EDITORIAL: The time for transparency at OCC is now

On Feb. 9, Orange Coast College experienced a tragedy. Two students residing in The Harbour student housing died in suspected overdoses. In light of these events, the editorial board is calling for school officials to immediately begin practicing transparency with the student body. 

We have been mostly frozen out by school and local officials – from RA’s at The Harbour, who say they are not allowed to talk to us, to OCC school officials citing their inability to release information is out of respect to the victims, to local officials telling us they can’t release information due to HIPPA concerns, despite us not seeking personally identifiable information.

When we sought answers from officials at The Scion Group, who manages The Harbour property, we received the same “safety and wellness of our residents represent our highest priorities'' answer reminiscent of the generic responses given to students expressing concern on The Harbour's Instagram page. The Scion Group did not respond to a request for follow-up information.  

We understand wanting to respect the identities of the victims. However, as the student newspaper of OCC, our job isn’t only to report the campus news. Our job is also to keep the student body safe and provide them a voice. And the truth is that people on campus are scared right now in the living environment of The Harbour. 

We’ve heard concerns from students living on campus that these overdoses were caused by dirty drugs spiked with a substance such as fentanyl. Californian deaths from fentanyl have increased by over 25% since June 2019 with young people aged 20-34 as one of the demographics hit hardest by this epidemic occurring alongside, and growing worse due to, the COVID-19 pandemic.

These fears of dirty drugs at OCC don’t appear to be unfounded. Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue public incident records show that there was a medical/rescue response to The Harbour on Feb. 8, at approximately 2:20 a.m., a medical response on Feb. 9 shortly after 10 a.m. (when Amonie Palmer was found unresponsive), and another rescue after 3:00 p.m. on the same day. There is a report of a response to a deceased person on Feb. 10, when Robert Stell was found. 

There’s another record of a medical/rescue response from fire/rescue on Feb. 14, shortly after midnight. We have been able to verify there was a visit from paramedics from OCC’s Director of Public Security Jim Rudy and a representative from Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue. We have heard further reports from the student body that this was another overdose incident, but none of the officials we spoke to would provide confirmation on that detail. 

Orange Coast College: why did Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue respond four times instead of just two the night and following day our students overdosed? What happened on Feb.14? Why do police records show another overdose on the 1300 block of Adams (where The Harbour is located) on Jan. 6 and a deceased person on Feb. 4 and 9? We believe there’s more to this story than OCC officials have led students to believe – and it could be putting additional student lives in danger. 

If there is a chance dirty drugs are going around our campus community, OCC administrators have an immediate ethical duty to warn students of the potential danger they could be in.

According to reporting by Inside Higher ED, an educational news organization, when University of Southern California suffered its string of overdoses in 2019, school officials sent a letter to students warning them of the potential danger of tainted drugs, without mentioning any specific causes of death. Why hasn’t OCC taken a similar approach?

We need answers. The student body needs answers and transparency from the school in these troubling times. Students don’t need to be told “just say no” for the 1000th time. They need to know what’s happening in their community. The residents at The Harbour deserve to feel safe in their homes.

Truth will prevail.

To the students at The Harbour who feel unsafe, or have tips you would like to share but are fearful of retaliation from OCC or The Harbour, Coast Report is here for you. We’re here to be your voice. Text us at 817-455-5310 or email sguidroz1@student.cccd.edu and let us know what you are experiencing. 

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