Surveillance Ramps Up in the Village

Since the student body returned to Connecticut College for the Fall semester, significant change has occurred in the strategies used by Campus Safety and the REAL Office to monitor the activity in the independent living areas on campus, otherwise known as the Village. Interim Director of Campus Safety Barry Titler explained that “[Officers] want more face-time with students. What I’m asking the officers to do is to take about half of their unobligated time and be on foot, walking around. So what’s happening is that officers are going to be talking to students and they’re going to be around.” Instead of patrolling the Village occasionally in their security vehicles, on-call Campus Safety officers have begun patrolling on foot once every hour in the Winchester/River Ridge areas.

Among the student body, these new tactics have caused frustration for residents and non-residents of the Village alike. Many feel that the increased patrolling of the neighborhood has led to a stifling of social spaces and events on campus. “The feedback that I’ve been hearing from a lot of students is that they’re almost scared to host anything, because they feel like, no matter what, the cards are stacked against them,” said Sarah Rose Gruszecki ’18, independent living coordinator (ILC) for Earth House and the 360 apartments. Paolo Sanchez ’18, ILC for the River Ridge apartments, agrees with Gruszecki. “Social spaces are pretty much vanishing at this point because, who wants to host something when it’s probably going to be shut down by 11:00pm?”

Titler and Meg Thompson, Assistant Director of the REAL Office for South campus and the Village, both expressed their desire to develop a new system of trust and positivity between students and officers and hope that these new guidelines for campus safety officers will accomplish that. At the same time, this new, close monitoring of the Village also comes from a desire to maintain a higher level of safety in the area after a problematic 2016-17 academic year. “We are working through some frustrations in the Village,” said Victor Arcelus, Dean of Students, “but part of it is also in response to the fact that we had a lot of problems there last year. We had problems with students on roofs, damages, parties going way out of control, and we have to address those concerns.”

That being said, Thompson was clear regarding the staff’s desire to work with students in order to help them have a good time. “We’re not looking to push people out. If there’s no reason for Campus Safety to address your space, they’re not going to address your space,” said Thompson. Parties are typically considered disruptive or unsafe when they create noise, exceed capacity, or allow open alcohol containers outside. It seems that much of the trouble stems from a discrepancy in beliefs regarding what qualifies as “disruptive or unsafe,” as Campus Safety officers and REAL staff—some ILCs included—differ in their definitions.

On this note, Gruszecki explained that she feels a lack of agency in her job. “For example,” she said, “if I’m on-call and I pass by a party and I see that everything is totally under control (it seems like it’s below capacity, it’s a space belonging to a student whom I know is twenty-one years old, etc.) I won’t try to get involved. And then I’ll get a call an hour later from Campus Safety and they’ll say they’re actually going to go shut down that party, but I thought everything looked under control, so we’re not on the same page.” Sanchez feels similarly and explained his frustrations with the way on-call rounds work for the Village.

Although the Village spans the largest area on campus—including Lazrus, Earth House, the 360 Apartments, and all housing across Rte. 32—only one student staff member is placed on-call for the entire area each night. Both Sanchez and Gruszecki feel that this is an unreasonable job for one student and that their rounds often feel ineffective. “If I’m doing three rounds a night compared to Campus Safety officers doing one round every hour from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., it almost invalidates the reason why I’m doing rounds. If the officers are getting to things first I’m actually never seeing residents when they need help or when they want to see me.”

Thompson, Titler, and Arcelus are all confident that, with time, students will come to adapt to the new routine. They believe that another large part of REAL’s strategy for facilitating safe social events on campus, the Social Host Policy, will help students to feel that they are able to host and attend social gatherings. All students who are or will turn 21 during the semester are encouraged to undergo a training and become certified social hosts. Social hosts are allowed to hold large, social gatherings in designated spaces on campus, and they are permitted to serve alcohol to students over 21. While common rooms and other larger spaces on campus are available for social host gatherings, the majority of events occur in the apartments and houses in the Village, which poses obstacles for students and the staff that seek to enforce safety regulations. The capacity for all of the spaces in the Village is set at 19 people, but when students host an authorized social host gathering, the capacity increases to 25.

