At around 10 p.m. on March 17, I was sitting on my bed in Village C East, crying and holding both a bag of ricin and my scared friend, Daniel Milzman. For the next hour, I tried to convince him to stay, to hand the ricin to me and to identify a target, but he left.

After eight months, the case of United States v. Milzman is coming closer to a resolution, and those of us involved can turn our attention to moving past the fear, confusion and anger that hung over campus when the case began. However, this healing requires that everyone involved must be held accountable. While the facts of the criminal investigation are now settled, it is due time that the university response be more thoroughly examined.

I have privately voiced concerns since the incident occurred, as my proximity to the events revealed serious flaws in the systems that responded. Unfortunately, systems rarely change with just one person’s scrutiny. Therefore, I have decided to share my story and challenge our community to prepare and plan so that we might better support our student body in future situations.

The story began that night in March, after he left. I called two of my closest friends to join me in my room, told them about what had just happened and made them promise to stay with me until I did what we knew we had to do.

We decided to call the Counseling and Psychiatric Service on-call line first. I called the CAPS operator and explained that a student had just expressed a desire to kill another with a substance I had just held. The operator instructed me to wait 20 minutes for a counselor to call me back. After 20 minutes of anxious waiting, I called again. “Wait 20 more minutes.”

I spent this time making sure my door was still locked while constantly checking my peephole. Twenty minutes passed again. I called a third time. Twenty minutes passed. I called a fourth time, and again I am told just to wait. Over an hour after my initial report that a student had produced the means to kill another, I received a call from a CAPS counselor.

Our conversation was brief. I described my conversation with Milzman in detail, and the counselor responded: “Well, you’re an RA, right? Do you know anyone you should call to help this student? Whoever you call, have them follow up with me tomorrow or later this week.”

The call ended, and I was left to consider the next steps on my own. Had I not called my two friends to be there with me, it would have been too easy to pretend nothing happened and hide away in bed. The response time of CAPS on-call, as well as the quality of response, was and remains dangerously inadequate, not only to the threat with which they were presented but also to my own obvious imminent trauma.

Soon after, my resident assistant training kicked in and I called the community director on duty, who in turn brought me in to a meeting with the Georgetown University Police Department.

The next day, McCarthy’s sixth floor was evacuated, its residents were put up in hotels and HAZMAT teams swept for a biotoxin. My room in Village C East, where the bag of ricin was thrown around, remained untouched and unsearched. I was not among those put in to temporary housing. At that point, I was too scared to even recognize this failure of the university to ensure the safety of its first responder. It was not until a week later, when my parents requested remediation of my room, that officials offered it to me, stating that it was not originally deemed necessary to check my room for toxins because I would have shown symptoms of exposure within 24 hours.

Some members of the Residential Living team reached out via email, thanking me for my work that night but offering no particular action plan or next steps. Eventually, I broke down in front a friend who happened to work for the Georgetown Voice, and while I refused to give a statement, I knew my name would be revealed. On some level, I wanted it to be, if only so I wouldn’t have to process these feelings alone and in silence.

What followed next was a curious conversation. An assistant dean from Residential Education requested a meeting with me because of my recent name release. The meeting was short, as I explained that I didn’t mean to create a situation where my name would be released but that my emotional state made it obvious. I was told that had I intentionally spoken about the experience, “It would have been a very different conversation.” Here began what felt like a pattern of exploitation, intentionally or not, of my position as an RA to limit to whom I speak.

A day or two later, a reporter from The Washington Post called asking for comment, and I declined based on what seemed like the reasonable advice of one of my supervisors. But a passing comment, used to deflect another question, was itself quoted in a story.

After the piece was released, I received a call from the director of Residential Living within a few hours making sure I was not intentionally speaking to media. This conversation was more overt, referencing how it is a violation of my role as a university employee to speak to anyone about the situation without clearance, if at all. I was told to avoid my entire network of friends, faculty and other support and speak only to either CAPS or my chaplain-in-residence in the future. The rules of confidentiality and my terms of appointment seemed to be bent to keep my own trauma confidential, against my wishes.

