Last Saturday night, Carman 8 resident Grisham Blake threw an epic paint party. He bought a bar off Craigslist and installed it in his room, and bought paint for guests to decorate each other with. By Sunday morning, the party had been broken up by RAs, his room was covered in paint, and he had been CAVA’d. Grisham faces losing his housing at his hearing with the Office of Judicial Affairs and Community Standards (OJA) tomorrow afternoon.
Luckily, Grisham has some amazing friends in Carman who insist that he was not fully responsible for what happened, and doesn’t deserve harsh punishment. Bwog met earlier today with these students, who have submitted five pages of testimony (reproduced below) to be read at the hearing. What follows is Grisham and his friends’ clearly biased version of the story—take it as you will.
Summary of the Testimony
The testimony highlights the lack of support Grisham received with his problems with alcohol abuse. Grisham had already been CAVA’d three times. His friends, RAs and Housing administrators were well aware of his alcoholism. Yet the Carman students claim that Housing has never directed him toward Columbia Psychological Services (CPS). Allegedly, Associate Director of Housing Deborah Pawlikowski, during a meeting after his initial offenses “spoke to him about alcohol in a positive manner and…told him, in Grisham’s words, that perhaps he should stop drinking and start smoking weed instead.” Also, when Grisham sought help at CPS, “his alcohol abuse was not addressed.”
The students claim that Carman RAs were aware of the party before it happened and didn’t try to stop it, and then covered up that fact after it was broken up. One testimony states: “I have spoken to an RA who had full knowledge of the party taking place prior to its beginning…When I asked for the hard evidence of the RA’s knowledge through texts they sent between each other, I was stonewalled. The Community Advisor, Nora Habboosh, made a poor judgement call in deciding that these messages of the RAs were not pertinent to Grisham’s case.” The testimony also states that RAs were physically aggressive towards Grisham and a guest.
Allegedly, Housing used CAVA as a punitive measure to shut the party down. Multiple testimonies state that Grisham was not allowed to refuse to be CAVA’d:
The host calmly and coherently [said] “I’m fine, really, I don’t need to go to the hospital, can I please just go back to my room?” to which the response was “No.” I cannot stress enough that the host was in no way showing signs of alcohol related sickness, belligerence, or incoherence.
The students said that Grisham agreed to be CAVA’d after his RAs threatened to call the police, “because he was afraid of getting arrested.”
The students also raised what they called “systemic problems” with the OJA process. Grisham is not allowed to have an attorney or witnesses speak at their hearing, although testimony sent through email is admitted. Grisham has an advisor, but the advisor cannot speak during the process. The students claim that OJA said the advisor would have the same role as “a potted plant” in the proceedings. “The only voice allowed in the room is his,” the students said. The only notes allowed to be taken are by the OJA, and the hearing cannot be recorded. Inaccuracies in the notes can be appealed but can only be reviewed by the OJA. The aim of the OJA is to hold students accountable for their behavior, but Grisham’s friends see the process as frustratingly difficult and lacking in transparency.
Finally, the students emphasized that Grisham has independently cleaned up the room, which sustained no structural damage or damage to Housing’s furniture. “It looks better than any other room in Carman,” his friend said. Apparently he never intended for paint to get on the walls, and most of the alcohol was brought by other students. The students provided pictures of the cleaned room, which are attached below.
“Obviously he messed up; there was poor judgement involved,” Grisham’s friend said. But the students believe that the circumstances surrounding the party are enough to excuse him from losing his housing.
Grisham’s room, fully cleaned:
The full testimonies:
RE: Grisham Blake Case
Testimony 1: Carman 8 Student
To whom it may concern,
In light of the upcoming hearing regarding Grisham Blake’s actions on this past Saturday, February 22, I feel obligated to relate to those of you who are handling the incident certain facts that I personally witnessed both on the night in question and throughout our time at Columbia. There are two main issues I would like to address. First, I would like to present a larger picture of Grisham and his behavior than just the one you will see from his file. However, I would also like to testify as to my actual experiences of the event, as I believe that the more information the judicial committee has, the more accurate and just decision they will be able to make regarding Grisham.
That I am biased in this case is a fact that I will not deny. Grisham is a very good friend of mine and someone I deeply care about. This is because of his largely positive role in the Carman 8 community. I know that what most of the readers of this letter see of Grisham are only his mistakes and flaws. That he has made these mistakes is undeniable. But the Grisham that lives across the hall from me is far more than the reckless alcoholic he is often characterized as. He is by far the most generous person I know, giving time, money, and energy to anyone who could ever ask, regardless of his personal needs. Grisham is overwhelming supportive of others personal issues and dilemmas, and is a constant listening ear to those who need it. He has helped me personally through several instances in which I needed counsel and a place to speak honestly without fear of being judged.
