ELSEWHERE: Washington State housing plan should have been in place for sex offenders

(U-WIRE) PULLMAN, Wash. – Safety is a question we all live with. It’s a condition we often take for granted and one which we often don’t appreciate until it is gone. It’s a condition the university must provide to students living on campus and one that has been jeopardized by carelessness and oversight.

When Nathan Sterr, 18, convicted in 2001 of child molestation, arrived on campus he was placed with a roommate in a university residence hall. This news broke when the mother of his roommate appeared on Seattle-based news stations declaring outrage for her son being paired unwittingly with a man with a history of sexual misconduct. The university has drawn strong criticism for failing to act and keeping students in the dark. No policy was in place for dealing with Level II offenders and now officials must show they are listening to students when they say they are safe.

Sterr will live with his crime for the rest of his life. As a Level II offender, he must notify prospective employers, city officials, schools and day-care providers of his presence. He is not required to tell roommates or neighbors, and administrators were fine with him living in the general population of a university dorm.

When Sterr spoke with the Evergreen this week, he said he felt unsure whether he could continue pursuing his education at WSU. Some might say “good riddance” but Sterr is as entitled to an education here as anyone else and so long as he doesn’t re-offend, should be allowed to remain here free of torment.

Students have the right to know whether the roommate sleeping several feet away has an unsettling past. Whether likely to re-offend or not, students have the right to know if a roommate is a sex offender. In spite of emotion, Sterr and others have a right to an education and safety. The university’s lack of foresight has interfered with these basic rights. This problem wouldn’t happen if WSU had a plan in place for students with sexual offenses.

A “sex offender” check box on the online housing application next to “smoker” is obviously not the solution, but one preventative measure does seem maddeningly simple: Give the student in question their own room or find him off-campus housing. By doing nothing, administrators set the university up for embarrassment and have certainly not helped alleviate any negative images of WSU.

Though Level II offenders such as Sterr are not required to notify roommates or neighbors, they do have to notify other public interests. The university was aware of Sterr’s record and should have been aware his placement could upset or anger some students.

The attention will wane but the stigma will remain at WSU. This may be a story that will stick in the mind of a potential student. It seems to us unbelievable that university officials would have no plan of action for a situation like this, and should count it a blessing that this question did not arise through more tragic conditions.

It took a sobbing mother on the news to get any action on this issue.

It is unfortunate a student who has paid his debt and has not re-offended now feels he must drop out of college. The Editorial Board in no way is condoning his crime, but we do not think it is fair to risk his safety out of laziness.

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