CAPS counselors were already overwhelmingly overbooked, and a timely appointment was impossible — not that I really wanted an appointment anyway, after the treatment I had received in my call to the emergency on-call line. That left my only immediate resource to be my chaplain. While my chaplain is an incredible resource, her expertise on biotoxins was limited. Instead, I sought help from the director of the LGBTQ Resource Center, someone whom I trusted and whom I knew to be a part of the university “safety net.”

To my dismay, some employees in Student Affairs had already been informed of my situation, and they were discouraged from making themselves potential subpoena targets by speaking to me about the situation. While it is unclear how overt these instructions were — in part because no employee would disclose those instructions — it is obvious that they were not encouraged to act as my supports. The safety net had been cut open, and I was falling through the hole.

My role as a student leader and my job that makes my attendance at this university affordable had both seemed to worsen my situation. There had to be some silver lining. Two weeks after the incident, my parents came down from New York and joined me in a meeting with the director of residential education, the assistant dean and a representative from Georgetown’s Office of General Counsel. In this meeting, I raised the question of legal protection, as Milzman and I discussed on the night he approached me how I could potentially be portrayed as an accomplice should I come forward, in part a threat to keep me quiet.

I was informed that all employees of the university are granted legal protection should a charge be brought against them in their role as a university employee. I was relieved for a moment, as much of my isolation had been a product of my established role as an employee. However, my comfort was soon dashed. I was informed that because I was not Milzman’s RA — a fact that the university had failed to clarify in its earlier public statements — it was unclear if I was acting in my capacity as an employee at the moment he showed me the ricin, and it is therefore unlikely that I would be granted legal protection from the university. To this day, the only university tool offered to make me feel safer has been a no-contact order.

I have seen the very best of Georgetown University, and the values that Georgetown has given me have changed me forever. But they also demand that I illuminate problems that could traumatize any student in the future. The ambiguity of RA employment terms and rights, the lack of support for trauma victims, the inadequacy of CAPS on call and in person, as well as the fragility of the safety net, are all issues that must be resolved not only to protect our community but to make Georgetown more true to its values.

Thomas Lloyd is a senior in the College.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

32 Comments

  1. Concerned Hoya says:

    Something needs to be done about this.

    Thank you, Thomas, for courageously speaking up.

  2. Thank you Thomas for your courage and fearless advocacy for a better Georgetown

    You saved many lives that day.

  3. Alarmed Hoya says:

    What a terrifying insight into university procedures. Something has to change. A student, and a leader at that, shouldn’t be victimized by the university itself after going through such a traumatic experience.

  4. This is a really important piece. Thank you, Thomas, and I’m so sorry this happened to you. I wish I could say I was surprised – but unfortunately, this is consistent with a litany of evidence that our tangled, poorly maintained University structure leaves students more or less in the dust.

  5. Not surprised says:

    Anyone who expected anything else from Residence Life clearly hasn’t met them before.

  6. Thanks, Thomas, for protecting the Georgetown community’s safety and for sharing your concerns in this article.

    This seems to be a pattern at GU: students step up as tremendous individuals and do great things, while the administration as a whole and individual officials are woefully lacking.

  7. Concerned Hoya says:

    Next time, call 911 immediately.

  8. As someone who was in desperate need of psychiatric help as I was in the process of continual self harm, I would like to strongly echo the inadequacy of our CAPS system. Firstly the time needed to make an appointment, know with whom you should be meeting, and have them execute on informing you accordingly is a woefully long process. It serves as a further deterrent that mentally damaged individuals posing an active danger to themselves absolutely do not need. In conjunction with that the quality of my eventual service was so meaningless that a return visit was not in the realm of consideration, I was alone in my struggle.

    As for the quality of our bureaucratic housing system and its inability to care for (or let’s be honest give any fucks about) the students at Georgetown, I have never met someone here who does not have a story of being underserved, in minor or critical instances like Mr. Lloyds, by our housing system. Patrick Killilee needs to be replaced immediately, he may be part of a system but I have watched him continually compound this problem.

    I share this, though as a frustration that somehow only slightly confounds my sheer admonishment for this university and the spiritual, intellectual, and aesthetic beauty that manifests here everyday. But as Thomas so eloquently said, the values of Georgetown push us to illuminate problems that exist and struggle to improve them. I hope others can be assisted to a far greater extent than I was in my time of strife.

