Open Secrets on Campus Part II: Safe, But Not Secure

Open Secrets on Campus Part II: Safe, But Not Secure

“Excuse me, do you know why we can’t leave the dorm?”

Beginning around 9 p.m. on Nov. 4, students were told to leave whatever building they were in and return to their dorms due to an emergency on campus. They weren’t told what the emergency was and or why they were being ushered back to the dorm, so for a few hours that night, nobody really knew what was going on.

Finally, at 10:12 p.m., a text message was sent from James The, vice president of student services.

“Safety Alert – Main Campus is closed. Please make URway 2respective residence halls/local residence. Report any suspicious activity 2campus safety/KPD.”

Earlier in the night, a freshman named Ruth Anguiano and I were leaving Harmon when Dean The questioned where we were going before advising us to go back inside the dorm. When we asked why and what was going on, he said, “I just don’t want you guys roaming around outside right now, please.”

So we went back inside, I clocked in to work the front desk and sat down, watching both Dean The and Janelle Williams, dean of women, talk in the office before she came out and walked over to the front desk, announcing to me and the three other residents that they were shutting down the campus for the night, under a lockdown. At this point I was given the chance to go back to my own dorm. I asked to stay and continue working at the front desk. I did so because I did not know what was going on and did not want to be in my room by myself in Meier Hall since my roommate was gone for the weekend.

According to the Keene Police Chief Emmitt Jackson, at about 8:15 a former SWAU student was off-campus checking his tires on his car in front of his home when a pickup pulled up, a man rolled down the window and asked him, “Hey, do you want to be part of an epic drive by?” He then brandished what appeared to be a handgun. After the pickup left, the former student reported the incident to Dean The.

A pickup pulled up, a man rolled down the window and asked him, “Hey, do you want to be part of an epic drive by?”

I did not leave the dorm until after I finished room check a few minutes before midnight and Dean Janelle walked me back to my dorm. I went to bed that night not knowing what had happened, why we were under a lockdown, when would it be lifted, or if we were going to have classes in the morning. After that initial text, all communication between the people in charge and the students…

Stopped.

Welcome to Southwestern Adventist University.

When you attend a college for ideally four years and live on campus, you want to be sure of two things: that you will be fed and that you are safe. If you need a security escort to go with you somewhere or if you want to report something weird, you want to know that getting in contact with security will fulfill those needs. Even before the Sunday incident, most students didn’t know what to do if they needed security. I asked 40 students that live both in the dorm and off campus, “What do you think of the current campus security?” I received the same answer every time. “What security?”

When it comes to transparency between the administration and student body on the day-to-day things that happen behind the scenes and ensure the university is running somewhat smoothly, the default setting seems to be that the students don’t need to know about those things. That trickles down to other questions, such as: Why do we have assembly? Where does tuition go? and What happens in the event of an emergency? One of the areas of information that should not be left in the dark, however unintentional, is campus security. Most students here on campus can’t name one student worker for security or what they do beyond kicking students out of buildings and locking them up after 10:30 p.m. And those that do know someone are well aware of the limitations those workers face. Almost every single late-night shift worker is a female. And what’s the only thing they’re allowed to carry to protect themselves? Keys to lock the building. There are no visible patrols throughout the evening and if you walk by campus services late at night, you’re more likely to find the student worker doing homework than watching the camera.

“What’s the point of having security if they don’t do anything?” Abdiel Rumaldo, a senior computer science major asked me. “Security is basically PDA patrol.”

Campus security seems to be more a theory than practical. It looks good on paper, but in reality, not so much.

Abbie Banks was one of the many students left in the dark during the safety shutdown. She and Jasmine Villarreal, a fellow education major in her senior year, were in Hadley at the time the text alert went out.

“I want to know what’s going on, so I know what to prepare myself for. Was it an active shooter, someone trying to kidnap someone else, what kind of situation am I in?” Villarreal asks. She’s a former RA. “What’s the point of RAs during a situation like this?”

While off-campus students don’t have to worry about a dorm lockdown, they have the same concerns, not only for themselves but for their friends who do live in the dorm.

“They need to up the presence of security on campus,” says Arielle Powell, a junior business major who lives off campus. “I know they say we’re the safest campus but then when something like this happens, we’re the most dangerous.”

Emely Robinson is a senior psychology major who lives off campus as well. “I was worried about my friends ‘cause I was fine at my house but the shooter is going to target the school so I was more worried about them.” Part of the annoyance with the students lay with the perceived amount of responsibilities that seems to sit on the shoulders of the student workers.

