In Eaton, Mahoney and Pearson Residential Colleges, a bathroom separates many dorm rooms. Two pairs of suitemates live on either side of the bathroom, sharing a shower, two sinks and a toilet. While the front doors of each room have locks, the bathrooms do not.
Students have no control over whether their suitemates lock their front door – a situation that could potentially enable an intruder to enter one of the suite’s rooms and travel through the unlocked bathroom to the next room, many students say.
“If [my suitemates] leave their door unlocked, then someone can come into my room, too,” Aniruddha Krishna, a junior who has lived in Mahoney, said.
“When I first saw that there were no locks I was so shocked,” alumnus Violaine De L’Aulnoit said of her experience living in Pearson Residential College last year. “How was I supposed to feel comfortable without a lock?”
After several incidents of students locking themselves in the bathrooms, the fire department mandated that the university remove the locks to be in compliance with fire safety issues.
Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, said the university regularly meets with the fire department regarding all buildings on campus and has hired a private company to inspect and certify all of the university’s fire and safety equipment.
“Safety is paramount in case of fire,” he said.
But are the fire safety regulations jeopardizing students’ security and right to privacy?
“It’s dangerous if someone sketchy takes advantage of the fact that the rooms are connected and come into my room or while I’m in the bathroom,” said Ratcha Erpaiboon, a junior who lived in Pearson.
In January 2007, former UM student Michael Anthony Anderson was arrested for entering an unlocked Pearson suite and sexually assaulting the sleeping female victim. He was also accused of stealing some of her belongings before leaving.
Junior Dayna Candela said she doesn’t feel safe without locks.
“If anything, UM should have locks on the outside of the bathroom doors for when we go to sleep,” Candela said. “I feel more secure being able to lock my side of the bathroom.”
Candela also recalls an incident in which the lack of bathroom locks compromised her boyfriend’s privacy.
“[My suitemate] didn’t hear the shower turn off and had just walked in on my boyfriend [while he was using the shower],” Candela said.
Arias suggests that students set up “suite meetings” to discuss bathroom rules and guidelines or to set up a system so that everyone can use the bathroom comfortably, without the fear of being barged in on.
“Issues between roommates can be worked out,” he said.
Last year, Arias said there have been no cases of crime or theft due to unlocked doors on campus, but agrees it is a concern. “It’s never safe to leave doors open,” he said.
The bathrooms will remain without locks because there needs to be several ways to escape a fire, Arias said.
If the Coral Gables Fire Department agreed to it, Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, said she is “willing to explore new ideas” if students presented them. One such idea is the installation of a lock on each side of the bathroom door that could be opened using a universal key that would be provided to each suitemate.