  9. The University cares very little about its students – at least certain departments.

  10. Unfortunately, this falls in line with my expectations of Georgetown’s “system” for dealing with major problems. Their approach has always been to cover up and crisis manage. The examples abound, from the gun incident at Midnight Madness, to the girl who fell 6+ plus stories from a dorm window, to various illegal acts committed by or perpetrated on students (pretty much all of which remain undisclosed).
    In the Midnight Madness incident, when a student stole a gun from a police officer, whoever was in charge initially decided the best course of action was to keep all of the students in the gymnasium while the cops tried to figure out where the gun went….despite the fact that someone likely was prowling the gymnasium with a loaded firearm. Of course DOPS and Metro’s incompetence led the quarantine to fail…some of us just wandered out a side emergency exit not knowing what the heck was going on.

  11. Thank you, Thomas, for writing this–this is an incredibly brave, important piece, and I hope it provides a kick in the ass for the administration, although I’m not optimistic. The way you were treated is particularly reprehensible given that you probably literally saved lives that day. The system failed you, it failed Milzman, and it will continue to fail students, with tragic consequences, until it starts prioritizing student well-being over the University’s precious image. The inadequacy of the safety net, combined with Georgetown’s ultra-competitive, type-A culture, create a dangerous pressure cooker. I’ve seen friends crack under that pressure and be failed by ResLife, CAPS, and the administration time and again. Until somebody in a position of power decides to take some initiative, the best we can do is look out for each other.

  12. dissatisfied hoya says:

    Unfortunately, Georgetown has truly began to take a turn for the worse. From housing, dining, and the overall quality of life for students. I feel like I have wasted my time being here at this point. Freshman year was great; but two years later, everything has really started to go down hill. I’m really disappointed in the administration on so many levels.

  13. I think one of the most hypocritical parts of this is that you weren’t offered legal protection because you weren’t acting as an employee, yet you were (and are) bound to employee policies of confidentiality. Georgetown is lucky you did something.

  14. Chris Tamburlaine says:

    Everyone watch closely to see how Res Life responds to this. My money is that they retaliate against Thomas in some way. Let’s all make sure to hold them accountable if they try.

  15. Georgetown Student says:

    You are so brave for channeling what sounds like a horrific experience into a call for change. Thank you so much for what you did that night and for writing this piece.

  16. depressed student with concerns says:

    I’m disappointed with this story, which doesn’t surprise me because I’m often disappointed with Thomas’ misrepresentation of many issues. Not only do I find it incredibly dramatized, but I also find it to be a misrepresentation of an sensitive situation and an immensely helpful service offered to students FREE OF CHARGE on campus.

    I do not personally know Daniel Milzman but I am very close with a family that has known him since he was a child. Daniel Milzman was a depressed individual and as his defense has proven in this case he was attempting to commit suicide with the ricin that he produced. I was not in the room with Thomas and Daniel when everything went down and I do think it would be traumatizing to be exposed to a lethal substance however, it was not right of Thomas to share publicly the events of that evening. Thomas’ comments tarnish Daniel’s reputation even further by accusing him of producing ricin with intent to murder another student. Perhaps Thomas misunderstood what Daniel was trying to say.

    Furthermore, I have been diagnosed struggling with bipolar depression for a while now and the reason I’m still here is largely due to the help I sought from CAPS. I myself have been on the border of taking my own life and, while I do understand that there are flaws in the system, when I sought help from CAPS it was given to me immediately. A physician stayed with me on the phone for hours until I got the courage to go to the hospital and seek immediate medical attention. Additionally, I was offered medical attention FREE OF CHARGE from the CAPS system for over three months while they were treating me for my condition.

    I think that this story is in poor taste and should be taken down, considering it is an opinion and is in no way factually based. We are dealing with a young man’s future, Daniel Milzman, who has been through enough. If it is decided that it should stay up then Daniel Milzman should be able to write his own rebuttal.

