By Winnie Andersen and Caleb Bissinger
President Georgia Nugent sent an e-mail to students, parents, faculty and staff on Nov. 30 announcing that residence halls will be locked and will require K-Card access 24/7 beginning next semester. This security measure and its implementation have been met with mixed opinions in the greater Kenyon community.
Purpose of making the change
Although this decision was made two weeks after the campus-wide lockdown that made national news, Nugent said that the current lock policy, under which dormitories are only locked between midnight and 7:00 a.m. on weekdays and between 2:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. on weekends, had been a concern preceding the Apple Valley tragedy.
Dean of Students Henry Toutain said, “The recent incident in Knox County was a pretty dramatic reminder that even though we live in a pretty bucolic and generally relatively safe environment, there are risks in this environment just as there are in any environment.”
However, Toutain and Nugent both said that preceding the recent events, the current lock policy had been an ongoing concern. Nugent said the tragedy was “the straw that broke the camel’s back. Most times when there’s a meeting of parents on campus, [the lock policy] almost always comes up that parents [are not] comfortable with this. It’s been an ongoing discussion.”
The administration said the local crime rate and the lock policies at other colleges and universities influenced the change.
In her e-mail, Nugent wrote, “The recent murders are particularly disturbing, but they are not entirely anomalous. Homicides occur every year in Knox County. More than 200 assaults and robberies occur annually as well.”
Nugent also wrote that according to information Toutain gathered from the College’s Safety and Security logs, unauthorized persons, often with criminal records, have been “in our midst.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, in 2008 and 2009, Kenyon reported 42 burglaries on campus, two forcible sex offenses, two aggravated assaults and one motor vehicle theft.
Furthermore, Nugent wrote that the fact that “almost every college in America has a 24/7 lock policy … provide[s] a kind of ‘collective wisdom’ about the matter … [and] intensifies our liability if, having the ability to follow this practice, we choose not to do so.”
In the beginning, the 24/7 policy will only extend to dormitories. In the future, the policy could apply to academic buildings. The system could also prevent students from accessing any dormitories other than their own after a certain hour.
Bob Hooper, director of Campus Safety, said there has been discussion of installing an emergency lockdown feature, which, when triggered, would prevent student’s KCards from opening any dormitory doors. This security feature would be valuable in what Hooper called a “Virginia Tech type situation” where a student, acting as a gunman, was trying to enter dormitories.
Process of making the change
The community was first notified about the prospect of making the lock policy change in an e-mail from Nugent on Nov. 24. On Nov. 29, Nugent and Toutain convened a meeting with representatives from the Housing and Dining, Student Life, Safety and Security, and Buildings and Grounds Committees to announce that the policy would be implemented by the beginning of second semester.
This process was met with much criticism, since according to 2008 Student Council bylaw, the majority of the Housing and Dining, Student Life, Safety and Security, and Buildings and Grounds Committees would have to approve any changes to dormitory access.
Both Nugent and Toutain said that they were not aware of this bylaw until it was brought to their attention, and they do not believe the committees have the authority the bylaw gives them.
Nugent said, “I didn’t think I knew about [the bylaw] … It’s hard for me to go back three years and be certain, but I can’t imagine that I would agree to that.” When she became aware of it she said, “[the] thing I was really wrestling with was that I knew there was only one possible outcome … what if we did follow that language? That language is not binding because it goes beyond student authority … I contemplated, would it be better to go ahead and have a student vote, anyway. My thinking on that … was that if in fact we did that, and students voted against closing the dorms – I would have to overturn that vote and I thought that was a worse precedent than just saying straightforwardly, you know, you don’t actually have this decision.
Toutain said the bylaw is “really regrettable and unfortunate because it gives a false impression and it sets all of us up for unhappiness and frustration when it looks as though things are one way,” and that he does not know how it was approved. However, it is possible, he said, that it was developed and incorporated by Student Council alone without the approval of Campus Senate.
Meeting with Student Council
At the meeting, which approximately 25 students attended, Nugent said she “was very frank” about both the security issue and the responsibility issue, and Toutain said that students were “very cordial” and “asked good questions, particularly about the implementation.”
Student Council Chair Will Kessenich said the meeting was “nice and informative.” He said the decision was received by students better than he thought it would be and that it was made clear that students will be involved in the logistical aspects moving forward.
“In my opinion, I think that students have had as big a say as we should,” he said. “It was important that we take care of it now, and moving forward, they are very open to student opinion.”
