Night shift: A new method for safety

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Whelan Security contract terminated, student employees to work overnight  

An improved swipe card system, 500 surveillance cameras and a new Communication Center for monitoring campus are not the only methods of campus security, as students are now being called to work the night shifts at residence halls next semester.

The transition, announced in an email to students living on campus from Director of Housing and Residence Life Joshua Walehwa on Monday, Dec. 5, met the campus community with a mix of responses, as Whelan Security will be replaced by student workers, effective Jan. 14.

Under this new staffing system, most residence halls, excluding Griesedieck and Reinert halls, will be without a desk attendant from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the student hours will be shifted to the evening.  The decision was made at the senior leadership level at the University, according to Vice President of Student Development Kent Porterfield.

“There is no reason why students can’t provide the same type of services as Whelan now that there are back up services for them–cameras in the lobbies, cameras at the exterior–we have a system that I believe works very well,” Porterfield said. “If you traveled around, I think you would find that the most common way of staffing residence halls is from students. I am of the opinion that students can provide that service and do it very well.”

Since 2007, Whelan Security, a private security service, has been contracted by the University to monitor the residence halls during the late-night shifts from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.  Porterfield said that Whelan Security was never intended to be a permanent service, as the administration worked to find a more “layered security approach.”

Porterfield, Walehwa and other administrators said they believe this layered security has been reached, as the Department of Public Safety and Security Services prepares its move to the Wool Center on Dec. 19 with new security technology, including a Communication Center. The center will feature 500 security cameras on campus to be monitored from one location.  Assistant Vice President and Director of DPSSS Roland Corvington said he believes that with these new resources and with an increased responsibility of students, security can be shared by the entire campus.

“When I came here 15 months ago, it was as if DPSSS was the definition of security on this campus. It was as if no one else had any responsibility,” Corvington said. “I think things have changed, and I think this is just a natural progression of seeking more ownership from students in a process that impacts them directly.”

The changes to residence hall security sparked a quick response from students. Just hours after Walehwa’s email, students began a Facebook group titled “For Campus Security.” Gaining more than 640 members in three days, the group has become a forum for student feedback in regard to these changes.

Some of the group’s student administrators have organized the comments on the group into four primary concerns: leaving the desks unattended during the day, student workers walking to and from work at late-night hours, students locked out without their SLU IDs and the lack of direct input from SLURide on this change.  Corvington, Porterfield and Walehwa addressed these concerns with representatives from the Student Government Association on Tuesday, Dec. 6, and presented information on these changes at Wednesday’s senate meeting.

“I am glad that students are engaged in this conversation. We definitely have received feedback. Students are being constructive about it, and they are taking it seriously.” Walehwa said. “They want to make sure that they are working to make this place safe.”

Some students said they do not understand the reasons for these changes and questioned the practicality of their implementation. Freshman Bailey Hewitt, who works at the front desk in Griesedieck Hall, said she was first informed about the new staff changes on Friday, Dec. 2, and that she was “very surprised” by them.

“I don’t understand how they think students would work the desk at night,” Bailey said. “By eliminating desk workers during the night, it is only taking away our safety.”

Corvington assured students during the SGA meeting that the students desk attendants would be able to call officers on patrol, and they would have resources available to ensure the safety of the buildings. Corvington said that officers will communicate with the desk workers on an hourly basis as they “build relationships with the students.” Corvington also said that the addition of a technology manager in the new Communication Center will help to ensure that all the equipment needed to assist in safety measures will be properly maintained.

“A student is a young adult. I think if students are given this type of responsibility, they are going to make the right call,” Corvington said. “You have to look at safety in the totality of the services that are available.”

After hearing the administration’s presentation, two resident advisors, who also serve as senators, spoke out in support of these changes at the Dec. 7 SGA meeting.

“I have never felt in danger as an RA,” junior Piera Blandon said. “DPSSS officers always have a presence in the building and I don’t think it is a bad thing at all.”

After senate feedback was heard, SGA’s executive board and the Committee Chairs for the Residential Affairs and Safety & Security Committees presented a Senate Resolution (009-12) “to strongly urge the Department of Housing and Residence Life to reconsider the recent enacting the recent changes to the residence hall security infrastructure until considering feedback gathered from students by SGA.”

Many senators and Executive Board members said they admitted that the email from Walehwa was the first time they had heard about these changes. SGA President Matt Ryan said that the resolution and the support from senate would make his job easier when he meets with administrators.

“We don’t see this resolution as an issue against the policy,” Ryan said. “It is a response to the concerns, and we want to make sure we have time to get feedback and this resolution will help move that forward.”

Since Monday, SGA has gathered more than 150 responses on Facebook and email from students voicing their opinions.

Assistant Vice President and Director of DPSSS Roland Corvington (right), Vice President of Student Development Kent Porterfield and Director of Housing and Residence Life Josh Walehwa (left) meet with SGA.Mark Campos / Staff Photographer

Ryan said during the meeting that SGA will have another resolution to state its opinion on this policy once they have been properly included in conversation with the administration.

Senators also expressed concerns about the precedent that this would set for the relationship between administrators and SGA in the future.

“This shows the important angle students have on these issues and we look forward to the administration helping us get this right,” Ryan said.

According to Walehwa, the Department of Housing and Residence Life will work to determine the staff for next semester and hope to have a full staff by the beginning of next semester.

DPSSS said it is planning to provide training to the new desk attendants as well. In the coming weeks, these departments are planning to meet with SGA and other students in efforts to address concerns and move forward with these changes.

“Ultimately, that is what is happening right now. We are getting some reactions to this decision, and so we are trying to make sense of it all and move forward,” Walehwa said. “We are confident that this is a strict, solid security structure with all the different layers of security.”