“What is campus security going to do, for real?” she asked. “They’re not going to do anything but call the police. They’re students, not adults.” Robinson occasionally works the front desk in Harmon. “We don’t need student security; we need actual security.”

Robinson’s complaint echoes with many students. There’s plenty of situations that could happen at any given time that don’t require calling 9-1-1, but they do require someone in a position of authority. If you’re asking someone to walk you back to the dorm, you want someone who can physically protect you. If you have a security complaint, a trained security officer can help guide you better than a student worker cramming for an exam that can make or break their grade. Students just want to feel safe and when communication seems to stop being made, the lack of transparency between the administration and the student body becomes even more stark.

The Illusion of Safety

Some students have been here long enough to remember when security was more visible. They used to do more routine patrols and you would see them before the 10:30 p.m. kick out and once more afterwards. There were more escorts available and you could use the old SWAU app to request an escort. This was back when Sean Amos was in charge and security looked different. Things do change from year to year, depending on the budget provided. Between 2015 and now, it was determined that things could be scaled back in terms of security’s budgets.

One thing that students may or may not be surprised to learn is that there is no official security on campus. When we hear the word security, we think of someone dressed in a uniform, armed with some sort of weapon, radio and ready to protect at a moment’s notice. SWAU’s security is none of that.

I spoke to Joel Wallace, vice president of financial administration, on Oct. 25, 10 days before the incident.

“Our security really shouldn’t even be called security.”

“Our security really shouldn’t even be called security,” he said. “They’re [the students] there to lock doors and make sure people aren’t where they’re not supposed to be.” Wallace is also the vice president responsible for campus security. “We don’t have trained security personnel; they’re students. They’re not trained to deal with security incidents.”

Matthew Agee is the only trained security staff currently on campus. Wallace acknowledges that it’s hard to find students to take on late-night shifts, due to having morning classes and needing sleep. Wallace is correct: student workers should not be trained to deal with security incidents, especially if it gets to the point that they are in danger. But even with that said, Wallace had this to say regarding security: “If we had lots of incidents of crime, then we’d have to say, you know what, we have to allocate more resources, we may have to hire full-fledged police like some universities. I’m glad we don’t feel like we have to do that right now. I don’t know that we won’t have to in the future, we may have to in the future, however things may change.”

Things may have finally changed.

“Please head to your respective dorms, we are in a safety shutdown.”

So, what does a safety shutdown in the dorm look like? I spoke to Wil Iverson, dean of men, and asked him how the safety shutdown was conducted in the men’s residence hall. He locked all the doors after receiving the call about the threat made. The RAs were informed of basic information and monitored who came in and out. The card reader for the back door doesn’t work, so there’s only one exit and entry point during a lockdown and safety shut down. He walked the perimeter to make sure everything was secured and walked some of the girls who were there back to their respective dorms. I asked him about having any drills in the dorm and he informed me that all RAs are talked to about active shooter drills, fire and safety drills, but have yet to run an active shooter drill, while acknowledging that it now seemed pertinent to do so in the near future.

As with many things here, some staff members wear many hats under one job description. Matthew Agee, head of security, has many responsibilities, including making sure all the buildings are secure. On the night of the incident, Agee went around to every building, making sure it was locked and informing the deans. He also patrolled the campus late into the night. Because Agee has many duties, he isn’t always as visible on campus. And that’s something students want when it comes to security on campus – more visibility.

“I’ve heard we had security, but I never see them,” says Maddie Cox, a junior psychology major.

Gabrielle Behrens, a senior communication major echoes this sentiment. “I don’t see anyone roaming around throughout the day to make sure we’re secured.”

Amaury Rubio is a senior kinesiology major. “I didn’t know security existed. I thought it was just something they said at freshman orientation.”

“I didn’t know security existed. I thought it was just something they said at freshman orientation.”

Security isn’t addressed at transfer orientation, so transfer students are left in the dark right off the bat. I should know, I transferred here in 2015.

“I wanna see people around campus that shows they’re security,” Rubio says, shrugging.

Leann Gomez is equally unimpressed with the subject. She’s a junior education major and had this to say when I asked her what she wanted to see from security moving forward. “I’d like to see more visibility. The only time I saw security was when I stayed in a building for too long.”

So, with the lackadaisical view of campus security and in light of the incident, what happens next for Southwestern Adventist University and what do the students want to see moving forward? Stay tuned for the third part of this series tomorrow.

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