When Sophie Park, CC ’16, first arrived on campus in the fall, she and her roommate were taken aback to find a bed placed adjacent to a window on an upper floor.
“My bed is right there and somebody could easily fall out—it’s dangerous,” she said.
Now, Park and her roommate can rest easy due to the window stops that University Housing has begun installing in residence halls, following concerns voiced by parents and students about the safety of residence-hall windows.
The issue came to the fore after former Columbia student Martha Corey-Ochoa fell to her death from a 14th-floor window in John Jay Hall during this year’s New Student Orientation Program, when many first-years had just arrived on campus. Corey-Ochoa’s death was ruled a suicide two days later.
One parent, who asked not to be named because her daughter did not know that she had been communicating with administrators, reached out to Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger following Corey-Ochoa’s tragic death.
The configuration in her daughter’s single in John Jay required the bed to be placed against the window, and she worried for her safety.
“As a safety-conscious parent, it immediately appeared to me that these windows were hazardous to the room occupants and passersby outside,” she said in an email. “Sadly, my initial fears were confirmed when I learned of Martha’s death from a similar window in the same dorm.”
In December, Housing sent an email to students explaining that window stops would be installed “in an effort to continuously improve safety measures.”
Over the break, stops were installed in John Jay, Carman, Furnald, Hartley, and Broadway residence halls. Wallach Hall is scheduled to be completed next, and all windows in University residence halls will have window stops by Aug. 15, 2013.
Kristina Hernandez, director of Marketing and Communications for Student and Administrative Services, said that “There was much discussion between the student and parent community highlighting the need” for the window stops.
According to Hernandez, the stops were installed using permanent screws that allow the windows to open about 20 inches in total between the upper and lower panes. It would effectively prevent a person from falling out of the window.
But some students raised doubts about the installation’s effectiveness.
“Facilities put in a considerable effort just to get the window stops installed, but students began taking them out as soon as break was over,” Aidan Mehigan, CC ’16, said. “Over the summer, Facilities will presumably have to go back through the rooms to reinstall missing stops.”
While Mehigan felt that stops would be comforting to people on upper floors who are afraid of heights, he said that he is concerned about how the window stops would prevent the air from circulating in the warmer months.
“Since installation, a couple students have complained about the limitation,” Hernandez said. “But overall the student response to Housing thus far has been understanding and supportive of the measure.”
While Housing maintained that the installation was an independent safety initiative, students said that actions to ensure their physical safety are a small part of the larger issues of suicide prevention and mental health.
“It was nice to see they were making some kind of gesture, but if suicide prevention is what they’re trying to get at, there are probably better, more direct ways to target the heart of the problem,” Park said.
Mehigan agreed and said that the effort should be expanded to include Counseling and Psychological Services, which was not directly involved in the installation of the window stops.
“A society-wide shift in perception of mental health has to start somewhere,” Mehigan said, “And it will need many organizations to drive it along—CPS must play a part.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Aidan Mehigan as Aiden Megihan. Spectator regrets the error.