Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

A student exits Cascadilla Hall on Aug. 28, 2023.

October 18, 2023

Rape in Cascadilla Hall Intensifies Residential Concerns, Spurs Security Upgrades

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Editor’s Note: This story discusses rape on campus.

When Bridget Sisk ’26 found out about the rape that occurred in Cascadilla Hall, her residence hall, she had an uneasy feeling she couldn’t shake. Since then, she has become hyperaware of her residential surroundings, constantly feeling uncomfortable in her own home. 

“Every time I hear a loud door slam outside my room or people in the halls at night, I get nervous,” Sisk said.

The Cornell student community received a Crime Alert about an on-campus rape on Thursday, Sept. 14, which resulted in several students telling The Sun they feel unsafe in their residence hall and prompted a series of security renovations to quell resident fears.  

“A victim reported to a University official that she was forcibly raped by an unknown person, in an unknown residence hall, sometime on Sept. 14,” the alert stated. “The victim described the suspect as a male, six feet tall and weighing approximately 160 pounds. The victim was able to escape after kicking the suspect.” 

Cascadilla Hall residents received a subsequent email on Sept. 15 informing them that the event occurred in their residence hall, without further information regarding the identity of the offender or specific details about the location. In a follow-up email on Sept. 19, Housing and Residential Life encouraged students to report any helpful information and “take steps to maximize the current safety and security measures already in place.”

“I feel like they didn’t do a good job of communicating what really happened,” said Isha Patel ’26. According to Cornell’s 2023 Security Report, in response to an event that constitutes a threat to students and employees, the University will issue a Crime Alert containing “a brief description of the incident; the date, time, location of the incident and precautions to take.” The report adds that “the amount and type of information presented in the warning will vary depending on the circumstances of the crime.”

Not only were Cascadilla Hall residents alarmed by the recent assault, but they have already adopted safety habits to combat the increasing sexual violence on and near campus. Sisk has increasingly taken measures to ensure her safety during her time in the dorm.

“When I signed a housing contract to live in Cascadilla Hall, I knew because of the long history of theft I was going to have to be vigilant about locking my door when I was away, but I am constantly checking that my door is locked when I’m in the room,” Sisk said.

Last year, there were three Crime Alerts that reported thefts in Cascadilla Hall. The first theft occurred on Aug. 24, 2022 in which a Nintendo Switch gaming console, controllers and charger were stolen. The second occurred on Nov. 15, 2022 in which a laptop and iPad were stolen. In a third incident on May 9, 2023, a backpack was stolen. In all three cases, the thieves entered through unlocked dorm rooms, and in one case, the room was occupied.

Even before the rape occurred, Patel was weary of her residence’s security after encountering two aggressive men on Sept. 1. She said she was startled at 2:30 a.m. by loud knocks on her door, which she assumed were from her friends who frequently visit her room at all hours. 

“I was freaking out because I said really quietly, ‘come in,’ thinking it was my friends, but it was two random men who got really aggressive,” Patel said. “That was really scary.” Patel reported the incident to her residential advisor.

Patel extended her complaint about the Administration’s lack of transparency regarding the rape to include concerns about a general lack of information surrounding suspicious activity in Cascadilla Hall.

“I went down and identified them to the head RA, and she said, ‘this description is exactly like someone a couple of days ago who was going into the women’s restroom,’” Patel said. “Why did no one tell us this?”

Many residents feel Cascadilla Hall’s location in the Collegetown area contributes to these security concerns, as it may be vulnerable to more non-residents. Amanda Peh ’26 has been uncomfortable with the number of people who loiter around Cascadilla Hall, especially after the rape reported in the building.

“In Collegetown, there is a high probability that someone is not a student here,” Peh said. “That’s why I don’t like people loitering.”

Peh explained that when she enters Cascadilla Hall and is uncertain if a loiterer is a resident, she usually waits for them to go away or walks to a different entrance to avoid interacting with them. Even more so, she said, the cars that park outside her building for long periods of time make her the most concerned for her safety.

“The cars are what make me uncomfortable, because what if they just take me?” Peh said.

Some Cascadilla Hall residents, including Sisk, have felt that their dorm is “forgotten and neglected” and that their “safety is being put on the backburner.” The rape has served as an unfortunate indication that better security is required for students to feel sufficiently protected.

In a September interview with The Sun, David Honan, associate vice president of public safety, mentioned some of the security measures that the University has put in place in response to growing sexual assault risk, including education campaigns.

“We started off educating people about the tailgater issue — don’t let anybody into the residence hall if you don’t know them,” Honan said during the interview. “People can be cautious about not wanting to offend somebody, but in doing so, we accidentally let some people into residence halls that probably shouldn’t be there.”

Honan also mentioned that the University plans to install a secondary ID scanner in Cascadilla Hall that will provide “two layers” of security to residents.

According to Peh, Cascadilla residents have recently received email updates on new renovations to strengthen security in the building — including the new card access reader installed for the second floor elevator in an effort to ensure only residents can enter the residential areas of the building. Other renovations include improvements to blinds and windows, and testing alarms and horns in individual rooms. Residents were also informed about increased police presence in and around the building.

Some residents feel more comfortable living in Cascadilla Hall after security measures were introduced. Patel shared she is less scared in her dorm than she used to be.

“They have [increased] security, so now it’s feeling more safe… the first month, at least, was really scary,” Patel said.

Other residents feel the new safety implementations are still insufficient to adequately protect residents given the severity of the incidents that have occurred and Cascadilla Hall’s Collegetown location.

“The underwhelming response by the security team and Cornell Administration was disheartening, especially when they offered subpar safety improvements,” Sisk said.

Amid security threats in Cascadilla Hall, housing staff members have encouraged South Campus residents to enlist help whenever they feel afraid in their dorm or on campus. 

“If you ever feel unsafe in Cascadilla, in any other residence hall or anywhere on campus, please don’t hesitate to pick up your phone and call for help,” wrote South Campus Area Coordinator Kristi Shorter in an email to residents obtained by The Sun. “You have every right to be here, live your life, go to school and feel safe. That is the basic right of any student at this institution.”