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Former Helen Lowry resident accuses hostel of privacy invasion

Jenna Powell

News

13/08/2007





Hostel tries to cover up by hating on Salient
A Victoria student and former Helen Lowry resident has spoken up about an incident which he believes was an invasion of privacy.

The student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, moved out of the hostel after deciding the hostel “wasn’t right” for him. He was violating the terms of his contract by moving out before the contract’s end, but agreed to continue the $180 weekly payment until someone else moved in.
The student believes that despite not living in the room, the fact he was still paying for the room entitled him to leave items in there, until the room was filled. The student also says hostel management did not ask him to return his key.
When someone else became interested in occupying the room, a Residential Assistant entered the student’s room to check it and proceeded to read a piece of creative writing that was left amongst the possessions. The RA found the creative writing to be what Helen Lowry Warden Janine Arcus described as “concerning”, and showed the creative writing to Arcus as well as a counsellor for “advice”. The student told Salient that upon arriving at Helen Lowry to clear out his remaining belongings, Arcus questioned him about his mental health and wellbeing. “I was shocked,” the student said. “It is quite unnerving knowing someone read something so personal.”
The student says some of his creative writing content is “kind of dark, I guess”, but says it is purely fictional and written “for personal reasons, not for exhibition.”
Arcus told Salient that the student had “confided in Helen Lowry management” and that “in light of that he told us it justified the RA showing a senior manger and counsellor for advice.” Arcus said she felt “uncomfortable” telling Salient the conversations that “alerted Helen Lowry to his state of mind”, as she felt that would violate the student’s privacy. However, the student denies ever confiding in the management of Helen Lowry. “I have no idea what they are talking about… it sounds like they are just covering their arses because they know they screwed up.”
Lawyer Graeme Edgeler says there would have had to be “extreme circumstances” to justify the reading of the creative writing in the first place, and believes the incident could be a breach of confidence. Edgeler says the hostel should have policies in place to avoid this type of incident.
The student insists neither his writing nor behaviour are health or safety risks. “Writing something dark does not mean I’m at risk, it’s called an imagination,” the student says.
Despite telling Salient they were aware the student was still paying for the room and storing belongings there, Helen Lowry told the University’s Accommodation Service the items in the room were abandoned possessions.
Acting University Accommodation Manager Lesley O’Cain describes the RA’s reading of the writing as “an unfortunate natural human impulse”, who says the incident was “an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
O’Cain defends Helen Lowry’s actions, saying “the student’s writing and [the] enquiry into his state of mind were handled confidentially.” Arcus responded with hostility to Salient’s enquiries saying, “I hope you know Salient isn’t a well-respected publication among students.”
Helen Lowry management were reluctant to talk to Salient, as they believe the magazine paints hostels in a bad light.
Salient’s hostel reporting has included the delayed completion of EdPac-owned hostels Southern Cross and Vic Central, which meant students had to live for weeks in backpackers’ hostels in 2005 and 2004.
In 2005 Salient reported that the St George common room ceiling collapsed following a storm, and mushrooms were discovered growing in Cumberland, where seven of the ten rooms on the top floor had been flooded from ceiling leaks.
In 2003, Salient reported on an outbreak of bedbugs and scabies at Unicomm.