By Maya Kaufman
Vandalism has been a frequently discussed topic on campus as of late, sparked by the defacement of student art projects for the Installation Art course. Yet a purported increase in vandalism in residence halls has also prompted the Office of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) and Community Advisors (CAs) to discuss the causes and consequences of an offense for which it is often difficult to pinpoint a culprit.
The most common vandalism issues in residence halls are torn-down or defaced hall decorations, graffiti — often in the form of offensive language or phallic imagery — and damage to items in the building, such as chairs and tables, according to Jill Engel-Hellman, director of Housing and Residential Life, and Scott Gill-Jacobson, the assistant director of Housing and Residential Life for Mather and McBride Residence Halls.Although Engel-Hellman said that vandalism seems to be at a similar level of frequency to past years, based on discussions with other staff members, Gill-Jacobson described an increase in the number of incidents.
“It definitely feels like it’s gone up this year,” Gill-Jacobson said. “Although it has gone up this year, I’ve seen, at least in my area, less big-ticket damage. … A lot of [vandalism this year] has been aesthetic.”
Rishi Choubey ’16, a CA in McBride, believes that students vandalize because “they think it’s funny, and they don’t think about the consequences or how others might feel.”
In order to address the issue, ResLife staff recently had an in-service meeting during which they discussed alcohol-related issues. During the meeting, vandalism was a topic that came up as an incident commonly tied to the consumption of alcohol.
ResLife is also emphasizing the importance of creating an ongoing conversation about vandalism and the impact it has on the community. ResLife has encouraged CAs to have individual conversations with their residents in addition to floor meetings and emails focusing on the subject. Assistant directors such as Gill-Jacobson have also sent emails to residents.
Choubey speaks to his residents, in part, to determine if they know anything about the who, what and when of specific incidents. However, raising awareness, he says, is his main objective.
“What we are trying to do is just create discussion and make sure people are informed that this is hurting peoples’ feelings, this isn’t right, this is a respectful place,” Choubey said. “It’s hard to say what more we could do.”
It can be difficult to determine who the culprit is for an act of vandalism. Often, the culprits leave the scene before they are caught, making it difficult to hold people accountable for their actions. While the common sanction for vandalism is a monetary penalty, if the individual(s) responsible cannot be found, the charges assessed for vandalism in public areas in student residences are split among all students who share responsibility for that area.
Vandalism, in some cases, may also be considered discriminatory harassment. An incident involving subject matter such as phallic imagery compels CAs to report the incident to a Title IX coordinator.
Engel-Hellman pointed out that such instances of vandalism can make students feel uncomfortable.
“Everybody wants to live in a place that they feel safe, they feel secure and has things that work,” she said. “If somebody has written something on a board that somebody else finds offensive, that could affect their ability and their sense of belonging in the community.”
Choubey observed that, in his experience, vandalism frequently targets female students.
Vandalism can also cost the College money. Maintenance cleans up after these incidents, which, when added to their daily routine, may cause them to have to work overtime. Maintenance staff may also be called in for an additional shift, often when an incident happens late at night on a weekend, in order to address the issue immediately.
There were 52 instances of vandalism in the 2013-2014 academic year. So far this school year, there have been 35 instances of vandalism, 23 of which have occured in residence halls. At this time last year, there were only 17 instances of vandalism.
Steven Arnett, interim director of facility operations, pointed out that vandalism is an issue that strongly affects Maintenance staff not only in terms of work schedules.
“These are people who, for the most part, have been [at the College for] a long time,” Arnett said. “It’s more than just a building to those folks — it becomes a piece of who they are. … I know it’s frustrating for them when they see people who maybe don’t have the same level of respect for these things that they do.”
Gill-Jacobson agreed that vandalism “gives you the idea that someone doesn’t respect the community. … That makes people think, ‘Well, what does that mean for me? What kind of environment do I live in?’”