RYAN PUGH | THE DAILY EVERGREEN
Matthew Gray, a new student at WSU in fall 2017, was moving into his dorm with the help of his family a year ago and was looking forward to four years of memories and opportunities.
It was around 2 a.m. on Aug. 24 — just three days after his arrival in Pullman — when tragedy struck.
Gray, just 18 years old, fell from the second story window of his Duncan Dunn dorm room and suffered severe brain injuries from which he is still recovering.
“We’ve still got a lot of progress to make,” Matthew’s father Jim Gray said. “[There’s] a lot of things we’re working on: memory, maturity, impulsiveness, still got a long ways to go [mentally], physically doing great.”
His story is not uncommon on college campuses, or even in Pullman. This year sees changes being implemented on campus to ensure what happened to Matthew doesn’t happen again.
After the fall and during the beginning of the long road to recovery, Jim launched a campaign to make dorm windows at WSU safer. He said he urged concerned parents to write letters to WSU and started a Change.org petition which garnered over 5,000 signatures in 24 hours. That petition now has more than 12,000.
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry about if their kids are going to fall out of a window,” Jim said.
WSU responded by convening a committee on window safety, said Phil Weiler, WSU vice president of marketing and communications. An independent report was commissioned by the committee to evaluate windows across campus. The report by Safety Management Resources Corporation evaluated over 5,000 windows on campus.
“One accident is too many,” Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president of student affairs, said.
For the 2018-2019 school year, six recommendations from that independent report are being implemented in dorms to ensure a fall doesn’t happen again. Some of the recommendations include required railings on lofted beds, beds prohibited from being against windows, safety checks after move-in to evaluate safety concerns and education for students about potential hazards around windows, according to WSU news releases.
“There will be safety reminders for residents to make sure we’re clear to them about things you can’t do,” Weiler said. “You can’t hang out of windows, you can’t dangle your legs out of windows, you can’t throw things out of windows and we’re gonna emphasize that during the move-in process.”
Jim said these changes could help but that he would like to see more.
“I still think they should put things in the windows,” Jim said. “I’m done you know, I did my thing. I tried really hard. We got some response out of them. Now I guess it’s up to the parents of the next kid that falls out of a window to fight them, because I did my fighting.”
The university looked into putting bars or another device on windows to prevent falls, Weiler said, but anything that would prevent firemen from entering the windows violates fire code.
An investigation by the Inlander last year found 30 falls connected to WSU in the past 21 years, with half being since 2012.
Matthew’s case is unique because it happened on campus, as opposed to an off-campus apartment or Greek chapter house, where most falls occur, Weiler said. Since 2000, only four accidental falls have been on campus.
WSU has repeatedly said it can’t do anything to prevent falls which do not occur on campus but that they encourage students to be aware of their surroundings and help each other prevent accidental injuries.
“Whenever you’re on a roof or a balcony, keep in mind that that’s a potentially dangerous place,” Weiler said.
Jim said his family is grateful for the progress his son has made, but there’s still a long road ahead of him to return to a normal place. He said he’s disappointed with WSU’s response and he believes another fall will happen.
“Someone else is going to fall, I guarantee it,” Jim said. “It probably won’t be this year because of the awareness of what happened to Matthew is still there. But give it three years, once everybody’s gone and there’s nobody left that remembers and something will happen again.”