Kaneko resident Kayla Davis (‘26) had already arrived home for Fall Break when she received an email regarding a recently slashed couch and trashed room in the C and Academic wings of Kaneko Commons. For Davis and other residents, one line in the email stuck out: “If no information [relating to the damage] is received by December 5, 2023, the amount to replace the couch and clean and repair the other impacted areas of Kaneko Commons will be charged to the entire community.”
The email delivered by Heather Kropf, director of residence life and student conduct, is a paraphrasing of passage 5.5 F from the 2023-24 housing contract. “Students share responsibility for their building. Any damage, vandalism (including graffiti) or loss to public areas (including bathrooms) will be their joint financial responsibility. … Any extra costs incurred to repair and/or clean public areas … will be equally split and assessed to the entire residential community or portion thereof if the responsible party is not identified.”
“[I was] kinda shocked,” said Kaneko resident Freddy Finney-Jordet (‘25). “Without any context, it seemed like a really wild reaction. Then I learned it’s university policy, which seems like it makes a little more sense, but it’s still weird.” In fact, schools including University of Oregon, Puget Sound and Connecticut College all have nearly identical clauses in their housing contracts.
Kropf explained to The Collegian, “These damages are outside of an allocated budget … [and] there needs to be money to cover that.” Still, some residents wondered why they should be the ones to foot the bill if they weren’t involved in the misconduct. After Kropf’s initial email, residents were also left in the dark regarding the potential amount charged to their accounts if the case wasn’t resolved by the Dec. 5 deadline. Kropf later said that the cost of repairing the damage and replacing the newly purchased couch for each resident would be less than $5, but she was unaware of the cost back in November and thus couldn't specify. She added that “based on other colleagues and [her] experience at other institutions,” individual group damage bills stay under $20. In the case of Willamette, “group damages” are not charged from the required $300 cleaning and damage deposit every resident pays, which only covers damages to private dormitories.
After realizing the low cost of the potential replacement and taking in email feedback from residents, Kropf and her department rescinded the group billing threat. However, she maintained that if further damage occurs in the common areas, the community could be retroactively billed for the couch and damaged rooms alongside the costs of the new repairs. “We’re not planning to bill, and I’m hoping not to bill, but if there is more damage I will have to … and that’s what our contract states.”
Earlier in the year Kaneko, among other dorms, also suffered a string of bike thefts, leading Director of Campus Safety and Emergency Management Andrew Fresh to warn students to be aware of who they let into campus buildings, speculating that most bike thieves were trespassers. Despite keeping bikes locked in their proper places, bike owners had no financial recourse as per the housing contract, as private property is not the responsibility of the university. Kropf stated that if the perpetrator of the Kaneko damage is found to be a trespasser, the situation will be “different.”
The investigative process is based on conversations with residents, tap card logs and camera evidence. Guilt in the case of damaged property is determined on a “more likely than not” basis, but Kropf specified that “when we [the university] would ever hold a student accountable for charging within restitution, I would like to have hard evidence in some way that that is the student that has engaged in the disruptive behavior.” If and when the culprit is found, the conduct proceedings will most likely be under wraps. She noted that in her time at Willamette, she hasn’t ever dished out group damages — the alternative being a conduct process following a successful investigation.
In the end, a $5 charge to the student account likely won’t harm students who have bigger fish to fry in terms of university costs. But for some, the principles of the policy feel off. Finney-Jordet speculated that a better system might be found through more community input and involvement in the repair process: “It’d be kind of nice if the community could have a space where they could pitch in.”
Kropf reminded residents of the importance of reading the housing contract, which every resident must sign to live on campus, and explained that her office is always ready and willing to explain emails and policies further. “We really care for student safety and security, and behaviors like this have been really impactful for students … We want to create an environment where students can thrive academically.” In the case of the torn-up couch specifically, Davis and Finney-Jordet responded identically when asked if the damage had affected them: “No.”