EDITORIAL: Is privacy a problem in Idaho’s “friendliest” town?

Photo credit: Grace Wride

Written by Ileana Hunter, Eden Burke and Jens Huber

Earlier this year, a man coined the “Rexburg Predator” was arrested for allegedly trespassing into several unlocked women’s apartments here in Rexburg. Starting in the Cedars Women’s Apartments and making his way to the Cove Women’s Apartments, he was allegedly caught on camera entering the residence and then exiting minutes later in the middle of the night. This is not the only occurrence of an incident like this in small-town Rexburg, and students of BYU-Idaho are reevaluating their trust in the stereotypically relaxed and open Rexburg culture.

While everyone can agree that extreme events like the Rexburg Predator are obviously condemnable, we at Scroll believe that there are many ways students can have their privacy invaded that are sometimes overlooked. We at Scroll believe we need to amend some glaring issues in how we handle privacy at mainly three levels: apartments, the institution and student relationships. Together, we can improve a culture that is both friendly and respectful of one another’s dignity.

Most current BYU-I students probably don’t know about the hilariously horrifying email that the Cedars apartments sent to their tenants on Feb. 9, 2018. The email explained that because of multiple reports of curfew violations, the management would be initiating random room checks.

An excerpt of the email read:

“We will randomly select apartments each week to check. Our employees will be knocking on the door and will enter with their key if you do not answer. They will check the apartment including all the bedrooms and bathrooms.”

Because of management’s threat to literally force themselves into apartments and search students’ homes like some Orwellian nightmare, a wave of complaints immediately soared in from students and parents alike. Some students reported that the threat of legal action was what likely spurred the subsequent apology email from the apartment complex only a few hours later.

This proposal was thankfully ridiculed, criticized, and mostly shut down — but sadly, similarly invasive incidents continue into today.

Kaedon Apezteguia, a junior studying computer science, shared his story with Scroll about an angry manager who saw him asleep on his friend’s living room couch.

“I was taking a nap at my female friend’s apartment at around 3 p.m. when I was suddenly awoken by one of the apartment managers yelling at me, saying ‘Get both of your feet on the floor right now!’ She had been walking by and saw me taking a nap through the window.”

Apezteguia explained that he was sleeping all alone on the couch and nowhere near another female. But apparently, the act of having his feet up on the couch was enough for the manager to open the door, enter in and yell at him.

Since student housing in Rexburg is BYU-I approved, it is also easy to trace much of the privacy culture to the school and church institutions since the apartments are often just trying to adhere to the Student Living Standards and Church policies.

Take Rebecca Hoffmann, a junior studying biomedical sciences, and her experience. Earlier this year, Hoffmann was cooking in her apartment when she heard a knock at the door. She didn’t immediately answer because she was putting some things away, and as she walked over to the door, a bishopric member’s wife swung the door open and walked in. Hoffmann felt it was pretty off-putting and was even more upset to find out the same woman walked in uninvited a few days later to introduce herself to the other roommate.

“It made me feel like I was at young women’s girls camp,” said Hoffmann. “It just made me angry that the leaders treat us and view us like children, but they expect us to … have all the expectations that come along with being a college student.”

Here’s the thing: This church leader’s intentions were probably pure and aimed at fellowshipping the members of her ward. She was most likely a sweet and amicable lady, doing her best to fulfill an intimidating calling among intimidating college students. That’s the micro-tragedy of this situation — a bit of over-eager church leadership ironically led to a few students feeling a bit more uneasy about their church leadership.

Furthermore, how do we, as students, sometimes invade one another’s privacy? The majority of students and people here in Rexburg are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is an inherent trust between members. After all, isn’t that why we all decided to come to school here? As a result, this can sometimes lead to enabling behavior that allows people to come in someone’s home unannounced.

Although most times when an individual enters an apartment without notice, they do not come from a place of ill intent. But the problem still remains.

For years, there has been a lack of boundaries on campus, especially in regards to apartments. People enter into someone’s living space without even knocking — some even overstay their welcome.

The culture here in Rexburg is typically trusting. This does not mean it’s OK to ignore basic etiquette. The more people come into apartments or living spaces as they please unannounced, the more it allows for even larger discrepancies to happen.

When people become extra lax about letting friendly violations occur, it increases the potential for certain people to get away with malicious actions.

Hanna Lunt, a junior studying nursing, was in her living room watching a movie around midnight when she noticed her front door knob slowly turning, as if someone were trying to open it. When there was no other movement, Lunt shrugged it off, not paying any mind to it, then suddenly the door opened abruptly, and a man in a 50s style plague-like mask appeared. The man in the mask left as soon as he realized that there was someone in the living room.

The most shocking part of this entire ordeal was not that a man could easily walk into a young woman’s apartment without hesitation but that he could get away with it because of the response from the complex. The apartment’s management said it was only a prank and that next time the women need to keep their doors locked. Is it easy to tell from a distance if someone is walking into an apartment uninvited? Possibly not. But as we become increasingly complacent about the open-doors culture, incidents like this and heaven forbid, the Rexburg Predator will be harder to stop.

Besides basically not having locks on doors, many apartments don’t have locks on bedrooms either. This can lead to some uncomfortable situations.

Early in Tamara Lukashova’s, a senior studying data analytics, college career, there was a woman who lived in her apartment that had no respect or understanding for privacy. She would come into the women’s rooms when they were gone at work or class and scout through their rooms and private belongings. None of the women knew what their roommate was doing until things started to disappear. The women contacted management for their apartment and were told that the woman had been in previous situations like this one and they were doing their best to get to the bottom of it.

The apartment complex knew exactly what was happening with this woman and knowingly moved her to another apartment of women that were unaware of the situation at hand. They put the women in danger with a complete disrespect of their privacy.

The woman continued to live in their apartment, continued to steal and was dishonest in her doings with the people that were forced to be closest to her. Besides continuing to live with this roommate, they were given one other option of uprooting everything in the middle of midterms and moving.

“They seemed to care more about her privacy than they did ours,” Lukashova said. “They wouldn’t ask her to move. They were telling us to move.”

Student locking door.
A student locking their door. Photo credit: Ileana Hunter

We all decided to go to this school for a reason, but how can the rules that are designed to provide a loving atmosphere sometimes create a contradiction? Does the Honor Code, while effective at discouraging certain behaviors to an extent, also encourage a culture of student-policing? One student, for example, explained that she was reported to her bishop by a roommate for watching a “True Crime” documentary. Furthermore, multiple students have previously testified on social media that the Honor Code Office has previously encouraged students to out certain LGBTQ+ students. There also exist certain honor code rules, like not allowing the living room blinds to be down when a member of the opposite sex is visiting your apartment. What would happen if a woman needed a blessing from one of the men in her ward? Are they expected to go to the lounge? Or keep the blinds open during such a vulnerably spiritual moment? To what extent do these cultures and policies create Zion, and to what extent do they create a panopticon that we can’t opt-out of?

All of us — administrators, apartment managers, and students alike — should strive to create a culture that is respectful and courteous of one another’s space and dignity. Let’s knock before entering apartments, refrain from policing other students over minor infractions and allow one another to live our lives as autonomous adults.