Criticism of the process
However, many students are frustrated with the lack of student input. Nugent said, “I spent two hours speaking to one student on Monday night and his feeling was that students own the College, the Kenyon exists for students and therefore the students should have the power to make decisions. I said to him that the first thing is absolutely true and the second thing doesn’t follow from that.”
Gavin McGimpsey, Co-Chair of Campus Senate, echoed concerns raised by students on All-Stu that the administration overstepped student leadership in creating this new security measure.
“By and large,” he said, “student committees have a good deal of influence and a good deal of access to the administrators they need to get things done.” However, he noted that, “This is an instance where there could have been a lot more communication and a lot more dialogue before the president’s announcement.”
Criticism of the policy
Students have voiced additional criticism regarding the lock policy itself, particularly over all-student e-mails.
Some are concerned that tracking students is an invasion of privacy. In response to this concern, Toutain said he doesn’t “think it’s unusual that access to certain private facilities is monitored somehow.” However, he said he would be “interested in hearing from students more about what their [privacy] concerns are and how we might appropriately respond to those.” He said they are “legitimate concerns … [and that there are] lots of ways privacy and confidentiality can be preserved.”
The new security policy will also be costly. Toutain said the change is “not cheap,” but that this is “an opportunity to enhance student safety … the cost-benefit analysis suggests a larger benefit in enhanced safety and a relatively low cost.”
Addressing concerns over lack of dormitory access to non-students, particularly prospective students who may be separated from their host, Toutain said this is one of the “issues we’ll have to talk through and work through. We certainly don’t want people stranded outside.” He said one possibility is issuing temporary cards for prospective students that could work for a particular hall for a particular time span.
Administrators and students close to the project have been quick to point out their belief that a new lock system will not compromise Kenyon’s sense of community.
“I don’t think [the community feeling] will be lost at all with [the doors] being locked,” Kessenich said. “The community feel didn’t have anything to do with the locking, and I think that’s something people will realize after they’re locked.”
Nugent cited the fact that other rural schools, like Grinnell and Bates, have 24/7 lock policies as evidence that additional security will not destroy the Kenyon community. She said, “I certainly hope that Kenyon is distinctive, but I hope that it’s for reasons that are more distinctive than ‘I don’t have to carry a key.'”
Other students are unsure that these measures will increase safety. “It remains unclear to me how, exactly they significantly improve student safety,” wrote senior Bryn Stole on the email forum. “The vast majority of thefts occur during the day, when even if they were locked, dorms would remain fairly readily accessible to anyone willing to follow the heavy traffic inside. And lest it be forgotten, the most recent on-campus death of a student came NOT from a crazed killer or a botched robbery that could have been prevented. Instead, it was a student who, extremely intoxicated, passed out in the snow and died of exposure.”
In response to the all-stu criticisms, Kessenich said, “A lot of the bad reaction is just general negative reaction to change … [but] safety is one of those issues where some things just kind of need to be done.”
And despite criticism, Nugent said she has received about 50 messages in favor of the policy and none against it. She said, “Interestingly, I’ve had students begin to say to me that they think this was a good decision, but nobody wants to write an all-stu saying that.”
Many details remain to be worked out. But the administration is adamant that they will consult student leaders as they craft the logistics of the new lock system.
Much of the onus will also fall on campus safety, Toutain said. “Campus Safety will have to change its protocol somewhat. They are really responsible for the system, so if there are implementation glitches, they’ll have to respond.”
However, the administration seems satisfied with their new policy. “This will set a lot of minds at ease,” said Bob Hooper, “a lot of parent’s minds at ease. We have the system in place and now we will use it to its full potential.”
Hooper urged students to stay vigilant. “There are things that can happen,” he said. “If it seems out of place, it probably is.”
What remains to be seen is whether this incident will change the way the administration interacts with the student governing bodies. “[This] an issue that I think is much larger than the door issue because it speaks to how students are or are not involved in campus governance,” Toutain said. Moving forward, he said it would be “quite useful to clarify [student involvement] across the board. It would be helpful to delineate that more clearly.”
Students like Bryn Stole remain uncertain. “I no longer have any illusions,” Stole wrote. “The way this college is run is not in keeping with a sense of community. It’s not a collaborative space. And I’m not a valued member here…on May 21, 2011, a couple of hours after graduating, will be told to pack up … and get off campus or face absurdly large fines.”
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