Questions raised this week surrounding the university’s handling of former student Daniel Milzman’s March arrest for making ricin in his dorm room and the aftermath for those involved on campus have been met with silence from the administration, while gaining support among students.
After Milzman was sentenced Monday to one year in prison, 400 hours of community service, a mandatory mental health treatment program and 36 months of supervised release following his sentence, with a deal that means he could secure a January release, Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15), the resident assistant who first reported Milzman’s possession of ricin to the university and the police, wrote a viewpoint in The Hoya raising concerns about both the university’s handling of the incident and its lack of support for Lloyd as a university employee in the weeks that followed.
In his viewpoint, Lloyd recounted the night that Milzman showed him the ricin, detailing the delayed response of Counseling and Psychiatric Services when he first called them to report the incident, as well as the lack of a support system for him from the university — particularly, the Office of Residential Living — after Milzman’s arrest.
“It made me very cynical about when the safety net was activated, and what situations we actually support students. The university attempts to keep a story exploding at the expense of giving those traumatized the space to process emotion,” Lloyd said after the viewpoint’s publication.
As an RA, but not Milzman’s direct RA, Lloyd described how his involvement in the situation, and whether or not he was considered a university employee at the moment he turned in Milzman, was further blurred. He raised concerns about how RAs are treated by the university as both employees and students, which have since been echoed by other RAs on campus.
In response to questions regarding the handling of the ricin incident, Assistant Dean of Residential Life Stephanie Lynch, Residential Education Director Ed Gilhool, Associate Director of Residential Education Andrew Erdmann, CAPS Director Phil Meilman and the Office of General Counsel, which provides legal services to the university, all deferred comments to Rachel Pugh, the university’s director of media relations.
“We are grateful for the students and professional staff who worked to respond to this incident. We also recognized that there is always room for improvement and we are constantly evaluating our practices and learning from each experience. Feedback from all those involved in any incident helps to improve our processes,” Pugh wrote in an email.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson echoed Pugh, expressing gratitude toward RAs.
“We appreciate the great work of our resident assistants across campus. We know that RAs often make use of their extensive training in supporting their friends, as well as in working with students on their floors,” Olson wrote in an email, in response to request for comment on the university’s handling of the incident.
Pugh praised the university’s response time.
“In March 2014, the university reacted quickly, thoughtfully and responsibly to respond to an incident of ricin on our campus,” Pugh wrote. “The successful implementation of our protocols resulted in keeping our university community safe during this unprecedented incident.”
Lloyd and fellow RAs expect that Lloyd faces possible termination from his position as an RA for coming forward and violating the confidentiality agreement that RAs must sign.
“They’re going to fire Thomas, but they haven’t yet,” Tim Rosenberger (COL ’16), also an RA and a friend of Lloyd, said. “Word is something’s coming.”
According to Pugh, RAs are “trained and expected to protect the privacy of students.” She did not respond to requests for comment on whether this rule of confidentiality applies to an RA’s interactions with all students or just with his or her specific residents.
RAs, who remained anonymous for fear of being fired, shared their stories of mistreatment by the university on the Voice’s website Thursday. Students shared the accounts using the hashtag #yesallRAs.
One RA shared an experience being sexually assaulted by a resident, but feared that reporting the incident would result in loss of employment.
“I never officially reported the assault because I did not want to start any trouble. After hearing the stories of my fellow RAs who experienced indirect punitive measures in the rehiring process as a result of reporting incidents of sexual assault, I am glad that I never officially reported the incident. If I didn’t have this job, I would not be able to pay for tuition,” the RA said to the Voice.
Another RA also questioned the university’s treatment of residential living student staff.
“No one said anything about what to do if one of us in our capacity as an RA was assaulted. I don’t know whether I’m guaranteed equal protection as an employee of this university. I don’t know my own rights. It makes me very, very scared,” another RA said.
Afraid of the possible legal repercussions resulting from his involvement with Milzman, with whom he’d had a relationship, Lloyd asked at a meeting with Lynch, Gilhool and University Counsel Adam Adler whether or not he could receive legal protection as an employee of the university.
According to Lloyd, Adler told him that because he was not Milzman’s designated RA, it would be unlikely that he would get legal protection. However, Erdmann had told him previously that, as an RA, he was not permitted to speak about the incident to his friends or to faculty, only to CAPS or to his chaplain.
“I would sort of hope that if my position was being leveraged to keep me quiet and to really prevent who I could speak to, then at the same time I would have been offered legal protection, but that’s not what happened,” Lloyd said.
Rosenberger said that he believed that the university wanted to keep those involved quiet so as to control the story.
“The reason that they were really invested in us not talking at the time was the information coming out of Residence Life was deliberately false,” Rosenberger said. “I mean, the story they were spinning was ‘Danny Milzman was depressed. He came to his RA with depression, and his RA handled the situation.’ It wasn’t ‘Danny Milzman happened to be [involved with] an RA in a different building, may or may not have tried to poison him and/or other people, this kid spilled, and thank God we’re all safe.’”