Imagine returning to your dorm room one day, only to find that it has been broken into. Maybe the intruder is still in the room. Imagine the fear you’d experience at that moment, and from then on every time you enter your room.
That’s exactly what happened recently at Philippi Hall when two girls returned to their room around noon on Jan. 24 only to find an intruder lurking in their closet.
He ran out, and the women weren’t physically harmed.
But for them and others across campus,some say fear resonates.
“I don’t feel safe,” said junior Dorn McMahon, who lives in Robie-Andrews Hall. “I would feel better if there was someone working at the desk 24 hours and also if there was video surveillance in the freshman parking lot.”
University officials say Gorham is a well-maintained campus with all the proper security measures.
There is usually someone working at the front desk in each residence hall between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. There is only one entrance for each hall that residents are allowed to use, which is controlled by card access.
Every resident on the Gorham campus is equipped with a key card that unlocks the door when it is waved at least six inches in front of the door mechanism.
With all the safety measures in effect University officials say it’s difficult for intruders to get in.
“If all windows and doors are locked, it is not easy for someone to break into someone else’s room,” said Director of Gorham Student Life Joe Austin.
In the case of the recent events at Philippi Hall, the new residence hall, everything, including locks on doors, are brand new.
University officials still don’t know how the intruder was able to break in.
Convenient but potentially dangerous
Many students subvert safety precautions. In all residence halls, the doors lock automatically. But many students disable locks, trying to create easier access for themselves when they are in and out of the room.
This jeopardizes valuable items in students’ rooms, especially when others know a student has something expensive.
Brian Walsh, a sophomore who lives in Robie-Andrews Hall didn’t used to always keep his door locked. But his roommate recently had his prescription medicine stolen. He said he changed his mind about disabling the lock.
“Now we lock the room whenever we leave it,” he said.
“When your stuff is stolen, it sucks. But generally, I feel safe and I feel that my stuff is safe,” said Walsh’s roommate, sophomore Jake Walton.
Officials say the keyless entry now used on campus is safer than using keys.
“The card system is equipped with the ability to track who has used the door to gain access to the building,” said Austin.
But in another case of students subverting safety measures, students often open the door for others behind them, who may be non-residents.
Sometimes non-residents are able to follow residents into the building, because of the use of items such as the handicapped button that opens the door automatically and doesn’t immediately close after use.
This allows for access to the building for those who are potentially dangerous.
“I compare it to when you enter the supermarket and you hold the door for someone behind you . do you ever look at that person behind you?” said USM Police Detective Sgt. Ronald Saindon.
Students say access cards are safer and more convenient in many respects.
“My freshman year we used keys for the doors entering the residence halls as well as our own room. The cards were only for meals. It is easier to use a card when it’s cold outside because you don’t have to fumble with a key with your mittens on,” said Kristi Ouellette, an RA in Robie-Andrews. “It’s also safer because if someone is following you, you can just swipe your card and get inside more quickly,” she said.
Should the University increase security?
“The security systems in place are very good, but only as good as the students that support them,” said Saindon. “We can even track when someone is pushing on a door to a residence hall.”
He said students need to pay more attention to security.
“Students prop the entry doors for their friends, or wait until the security desk assistant is distracted to let their friends slip by,” said Saindon.
This all allows for unauthorized non-residents to be let into the building.
When asked about 24-hour security desk assistants, and cameras at entrances, Austin said, “We’re trying to find the right balance between safety and expense. We’re also looking at increasing security desk hours.”
Currently, the front desks are generally staffed between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.
The intruder was discovered in Phillipi Hall around noon, when the desk wasn’t staffed.
Students speak up
A lot of the recent events on campus have put people on edge, but many students aren’t too rattled.
“I think you create your own reality,” said Melissa Locke, a freshman from Robie-Andrews. “If you walk around campus late at night thinking that you are going to get raped, then you probably will. But if you walk around with a positive attitude and don’t think you’re going to get raped, you probably won’t.”
Sophomore April Mulkern agreed that attitude is important.
“There will always be an underlying type of evil everywhere you go. It’s all a matter of whether or not you want to pay attention to it. It may come in the face of a random guy breaking into a random room on campus. It’s all in how you perceive it,” said April. “So, in essence, I feel safe because I choose not to pay attention to negative things and only to focus on positive things. If you concentrate on what “might” happen, then it can lead to paranoia, and that’s no good, is it?”
When asked if he felt safe on campus, Asher Platts, a freshman from Anderson Hall, said “There are two types of safety. Do I feel safe because I am ignorant of what isn’t safe, or do I feel safe because I have a lot of security protecting me. That is no way to live your life.”
This attitude is common around parts of campus. But so is the attitude that students have to be somewhat responsible for their safety.
“We’re old enough to realize if we are getting ourselves into an unsafe situation,” freshman Jessica Blackwell said when asked if she thought it was the students’ job to assume responsibility for their safety to some degree.
What to do
“The best way for students to keep themselves safe is to be aware of the need to do so,” said Austin.
Students are expected to report any doors that do not work properly, fire doors that are found ajar, broken windows, etc. Students have to accept some of the responsibility for keeping themselves safe, he said.
Austin said students should not disable the locks on their doors and always be cognizant when walking alone at night. It is also important to report any intrusions and suspicious persons immediately.
Brochures are available on how to keep safe on and off campus at the USM police station in Upton Hall on the Gorham campus.
Police encourage anyone with information about the recent Philippi Hall incident to call the USM Police at 780-5211. In the event of an emergency, dial 911.
Contributing Writer Lindsay Quinn can be contacted at: [email protected]