However, Grisham’s time at Columbia has not necessarily been a positive experience for him, despite his desire to make it so for others. Grisham has struggled with many questions about his place in the Columbia community, and I don’t believe he ever quite found a place where he felt fully accepted. Without any strong support system to fall on from family or friends from home, I think the transition was very difficult for him, and that this lack of support may have impacted his compulsion to begin drinking at the rate which he does. After Grisham’s initial offenses he was sent to speak with Associate Director of Housing Deborah Pawlikowski, who, according to Grisham, spoke to him about alcohol in a positive manner and who once told him, in Grisham’s words, that perhaps he should stop drinking and start smoking weed instead. He also tells me that the one instance in which he went to speak to Columbia Psychological Services, though he was never directed to by any advisors or members of the administration to do so, he was asked about his overall mental state, but never specifically about his alcohol abuse, which is clearly a dominant issue here. In short, Grisham was never given adequate support in dealing with what I perceive as an addiction, despite the fact that his behavior is a clear cry for help.
Having established these parameters, I would like to now inform you of only what I saw of the night of the party. There are many other details of the night that I am aware of that I will not comment on, as I will only offer you, to the best of my remembrance, what I can verify as fact. I was not in the room for most of the evening, though I was there before it got very crowded and I was aware of the situation. I do know from speaking to Grisham prior to the event that the intention was only to paint the bar itself. This is clearly not what happened, but I think it is relevant to the vandalism issue that Grisham did not have the intention of the room being damaged. I’d also like to note that not all of the alcohol found in the room was Grisham’s, as I saw others entering the party bringing their own alcohol in, as well.
I was a witness to the initial of events of the RAs discovering the party. I will not include their names here. I walked out of my room to see the RAs outside his door. I went to our lounge because I wanted to see what happened but didn’t want to get in the way. The RAs knocked and asked for it to quiet down, and immediately after, two girls (I think a third came out a little later) left the room, with one holding a drink in her hand. One RA asked her to dispose of it, and she instead drank it in front of him. One of the RAs then asked for the girl’s ID in a very aggressive manner and it appeared to me that he grabbed her upper arm as he did so. At this contact, I became worried and moved closer and noted that she told the RAs she was not a Columbia student and one of the two then pulled her towards the stairs, I assume to go check the desk for her ID. At this point, Grisham came out of a separate room (he was not in his room at the time of the initial RA arrival), and told the RA that it was his party and that he took full responsibility. Throughout this conversation, Grisham was calm and respectful, and, though he had been drinking, was clearly coherent. The RA was very rude to him, however, and entered his room as people were exiting, quite forcefully telling everyone to leave. My visual experience of the event ends here, as the RA in question then informed everyone in the hallway that he would write them up on spot if they didn’t go to a room, especially if he saw paint on their bodies. I followed a friend to their room to be filled in on some details of the party, and the RA actually followed us to said room and threatened, again, to write people up if they appeared in the hallway. My other experience that night is hearing Grisham ask, again, very calmly and without slurring his speech, to refuse his CAVA, and when he was not allowed to do so, I witnessed him being led outside by CAVA members, walking fine and still not appearing overly intoxicated, informing those with him, when they asked how he was feeling, simply that he was cold.
My goal in informing those who read this of my experience is to allow everyone involved in this case to make the most informed decisions going forward about how to handle the consequences of the night. I also hope, however, that those of you who will be deciding what the repercussions will be for Grisham will consider more than just the fact that he has violated certain rules. I personally believe that people should be judged by their virtues and not only their vices, and I ask that you remember Grisham’s virtues and the fact that I believe his loss would have a negative impact on the community of Carman 8 when you deliberate on his consequences.
I thank you for your attention and hope that this statement can be of some benefit.
With much respect,
Testimony 2: Carman 9 Student
To whom this may concern,
I am writing on behalf of Grisham Blake in regard to the charges he has been accused of in the past week. Within the case itself, there are absolutes: he did host a party, there was a bar, and there was paint. However, it would be remiss of me and all those knowledgeable of the situation, to disregard the more nuanced aspects of Grisham’s circumstances.
Grisham was a victim of circumstance in many regards; he suffered abuse from the RAs on duty that night, and was subjected to negligence by a system unfit and willing to protect him from himself.
When dissecting these claims further one can see that the RA responsible for this incident used CAVA as a punishment to manipulate Grisham Blake. Grisham politely refused CAVA services, but was forced to accept them that night without any room for choice regardless of his coherent and fully functional nature.
In my personal experience with this case, I have spoken to an RA who had full knowledge of the party taking place prior to its beginning. This information was disseminated among many people within the residential advisory community, yet action was never taken. It is a fact that the RAs knew about Grisham’s struggle with alcohol and multiple CAVAs, yet none of that information played into how they handled Grisham’s situation.
The reality is that the party should’ve never escalated to the point it did if the Residential Advisors of Carman had seriously been invested in Grisham’s well being. When I asked for the hard evidence of the RAs knowledge through texts they sent between each other, I was stonewalled. The Community Advisor, Nora Haboosh, made a poor judgment call in deciding that these messages of the RAs were not pertinent to Grisham’s case. However, if there is evidence of the Residential Advisors neglect, I disagree with Ms. Haboosh’s decision. As a witness to this failure by Carman RAs, I find the lack of openness an example of the lack of responsibility many are willing to take for Grisham’s current position.
