Camilo Espinosa Bernal had just finished a Zoom meeting and was preparing coffee in his living room when he heard what sounded like “a bunch of pots falling.”
Espinosa Bernal initially thought someone had dropped something in the hallway or that one of his decorations had fallen down.
Yet, when he checked his bedroom, he was shocked to find a disheveled-looking Stanford IT employee getting back to his feet with a gaping hole in the ceiling and debris around the room, on the exact spot where he had been sitting at his desk just 30 minutes prior.
Espinosa Bernal, a fourth year Ph.D. student in immunology, tweeted about the experience on Nov. 2
Espinosa Bernal lives on the second floor of one of the Liliore Green Rains Houses, a graduate student housing complex with a monthly rent of $1445 per person for a two bedroom, one bath apartment. Unknown to Espinosa Bernal prior to the incident, there is an attic above his floor containing Ethernet cables. The IT employee was working on the cables before falling through the ceiling.
Espinosa Bernal described feeling “shock” and “adrenaline through the roof,” though he said he never suspected the man was there for any illegal reasons.
“I think I was already preemptively getting a feeling of dread, because I knew that this was gonna be a mess that I was going to have to deal with,” Espinosa Bernal said. “Things are gonna have to get shifted around, priorities are gonna have to move, you’re gonna have to start asking for extensions.”
While his room was being repaired, Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) temporarily moved Espinosa Bernal to an apartment in Kennedy Graduate Residences. Espinosa Bernal was initially told that this move would last for three days but became over a week.
“[R&DE] said ‘Oh, no, we’ve dealt with much worse things before,’” Espinosa Bernal said. “I personally was thinking, ‘I don’t quite trust this response. It seems pretty major.’”
R&DE connected Espinosa Bernal with the Graduate Life Office (GLO) in order to recoup costs of damages.
Graduate Student Council (GSC) co-chair Emily Schell, a fifth-year developmental and psychological sciences Ph.D. student, said the responsibility in situations like Espinosa Bernal’s, involving multiple university groups, often gets “hot-potatoed.”
‘I think everyone was trying to act in good faith; no one wants to see others in their own community struggling financially or with their mental well being by corollary,” Schell said. “It’s systemic, Stanford is so decentralized.”
Schell said the decentralization led to delays in resolving or even discussing problems. “There needs to be some urgency in terms of institutional response here because the issues are urgent.”
Espinosa Bernal said the emotional damage extended beyond what he described as minor physical damage to his room. He said he would seek further therapy after the incident but wished that the University could provide compensation for the costs.
“I most definitely perceive my home as a place where I can trust and be safe,” Espinosa Bernal said. “Having this happen is almost like a direct violation of those expectations.”
Although he said that he wouldn’t live in fear of a man falling on him, “the emotions that are associated with that location still persist.”
Espinosa Bernal also tied the incident to the larger picture of graduate student issues and said it felt like “a symptom of a broader problem.”
The incident sparked conversation on Twitter over the University’s inadequate response to housing issues and affordability concerns, a challenge that isn’t unfamiliar to graduate students.
“All the responses so far, systematically have been either evasions, minimizations—not to use the buzzword but in a sense, gaslighting—essentially just a lack of accountability towards the underlying processes and systems that continue perpetuating this sort of impact on graduate student lives. Because again, I’m just one of many, one symptom of a broader problem,” Espinosa Bernal said.
Janelle Siliezar-Doyle, a 4th year PhD student in the Neurosciences Program, tweeted, “Interesting how Stanford housing rent went up (again) this year while graduate effective earned income went down, and serious damages like below aren’t being accounted for or fully addressed.”
The Daily has reached out to the University for comment.
Schell said that graduate students currently face an increasingly “untenable situation” due to the financial stressors of balancing university stipends with costs of housing, health care and transportation.
Schell, who said she works three to four jobs at a time on average, cited the GSC summer survey which found that 49 percent of graduate students were working at least one additional job to their primary academic research positions.
“When graduate students are experiencing low financial wellness, that detracts from our ability to be good teachers, to be good researchers and to contribute to the intellectual vitality that is Stanford,” Schell said.
Espinosa Bernal said that the experience of having a man fall through his ceiling made him reflect on the unpredictability and difficulty of life as a graduate student at Stanford.
“I think that it’s not a reach to say that grad school at Stanford is not rosy; grad school at Stanford is hard. People suffer. People go through a lot of tough situations,” Espinosa Bernal said. “This specific episode is just another drop in that bucket.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced Camilo Espinosa Bernal’s last name as Bernal. The Daily regrets this error.