    • GU Needs Change says:

      I must have read a completely different piece because although this piece briefly mentions what happened that night (yes, from Thomas’ perspective), this is not an attack piece on Daniel Milzman by any means, especially not one that would require a rebuttal. Nearly everything Thomas has included in this piece regarding that night was already part of the public record because it has been published throughout both The Hoya and other publications’ coverage of the trial.

      I might go so far as to say that your description of Thomas’ writing as “dramatized” without personally know the details of this case could be considered a personal attack — it seems that you’re basing this on previous encounters with Thomas.

      Most importantly, just because you had a great experience with CAPS — which is great for you — does not mean that such an experience is the status quo. The reason Thomas’ story has gotten so much attention is because there are other students who have felt the short end of the stick like he has but didn’t speak out about it. In fact, the number of previous comments that were unsurprised at this sort of story should really show you that your experience was probably an outlier.

      It’s these experiences that matter because while it’s great that you got help that you needed, if this situation (maybe not exact, but similar) had happened to another person who did not have the resources that Thomas knew to contact, who knows what may have happened. That’s why this is so concerning. Thomas is concerned about the way his superiors treated him (and others like him), as well as the effectiveness of CAPS.

      The trial is over. Thomas isn’t writing about Daniel’s motives or his actions. He’s writing about the way Georgetown treated him, Thomas, in the aftermath.

    • There’s not much I can add to what GU Needs Change already said, but I think you might do well to consider the source of your information. You claim that because you are close to some friends of the Milzman family, Lloyd must be lying (or “dramatizing”) about what Milzman said directly to him that night. You are at least 3 layers removed from the truth (Milzman to his parents, his parents to their friends, their friends to you) and your information has passed through a series of people who would love to believe that Milzman is innocent and would never hurt someone. Lloyd, on the other hand, was personally present when Milzman confessed to him (obviously) and because they were friends, I see no reason to assume bad intentions on Lloyd’s part; he has no incentive to lie and make Milzman look like an attempted murderer without cause.

  17. Absolutely incredible.

  18. The CAPS responder, the assistant dean, and the representative from Georgetown’s Office of General Counsel should all be fired. The CAPS responder in particular appears to be an idiot.

  19. While it’s a well-written article, and most definitely exposes some of the flaws in Georgetown’s systems, I have an issue with the premise from the first part of the article. The author goes after CAPS, relating the story of how they were utterly incompetent in assisting him with the situation. However, is that really CAPS’s job? Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to immediately alert DPS or DC Metro if an individual was holding and intended to use a purportedly lethal substance? Lambasting CAPS for their clumsiness in responding to a possible homicide is like criticizing the fire department for not preventing tornado damage.

  20. Ultimately many of the problems pervading CAPS efficacy come down to the fact that there just isn’t the appropriate funding. Hopefully with this experience and others the critical need for funding reallocation can be made obvious to the Georgetown administration.

  21. Universities are businesses, at the end of the day. Georgetown often feels torn between catering to the best interests of their students or catering to the best interests of their donors, the public, the city, the administration, the list continues on. In EVERY case where a student’s security is at play, Georgetown should be OBLIGATED to advocate and protect that student. This is a shame that the University’s priorities were elsewhere.

    Thank you, Thomas, for sharing your story.

  22. To echo Scaevola, of all the things that went wrong during that response, to pin it on CAPS seems like a total miss. Milzman presented a hazardous substance to an RA. The RA should have first dealt with the hazard (call 911) and then deal with the individual. I’m not saying CAPS doesn’t need reform, but I think the bigger issue is that 911 should have been called first.

  23. Thomas P Lloyd says:

    GU to this day never acknowledged Thomas’ heroic act, rather GU suppressed it. If you can shoot a 3 point shot and win a game you are hero. Save a community from a bio hazard and help a confused young man confess his plan after 90 minutes of skillful discourse, you are not. Not remediating/cleaning the room/floor where the ricin bag was dropped (Ground Zero) is severe crack in Communication and Safety. Letting my Son sleep in the room and potentially die over night, made me sick to my stomach. Especially since I am experienced/licensed in Haz Mat procedures. To submit by email a 60 page procedure on Ricin remediation to GU and get a reply that he would have been ill/dead within 24 hours after the incident did lot leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

  24. Thomas,

    I am so sorry you had to go through this treacherous ordeal as you are reaching the last stretch of your time here. Your story is an important wake up call for the administration to refresh its policies on employee protection, especially when it entails a student employee.

