By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
A turbulent relationship between Washington College students and the Department of Public Safety is forming. The conduct of the department under new leadership has bred distrust and frustration, especially amongst seniors.
The new way Public Safety regards drinking and parties on campus is comparatively stricter than what older students were accustomed to. This has made students afraid to drink on campus, which could have serious safety implications.
“The old Public Safety seemed to say, ‘If people are too wild or being dangerous, then we’ll intervene,’” senior Brennan Keifer said. “I’ve never before now seen Public Safety just bust parties and confiscate people’s things.”
According to an email sent by Interim Dean of Students Gregory Krikorian on Oct. 1, possessions confiscated by officers are turned over to Public Safety and “may be used later by law enforcement agencies in the prosecution of criminal behavior.”
WC is not a dry campus. While underage drinking should not be condoned, it is known that students will be experimenting with alcohol and are entitled to have a safe space to do so.
Cracking down on drinking does not mean less students will be drinking. Rather, students will turn to unsafe means to consume alcohol. Making students fearful of drinking on campus pushes them to off-campus houses or bars in town, where they could face personal danger or legal trouble.
College is a time for experimentation, and with that comes learning to drink responsibly. Public Safety is meant to provide help if students find themselves in unsafe situations in the process.
The rules surrounding alcohol consumption and parties are ambiguous, causing increased anxiety for students.
According to the email sent by Krikorian on Oct. 1, “staff may search a student’s room if there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation has occurred or is occurring.” Students were told that officers can use their own discretion when it comes to searching personal property.
“For whatever call that [officers] are there, if they are looking for an item to support that call, they search,” Director of Public Safety Pamela Hoffmann said in the Student Government Association Senate meeting on Sept. 21.
There now seem to be additional and increasingly strict guidelines surrounding alcohol consumption that allow Public Safety more opportunities to search student property.
According to another email sent by Krikorian on Sept. 19, alcohol is not permitted in any residential floor common rooms “regardless of age,” and paraphernalia such as pong games and funnels are prohibited. Seeing such items could warrant Public Safety to search the premises and confiscate possessions.
This unjustly impacts students who are of legal drinking age.
“Things like party game bans also affect those of us…who legally can drink, which isn’t fair,” senior Hannah Flayhart said. “The law says it’s fine, my morals say it’s fine. Who are you to go against the law or my morals?”
These measures make it feel as though Public Safety is trying to assert their authority over students. This has created an environment rife with fear and distrust, which can have serious safety implications for students.
If students do not trust or respect Public Safety, they will be reluctant to seek help in the event of an emergency.
“It’s going to come to the point where students don’t trust Public Safety…and won’t call them because they’ll think they might get in trouble for something arbitrary,” Flayhart said.
Should the trend of strict policy enforcement continue, distrust and resentment from the student body will only continue to grow.
We already see it developing through rumors across campus pertaining to Public Safety’s conduct and policies.
Students deserve protection from those employed to ensure their safety, as well as fair treatment and transparency from those in positions of authority. The student body’s current negative opinion of such authorities only damages the College’s reputation. The problem has no easy solution, but some change is necessary to preserve the safety of the students and the campus community.
“At this point, so much distrust has been established in just five weeks that it would take some huge changes…for the student body to feel comfortable with Public Safety again,” Flayhart said.
Enforcing established policies and maintaining campus safety are obviously responsibilities of Public Safety. The department, however, has overstepped boundaries, worsening Public Safety’s relationship with students by causing hostility and anxiety on campus.