When 18-year-old Macalah Pederson arrived at UMKC on Aug. 12 to move into her dorm, the Oak Street Building was almost empty.
The rest of the student body wouldn’t arrive until Friday. Pederson was one of just 20 college students invited to arrive at UMKC four days early as part of the school’s First Gen Roos program.
But when Pederson told her parents she’d wake up at 7 a.m. to the sound of workers already in her bathroom, her parents were worried and urged her to lock her doors.
“The workers had keys, so they could unlock the doors anyway,” Pederson said. “But when they would come into my room, they seemed surprised to see me. I don’t think they knew I was going to be in there.”
Brett Clem is the manager of operations for Zipco, the construction company hired by the school to fix the Oak Street dorm, where the First Gen Roos moved in. But he is unsure of the specific communications that took place between university housing staff and Zipco workers.
“We knew they were going to be coming in,” Clem said. “There were certain timetables that the school put in place, and we did our best to meet those.”
Part of UMKC’s Title IX training, which is mandatory for UMKC Housing staff and students, states that 1 in 4 women will be victims of sexual assault.
RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, is also cited on the UMKC website. The organization’s statistics note female college freshmen are at even higher risk during their first two semesters at college.
“Contractors were provided with a list of occupied rooms and instructed not to enter them,” said UMKC Director of Media Relations John Martellaro in a statement. “Only the project superintendent had keys, and crews were given a specific protocol to follow for accessing spaces within the building. University staff also met with the crews to inform them of our zero-tolerance policy for crew members who do not comply with the university policies and procedures.”
Pederson says she wasn’t given any notice by housing that the workers would be there, nor was there information about safety measures that would be in place.
But as a new arrival enrolled in First Gen Roos, Pederson trusted the program with her safety. She was focused on the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: attending college.
Kaylee Adams, another 18-year-old freshman in the program, plans to major in criminal justice and pre-law. Adams was with her mother, Kathy Brown, when the two discovered construction workers had access to her bedroom.
But Adams was alone in her bed when someone entered her bathroom at 1 a.m. that Wednesday, two days before the rest of the students arrived on campus.
“I was afraid to get up and look to see who it was, because someone was definitely in there,” Adams said. “I thought so long as they don’t see me, nothing bad can happen, you know?”
Adams noticed the door to the connecting bedroom would be unlocked and remain that way after workers were in the rooms.
“I don’t know if it was a construction worker or not that night, but if it wasn’t somebody in there working, that’s kind of even worse,” she said.
Oak Street dorm rooms connect two dorms with a bathroom. The bathroom can only be locked from the inside, meaning Adams couldn’t lock the door leading from the bathroom into her bedroom. The same was true for Pederson’s room.
Brown was uncertain of UMKC’s reliance on construction worker discretion for her daughter’s safety, noting her discomfort about whether or not they’d walk in on her daughter changing clothes.
“I guess because I never dropped a kid off at college before, I didn’t know if this was kind of the norm,” Brown said. “In my mind, I would have put first-generation kids in an area that was completely finished.”
UMKC Residential Life Staff has contacted Pederson and Adams to discuss their concerns.