No one argues the realities of his case, but I implore you to consider all facets before any sweeping judgments. The penalties Grisham Blake faces are a direct example of what happens when the same people employed to help residents, fail to do just that. Grisham fully accepts his place in all of this; I believe that the rest of the Carman community must do the same.
Thank you for your consideration,
Testimony 3: Carman 8 Student
To Whom It May Concern:
I am a resident on Grisham Blake’s floor and would like to testify about his CAVA. I briefly witnessed it with my NYU friend, [name redacted], as we were going down to the vending machines.
On the floor, I overheard someone giving Grisham an ultimatum to come with them: “If you don’t come with us, then we will call the police.” Grisham was able to make coherent sentences at the time, and to my opinion, he was nowhere near the point of calling CAVA. I have seen inebriated Grisham enough times to know that he did not need medical attention that night.
Downstairs, when they were coming out of the elevator, I heard one girl say something along the lines of “Grisham, come this way” in a demeaning tone, as if speaking to a child or dog. I do not believe this was the correct way to address a fully cooperative and aware student.
Testimony 4: Carman 8 Student
I am writing in regards to the event that happened in Grisham Blake’s room on the 22nd of February and his upcoming disciplinary hearing. There are several aspects of the way this incident was handled that are problematic and objectionable. The first, and most important, thing that must be addressed was the behavior of Public Safety, the RA’s and CAVA when they took Grisham Blake to the hospital. I observed them threatening to call the police if he did not submit to go the hospital and at one point force him to sit down in the medical chair that they had brought. Despite this behavior from the officials, Grisham did not appear intoxicated, he was articulate and steady, if nervous and visibly scared. He gave no outward indication of needing medical help, making the medical services seem vengeful and almost a form of punishment. The behavior of all the people involved in sending him to the hospital was egregious and hostile. He was forced to receive medical attention when he was clearly fine. Regarding the incident itself and violation of University policies, Grisham has received the brunt of the blame for actions he is not solely responsible for. A great portion or majority of the alcohol found in his room was brought there by others, not by his choice. Additionally, the paint in the room was there with the understanding it would be used to paint the counter space and not the walls or floor. Grisham never intended to harm University property and has already taken steps to rectify any damage done. The handling of this incident has been in many ways problematic. The officials present at the time of the incident behaved coercively and aggressively. Many of the charges are based on misrepresentations of what occurred and Grisham Blake should not be punished for the overreaction of University personnel.
Testimony 5: Carman 8 Student
To Columbia University Housing and whomever else it may concern,
As a resident of Carman eight and a witness to the events that transpired in room 809A on Saturday night, February 22nd, 2014, I’ve decided to offer my testimony for the purpose of adding clarity to your understanding of the situation before and after the intervention of the Resident Advisors.
A large quantity of alcoholic beverages and evidence of alcohol consumption were found in the host’s room after the RAs had contained the situation. While the host did provide some of this alcohol, a very significant portion of that which was found in the room belonged to other students who, without any solicitation from the host, brought alcohol into the room themselves.
I did not witness any structural damage to the room that night. The intention of the host in the days leading up to the event was to host a gathering during which other students would have the option to paint on the furniture that the host had constructed in his room earlier that week. All other paint related damage that was documented was not the result of any consent, approval, or participation from the host. To clarify: the host did not himself paint on the walls or floor of the room, and did not give permission to the crowd of people, many of which the host had no previous affiliation to, to damage the room in any way. The situation quickly ventured beyond his control.
Since I live down the hall from the host, I witnessed, both auditorily and visually, the situational and verbal pressure that the involved RAs and CAVA staff put on the host- who was coherent, reasonable, docile, and without any observable handicap to his mental or physical functions- to submit to a CAVA trip to the hospital, which he had already refused. To speak from experience (and, living in Carman, I have a lot of it) the host in no way needed to be CAVA’d. One snippet of dialogue that I caught between the host and what sounded like an RA involved the host calmly and coherently saying “I’m fine, really, I don’t need to go to the hospital, can I please just go back to my room?” to which the response was “No.” I cannot stress enough that the host was in no way showing signs of alcohol related sickness, belligerence, or incoherence. It was only after the RAs/CAVA staff threatened him with police involvement that the host submitted to the CAVA. In summation, the CAVA seemed to be more of a punitive measure and a means of removing him from the immediate vicinity than a medical necessity. The host was as cooperative as he could have been while maintaining his right, as a conscious coherent adult, to refuse the medical treatment he did not want or need.
The host has since taken action to ameliorate the situation. All documented damage is no longer visible or present, and the alcohol is gone.
This is the only pertinent information I can supply with regards to this specific case. the host, while instigating the incident to a certain degree, was not nearly entirely responsible for the way it unfolded, nor was he in any need of medical attention when he was forced by the RAs and CAVA staff to take the trip to the hospital. I hope my testimony has rendered some clarity or validity to the information you already have.