like ‘Chill, what are you doing?’ I don’t think the guy under the sink knew that occurred,” she said.
In the fall of 2016, film student Chris Omar attended his first semester at Brooklyn College. He was coming from Monroe–Woodbury and his mother suggested he check out RHBC. Why not? It was advertised all throughout the campus.
Omar then went to RHBC and signed the lease– $10,000 for nine months. His mother co-signed a loan; they were to pay $5,000 the first semester and $5,000 the next. Then, came move-in day. It was chaotic, as all move-in days go. Omar’s suitemate caught up to him and suggested bringing his stuff over to the dorm, and grabbing his keys when it’s less chaotic. Omar agreed and did just that.
“We get in and it’s extremely filthy. Liquid, sticky, foreign substances under the microwave, black, sticky substances on the wall, pubic hairs in the drawers, mold in the air conditioner and vents,” Omar recalled. He and his mother went straight to the office, where Joann Johnson, the bookkeeper, assured that this was a one-time thing.
“She just assured my mom that the room was overlooked by maintenance because it was a very busy summer and people just moved out the week before,” Omar said. “So we took her word for it.”
Omar and his mom spent the day and the following weekend cleaning the dorm room. A few weeks later, Omar prepped food with ingredients stored in the refrigerator only to end up sick with food poisoning. It turns out, the fridge temperature was from 50-56 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s supposed to be at 35 degrees. According to LifeHacker, 40 degrees Fahrenheit is considered “danger zone.” The freezer temperature, on the other hand, was 18-20 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s supposed to be at zero.
Omar called 311 and tried to get the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene involved. A few days later, they responded, saying they were not allowed access in the building because they didn’t have a keycard.
At this point, Omar was miserable. He stayed in his dorm less and less and traveled back home almost every day. He met with Vice President for Student Affairs Ron Jackson and Coordinator of Residential Living Andy Auguste. Omar desperately wanted to leave RHBC but he was under a contract. Jackson and Auguste told him there’s nothing they could do. After all, it was a private dorm. But they did offer a suggestion. Create a documentary as leverage to get out of the lease.
“I was like damn, that’s pretty crazy because the banners are what got me to sign the contract. I thought it was the school’s dorm and now we’re finding out that’s not the case,” Omar said.
Omar ended up leaving the dorm, but not before taking upon Auguste and Jackson’s suggestion. He shot a short film of RHBC’s conditions. With an iPhone. Out of desperation. He posted the video on YouTube and in the fall of 2017, a woman by the name of DeLisser sent him an email.
“Hey, I saw your video on YouTube about the Residence Hall. I currently live here and was searching for some clarity as I am trying to leave,” DeLisser wrote. “Let me know if you can be of any help, please. Thank you.”
A friend had told DeLisser to watch a new YouTube video that documented the poor conditions of RHBC. She watched it and wished she had seen it before moving in. So she sent Omar an email, hoping that maybe he’d be able to help.
Omar and DeLisser started talking and a few days later, she filed a Title IX complaint at Brooklyn College. She never heard back.
“She was talking about how she had anxiety and depression,” Omar said. “And there was literally nowhere to turn. The school wasn’t doing anything; Title IX wasn’t doing anything. It was a really bad time.”
To make it simple, there’s a contract between Brooklyn College and RHBC. Sources say it’s basically a one-sided agreement with absolutely no benefits for the College. The contract requires the College to advertise RHBC. The school has absolutely no oversight on the management of the building.
“Title IX is a federal law that only applies to educational institutions and does not apply to private companies. The Residence Hall is a privately owned company,” Jackson told The Excelsior. “The College has no jurisdiction, authority, or management over the residence hall. The College does not run the residence hall. A private company runs the residence hall, and that company has control over how it operates and has the responsibility for what happens on its premises.”
“Many years ago the College entered into a binding, non-monetary, advertising agreement with the private residence hall, where the College is obligated to allow the residence hall to advertise on campus. The College does not receive any financial benefit from the agreement.”
“While the College has no authority over the residence hall, the College is permitted to, and routinely does, provide supportive resources, such as free counseling, to students who believe they may have been subjected to sexual misconduct regardless if the incident occurred on or off campus,” he said. “The Title IX notices are placed inside the residence hall because there is a large concentration of residents in the residence hall who are Brooklyn College students, and we want to make sure students are aware of their resources.”
Omar has been working on his documentary for quite some time now. He says he is constantly told that the College has no jurisdiction over RHBC. But he believes “private institutions have no place on campuses of public universities when protections, such as Title IX, cannot assist students.”
“The main goal of this film is a call to action to President Michelle Anderson. We should be cutting ties with RHBC,” Omar said. “The exploitation of students at a public school for personal benefit and gain, that’s honestly the antithesis of what Brooklyn College stands for.”
Though DeLisser has graduated, it is still very difficult for her to walk by RHBC.
“It still goes with me when I pass by. I feel like somebody else could be in my shoes,” DeLisser said. “I think they don’t understand how far it could’ve gone. To me, it went far enough.”
The maintenance worker who assaulted her was fired. DeLisser does not know why. She doesn’t know if it was because of her. Nobody told her anything.
Just last week, Anderson hosted a #MeToo speak out on campus. DeLisser was the first student to go up and speak her truth. Though she didn’t specify exactly what happened to her, it was enough for her to tear up and catch her breath. After she spoke, silence followed. Not a cough, not a pin drop. She expected Anderson to say something. But words did not follow.
DeLisser stayed a bit after the speak out to tell her story to Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne Lopes. Lopes said she would try to reach out to the right people and asked for ten days to do so.
DeLisser has told her story to various administrators at Brooklyn College numerous times. And now she has Omar documenting everything for her.
“I think they want me to get over it. But I won’t,” DeLisser said. “I can’t imagine if another person comes to RHBC thinking it’s a safe space and then they deal with this nonsense. It definitely hurts. It truly is not a safe place for students.”
Omar is planning for his documentary to be completed by the spring. Anyone that would like to come forward with a story about RHBC can email ChrisOmarVisuals@gmail.com.
Eitan Madmon from RHBC’s management has released this statement.
“The dormitory management and any of its employees strongly and decisively condemn any conduct that is sexually inappropriate in any way.
Neither the dormitory management nor any of its employees have ever received any complaint regarding a possible harassment. Furthermore, no such complaint has ever been received from the day the dormitories were put into operation, by any of the tenants or by any other person. Therefore, we have at this time no ability to relate to the claim made in the article. We have noted that Ms. Christine DeLisser never claims in the article that any complaint was made by her to RHBC management. It should be emphasized that there is 24/7 security in the dormitory. In addition, there are residents assistants (RA’s), whose job is to provide a 24/7 solution to any problem that arises in the building. The RA’s are students themselves.
We are certain that if such a complaint has been put forward it would have received a quick, immediate and uncompromising response.
With regard to the physical conditions in the dormitories – The dormitories is very clean and very well maintained. Those who are interested are invited to the dormitory building to be impressed by the level of maintenance and high cleanliness.
It is important to emphasize that we are a private entrepreneur. We invested and continue to invest $50 millions in RHBC building. This is done in order to build and manage a decent and a valuable dormitory for Brooklyn College and it’s students. We served many thousands of students over the years.
We strongly reject all claims raised in the article. RHBC is a very safe place to live in, as well as very well maintained and clean.”