    Thank you for starting the conversation – I hope we can make a meaningful change in the system without you having to pay any additional mental or physical costs… too often do we see the change come about only after someone has paid the heaviest of tolls, and we cannot allow this to happen here. As much as this is a Catholic university, we do not need another martyr amongst us to pay for the administration’s sins.

  25. Thomas P Lloyd (Father) says:

    My Son will not be a martyr, with the support of Family and an army of Friends. He will prevail. He is a true Hero and Leader . He will not be the ” Richard Jewell” of GU http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Jewell , GU should never have Thomas retaliated against but rather accoladed for his Heroism.

  26. Is this a violation of FERPA? I understand the desire to get this side of the story out there, but there are reasons for federal laws that protect student privacy. That’s why RA’s really need to maintain absolute confidentiality.

    • How is this a FERPA problem? Everything Thomas divulged here is about himself — you can’t violate confidentiality about yourself. Also, the heart of this problem is that there are only two options here: 1) Thomas was acting as an RA and 2) Thomas was not acting as an RA.

      Option One: Thomas was acting as an RA. Hence, he should have been given access to the legal protections that come with acting as a university employee. Yes, that would also include the caveats of having to maintain confidentiality.

      Option Two: Thomas was not acting as an RA. Hence, he would not have access to the legal protections, but he would not be held under confidentiality laws.

      You can’t have it both ways. The university is claiming that Thomas was not acting as a university employee in that moment — hence, confidentiality does not apply, so FERPA doesn’t apply. If you want to argue that confidentiality DOES apply, then you better be willing to extend legal protection. It’s that simple.

  27. “How is this a FERPA problem? Everything Thomas divulged here is about himself — you can’t violate confidentiality about yourself.”

    Disclosing details of the case to the Washington Post is a violation of confidentiality.

    “Also, the heart of this problem is that there are only two options here: 1) Thomas was acting as an RA and 2) Thomas was not acting as an RA.

    You can’t have it both ways. The university is claiming that Thomas was not acting as a university employee in that moment — hence, confidentiality does not apply, so FERPA doesn’t apply. If you want to argue that confidentiality DOES apply, then you better be willing to extend legal protection. It’s that simple.”

    It is, in fact, NOT that simple. In fact, that’s quite wrong.

    FERPA places obligations on an institution and its agents. Those obligations are not limited solely to instances where a university official is acting as an agent of the University. Their continuing obligation places additional responsibilities on them, regardless of whether they came upon certain knowledge or took certain actions within the specific performance of their duties as University employees.

    Concrete example: you are a University employee. Your friend is a current student. Your friend learns something salacious about, say, the student disciplinary record of Governor O’Malley’s daughter (recent Georgetown alumni IIRC). Your friend tells you. You then leak it to the media because you really took The Wire to heart and really hate Governor O’Malley.

    You are, in fact, in violation of FERPA, because your are obligated to protect confidential student information however you come to know it, whether in the course of your duties or not. That duty falls on you so long as you are an agent of the University.

    Something similar applies to those with access to classified government information: you must act to protect – and not disclose – sure information, regardless of how you can to know/possess it.

    Another example of the special obligations the courts have placed on educational institutions and their agents can be seen in a recent case in DC, where a substitute teacher in her early 20s is being charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 17-year old high school student. The age of consent in DC is 16, so if there was not that educator/student relationship, it would not be considered a crime. However, the law places additional obligations on educational institutions and their agents with respect to students in their charge, which makes this particular instance a crime.

    So, in point of fact, you can both be obligated under FERPA to protect the disclosure of confidential student information AND not be acting in that particular situation as an agent of the University, which would mean that the University is under no obligation to provide for your legal defense or render your immune from individual liability by subsuming your actions under the University’s role.

  28. Georgetown Student says:

    Thank you for standing up and speaking out about this. Not enough people express these uncomfortable feelings, especially when in times of pressure and duress, as you were here.

Leave a Reply to JJ Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*