NEWS

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May 22, 2021

  /  

1:30 p.m.

University Extends Move-Out Deadline After Initially Denying Lease Renewal for Former Employee Subject to Online Allegations of Inappropriate Behavior


Ruben Abbou / The Chicago Maroon

The University has extended the move-out deadline for Sidney Colton (A.B. ’89), a former University employee who was recently denied lease renewal in University housing, after Colton appealed the earlier decision on the grounds that the University’s non-renewal notice missed the filing deadline set by a new city ordinance.

An employee of the University for 46 consecutive years until he was laid off in January 2021, Colton has been a source of controversy since at least June 2020, when students on Twitter and Facebook accused him of “inappropriate and predatory behavior,” and for allegedly “using his position as a local alum to take advantage of” UChicago students.

Colton, age 70, received a non-renewal letter last month, in which the University informed him that because he is no longer affiliated with the University, he is ineligible to further live in his current University-owned, affiliate-only apartment after his current lease expires at the end of June.

According to Colton, he was laid off in January 2021 when his latest job as a four-hour-per-week part-time receptionist at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice was terminated due to school closures led by the pandemic.

A University statement from April 2021 reads that “Mr. Colton was given a notice that the University would not be renewing his lease for this apartment, which was done more than 60 days prior to the expiration of his current lease, in compliance with Chicago city ordinance.” In emails obtained by The Maroon, the University sent Colton a non-renewal notice on April 7, 2021, 84 days before his lease expires.

But according to a new pandemic-era ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council in July 2020, a landlord is obligated to notify their tenant 120 days prior to the non-renewal or termination of the lease if the tenant has lived in the apartment for more than 3 years—a condition Colton meets by having been an occupant of his current apartment since May 2015.

Based on this, Colton filed and won an informal appeal to the University, which agreed to extend his move-out date to September 2, 2021, as required by the new city ordinance. In a reply to Colton “apologiz[ing] for the oversight,” the University also offered to cover two months of rent for Colton during July and August 2021—should he sign and return the vacancy notice by May 14, 2021. The offer is a one-month increase from the amount of rent relief agreed in a prior arrangement in which the University also promised at most $250 for moving supplies, according to emails obtained by The Maroon.

Another COVID-era order, the Illinois eviction moratorium, which bans expulsion of tenants for nonpayment of rents in most cases during the pandemic, does not apply in Colton’s case, which concerns nonrenewal of an expiring lease rather than a termination of a current lease usually due to default on rent.

It remains unclear whether Colton is the only former University affiliate affected by this form of relocation, a result of pandemic-led layoff and disqualification from University-owned housing. In a statement to The Maroon, the University said it was “not aware of other similar employee non-renewal cases recently.”

An active alumnus who frequented Facebook groups of current UChicago students and was previously featured in both The Maroon and The University of Chicago Magazine for his light-hearted involvement, Colton’s reputation among UChicago undergraduates has been checkered by reported sexual advances towards students. According to a tweet by Joseph W., an alumnus of the College who asked his full name not be associated with this incident, “Sid Colton [...] propositioned [him] for an orgy.”

In a screenshot Joseph W. shared on Twitter, a Grindr user named “UChicagoOrgy:)” reached out to him on three different days from mid-May to early June 2020, greeting and initiating sexual invitations. One of the messages dated back to May 18, 2020 read “Threesome with my friend? :)” Another, on June 4, 2020, says “Party coming up :) Graduation Orgy :),” along with an Apple map plug-in program that shows the location of a house southwest to the “Social Service Administration” building, one that appears to match the current address of Colton.

Before Joseph W. blocked the user, according to a following tweet, he received a “face picture” from the user that Joseph W. identified as “for sure him,” referring to Colton. Colton has since confirmed in an interview with The Maroon that the user propositioning Joseph W. in the screenshot is indeed himself.

Two days later after the initial tweet, a public service announcement post appeared in UChicago Mutual Aid, an open-access Facebook group of about 5700 members, warning students about Colton’s “predatory behavior.” The post also recommended for the removal and blacklisting of Colton from members’ Facebook contacts as well as other UChicago-related Facebook groups.

According to Joseph W., the screenshot he shared was only one of the “over 30 times during college” Colton propositioned him on Grindr. Despite his many attempts to block Colton on the app, Colton “was always making new account[s] and messaging again.”

“He would usually share a photo [of his face or his body], but even if not[,] he was easily recognizable by his profile descriptions which usually said something along the lines of wanting to give “massages” to UChicago students,” Joseph W. wrote in correspondence with The Maroon.

After his initial tweet, Joseph W. said, a total of “at least 20 people in some way” shared with him, either through replying to his tweet, commenting on Facebook posts, or private messaging that “they had a similar experience” with Colton.

Joseph W. later added that about half of these “at least 20 people” echoed his experience with Colton on Grindr, while the rest shared their discomfort with the frequent Facebook friend requests Colton sent their way.

Writing in correspondence with The Maroon, a source who requested to remain anonymous out of privacy concerns echoed Joseph W.’s experience with Colton’s frequent sexual propositions sent from multiple Grindr accounts, where Colton “usually covers his face or only puts pictures of him and his dog from a really long time ago” while mentioning UChicago “most of the time” in the profile. At the most frequent, the anonymous source said, Colton messaged him “at least once a day” and did not stop after he made clear his disinterest and later blocked Colton “3-4 times”.

Luke M., a current undergraduate student who asked his last name not be identified for privacy reasons, also wrote in correspondence with The Maroon that Colton “very actively” messaged him on Grindr, “sending nudes unsolicited and trying to convince [Luke M.] to hook up with him.”

In interviews and emails with The Maroon, Colton acknowledged his alleged activities on Grindr, including repeated sexual propositions, change of Grindr accounts, and offers to give “massages” to UChicago students, but disagreed with the characterization of them as “predatory.” He said he operated under the assumption that people on the app could have blocked him if uninterested in his proposals and defended his behavior as justified due to his lack of intention to target or harass. Colton also said that his creation of multiple accounts on Grindr were not attempts at block evasion but rather the result of a technical issue.

“So to me, the ‘predatory’ word [in the student allegations] or the things that they complained about was just their misinterpretation of what I was doing and my misinterpretation of what they were maybe not doing,” Colton said in an interview with The Maroon. “...The non-response by them is what created the problem, as far as I can tell.”

In an email to The Maroon, Colton indicated his intention to apologize “for completely misinterpreting people's ‘non-response’ on Grindr” since “day-one” of learning students’ complaints, but argued that he “happened to never have an opportunity to directly apologize to anyone,” since he was not aware of “a single name of any person who was upset about [their] direct interactions on Grindr.”

Reached for comment on the allegations against Colton, University spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan wrote in an email to The Maroon that “the University is committed to preventing, correcting, and disciplining incidents of sexual misconduct.” McSwiggan declined to directly comment on whether the University was or is aware of the allegations, noting that “in light of federal laws protecting privacy and other privacy considerations,” the University does not “release details about individual cases.”