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Cross Village window openings prompt questions after OU student death is ruled suicide

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Cross Village windows

The windows of Cross Village residence hall on Jan. 26.

Editor’s note: This story discusses the circumstances surrounding a student who died by suicide.

OU’s newest housing complex features the only university residential buildings higher than three stories with windows that open. 

A year and a half after the facility opened, an OU student died by suicide Nov. 9 after he fell from a fourth-story window in Cross Village, according to the medical examiner’s report obtained by The Daily on Jan. 23. According to the report, the windows are designed to open up to 8 inches, but the window was propped open between 8.5 and 9 inches.

Cross Village, along with Traditions Square and Kraettli Apartments, are OU’s apartment-style living options. All feature functional windows, according to a statement from a university spokesperson, but of those three, only Cross stands taller than three stories. 

All of OU’s other residential housing options — such as Adams, Couch and Walker centers along with Dunham College, Headington College and David L. Boren Hall — have windows that do not open, according to the statement.

It is unclear why Cross was constructed with functional windows higher than three stories, while Traditions Square and Kraettli Apartments do not eclipse that height and the 12-story Adams, Walker and Couch towers specifically have windows that do not open.

"He fell from the fourth floor and I wish and hope there is something we can do to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," said Abby Gloria — the mother of Richard Estraca, the OU student who died in November — in a Facebook message Jan. 25.

Kevin McClure, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington with experience working in and researching higher education housing, said many newer buildings constructed for student housing — especially multiple-story buildings — often do not have windows that open for two reasons.

“One is liability, essentially, to prevent something like (the November student death) from happening,” McClure said. “The second reason is that there could be a cost reason behind it, where it may have been less expensive to build a building with windows that don’t open.”

A university spokesperson described in an emailed statement the protocol administrators follow if the university becomes aware of any student experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“We evaluate the situation, talk with the student and connect the student with supportive resources to assist in managing these thoughts or feelings,” the statement said.

The statement also said OU may not know about suicidal thoughts or behaviors until they are reported by people with knowledge of the thoughts or behaviors.

“We encourage all members of the university to contact the Behavior Intervention Team (BIT) if they are concerned about a fellow student who may be in distress or at risk of harming themselves or others,” according to the statement.

The Daily asked Steve Hicks, CEO of Provident Oklahoma Education Resources Group — the nonprofit corporation that owns Cross Village and built it at the university’s request — for comment Friday morning on why Cross Village residences were constructed with windows that open.

“These are questions that would need to be addressed to the developer, architect and/or the general contractor or one of the numerous subcontractors,” Hicks said in an email, noting fuller details were not yet available. “Or the reps of OU who directed the design of what OU wanted built. Almost all of those individuals are no longer employed by OU.”

When the same question was posed to OU, a university statement referred The Daily to Cross Village property management.

“The death of a resident student is both tragic and heart wrenching for every member of the Cross residential community and the OU community at large,” Hicks said in an email.

According to a risk research bulletin created in 2014 by United Educators, a liability and risk management services firm, features such as window limiters, window guards and appropriate safety glass are all methods in which universities can lower the risk posed by accessible residential student windows. 

The Cross Village window in question in the November death had a stopper intended to prevent it from opening past approximately 8 inches, according to the medical examiner’s report, though it had been propped open between 8.5 and 9 inches.

Falls from residence hall windows accounted for more than 70 percent of insurance claims for falls from heights and 14 percent of fatalities, according to the 2014 research bulletin. Such falls, often accidental, are reduced when windows do not open or are otherwise less accessible.

In older buildings, windows that can open are more common, McClure said, especially in buildings constructed before centralized air conditioning was typical.

Cross Village opened in fall 2018 and was marketed as a luxury upperclassman housing option.

“I would think that most institutions are trying to place restrictions so that something like this doesn't happen,” McClure said. “And maybe it’s the case that there needs to be even further restrictions to keep the windows from opening further. ... There’s, I guess, only so many restrictions they can probably implement.”

OU has resources for members of the university community seeking help in crisis, including the University Counseling Center at Goddard Health Center, which offers counseling appointments for $10. There are also resources available throughout the Norman community.

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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