Sanchez and other students are skeptical regarding the capacities that have been posted for the Village spaces. “I don’t think it makes sense that say, Winchester 4 has a max capacity of twenty-five people when they’re already on the ground floor, and River Ridge houses also have a twenty-five cap when they’re on the second floor with structural integrity issues,” said Sanchez. Julia Paratore ‘18, resident of the Winchester 11 house, also expressed frustration regarding the regulated capacity levels. “If you put 25 people in this house it looks empty. [Residents] make up a fifth of the capacity, so we can each have maybe 3 of our friends over. It’s super unrealistic.”

According to Arcelus, the capacities were determined “several years ago [when] we had a structural engineer come in and work with facilities to determine that the capacity of the River Ridge buildings was 25 people, and then we had the fire marshall come and look at the Winchesters and determine the appropriate capacity for safety in case of fire. That number also came out to 25.” Arcelus lacks documentation of these findings, but he encourages students in search of information to approach Facilities, as they are most likely to have inspection records.

“I would personally love to see actual documentation of the fire marshall’s evaluation because I don’t fully buy into it,” said Sanchez, “and I don’t think any other students fully buy into it. I just don’t really trust that number and I don’t think a lot of students do.”

“Over capacity” is a frequently-cited reason for shutting down social events, but Titler said that there have not been any more parties shut down this year than had been shut down by this time in the previous school-year. Many students, however, feel as if their social options are being unfairly restricted, and that the consequences of shutting down parties at early times are greater than those of allowing social gatherings to continue with more leeway.

In one instance, during the first week of school, the social-host trained residents of Winchester 11 held a party at their home and were quickly flooded with unknown guests. “The fact that so many parties did get shut down led to a situation where we were kind of uncomfortable because swathes of people came here…” said Michael Iranpour ’18, another resident of Winchester 11. Paratore added: “Campus Safety officers came down to make sure we didn’t get mobbed by people, which we appreciate, but they just kind of sat out there and that scared everyone off. And they sort of initiated that situation by shutting down all of the parties in the first place.”

Perhaps the biggest pushback from ILCs regarding this increased monitoring stems from their reluctance to perpetuate bar culture at Conn. “Students will obviously always go to the bars, but I think they’re going to the bars at an even higher frequency this year because things have just been shut down so early,” said Sanchez. One senior Village resident commented: “Bar culture has been increasing since we got here. In freshman year some people went to the bar on Thursdays but you didn’t really go as a first-year. But now people get on campus and the first thing they do is get a fake ID and go to the bars.” She added, “what really is there for underclassmen to do on campus. If you don’t know people that live down here, what are you going to do?”

The ILCs are optimistic that a common ground can be reached between students, Campus Safety, and REAL. Sanchez said, “I’m sure down the line the [community policing] tactics will be beneficial, but as of now it’s so foreign and so strange that it’s met with resistance. It’s up to me as an ILC and a resident to come forward with complaints and concerns.” Safety is cited as the number-one concern for everyone involved, followed by a desire to facilitate fun.

“We all want what you want [for students to have safe fun], we just have to work together to make it happen,” said Thompson, “I definitely encourage frustrated students to come and talk to anybody in the REAL office or anybody with Campus Safety.” While students at large seem frustrated by the new policies, many expressed their confidence in Thompson and Campus Safety officers. Iranpour, for one, commented: “We’ve always been treated very nicely by the officers. Last weekend [we] gave them a thumbs up and they gave us a thumbs up back and left, so that’s perfectly fine.”

Sanchez and Gruszecki, however, emphasized the importance of contacting the student staff member on-call. Sanchez said, “we, as REAL staff, do vouch for students and we don’t want to see parties getting shut down so early. Come to us first and we’ll go from there.” Collaboration between students, Campus Safety officers, REAL, and other administrative offices is necessary in finding a solution social life problems at Connecticut College, and all community members involved say they are prepared to enter into difficult dialogues and periods of trial-and-error.  •