USM has seen more than its fair share of breaking news this week.From the arrest of a former USM student body president for arson on Monday and a Gorham standoff between police and an armed student Wednesday night, to an incident of spontaneous combustion in the science building on Friday.
Two of these events have something in common: they involve members of a USM fraternity. Wednesday night’s standoff occurred inside Sigma Nu, one of two USM-affiliated off-campus fraternity houses. These properties are not in fact university-owned; they are, as Executive Director of Student Life and Dean of Students Joy Pufhal put it, “recognized student group housing off-campus. The houses are included in the university’s “Annual Security Report and Annual Fire Safety Report,” but Pufhal noted that “the current university policy does not prohibit the possession of weapons in off-campus housing” simply because of “the way it is written.” That specifies carrying is not permitted “on-campus.” However, a simple search of the USM website turns up results from the Dean of Students page detailing a policy that states “weapons are not permitted on property owned by or under the control of the University of Southern Maine and off-campus activities sponsored by the University of Southern Maine.” Apparently not, because “living” is not considered to be a student activity. This lack of clarity in administrative jurisdiction could lead, as we have seen this week, to a situation in which the university will be forced to make some difficult decisions to ensure the safety of its students. The question is should fraternities be included more in university policy? Can we afford to do more to control them? Can we afford not to?
We saw how situations can easily escalate, not just on our own campus, but in campuses across the country and at Purdue University in Indiana just last week. What can we do as a community to ensure safety? It’s clear that emergency procedures are essential, like some of the methods we saw USM officials use this week in Gorham. However, a larger question needs to be confronted at USM; what can USM do to better ensure the safety of its students in the so-called recognized “off-campus” (but affiliated) residencies? The answer may be that the university should do more to regulate these recognized off-campus living spaces that are designated for students to ensure student safety during security procedures.