Safeguarding our property: Reflections on a campus culture of trust and mutual respect

On Friday night, residents of Dodd House received an e-mail from their Baxter Fellows explaining that a thief had broken into several dorm rooms in the building and attempted to abscond with three laptops and an iPhone. Campus Safety and Security apprehended the suspect quickly, and the e-mail closed with a reminder to students to lock their doors. While students at a city university likely wouldn’t have batted an eye at this message, in a rural community such as ours, a string of thefts is noteworthy.

Security did a phenomenal job in responding quickly to a student report of a suspicious person in the dorm, communicating effectively with Baxter Fellows and Dodd residents and promptly nabbing the suspect. The student who called in the report should also be commended, as we frequently do not take the time to report situations that seem unusual. We afford a great deal of trust to the people we interact with in our living spaces, and at times, this trust leads us to overlook the fact that some people do not have the best intentions.

The recent thefts provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the culture of trust and openness on which we pride ourselves at the College. We see this culture manifested all around us: Students casually leave laptops in Baxter Hall as they run back to their dorms to retrieve a forgotten reading packet, iPods casually stick out of book bags and bikes lean up unlocked against the steps of Chapin. It is wonderful that we can trust our students and community members with what we deem important to us. However, this culture should not overshadow the inherent risks associated with being careless with our valuables. It’s simple: If your laptop is left streaming the newest Grey’s Anatomy to an empty couch, you run the risk of someone taking it.

Similarly, this culture of trust often leads students to leave their doors unlocked. On such a small campus, it appears unlikely that anyone would enter a student’s room during the day, but by leaving our doors unlocked, we risk endangering our personal belongings just as if we had left them unattended in Paresky. The College gives us responsibility with swipe access to any dorm on campus. While we appreciate the sense of openness that this privilege affords us, the trusting nature of campus is such that this access is quickly extended to anyone, student or otherwise, waiting outside a building asking to be swiped in.

While the perpetrator of the recent thefts in Dodd House forced his way into the building, he gained access to students’ valuables because he went door to door, finding unlocked rooms with laptops in plain sight. This is not to say that the entire student body should stampede to Wal-Mart and purchase safes for their valuables, but students should reflect on the worth of their possessions and take steps to ensure their safety. The first line of defense is simply for students to lock their doors.

Unlocked dorm doors are a common campus phenomenon: Every student has friends who leave their doors unlocked, and these decisions are not without justification in many students’ minds. Many feel that carrying a key around is a hassle, especially as the fees associated with losing a key can accumulate on students’ term bills. However, locking your door and pocketing the key can and should become a simple, automatic habit.

Though this is primarily a student issue, the administration can and already does assist students in protecting their belongings. If students are worried about a key slipping out of their back pocket, there are free holders for ID cards and keys available at the Office of Student Life. On a larger scale, the recent renovations of dormitories, which replaced many keyed doors with keypads, point to a viable solution to the hassles of dorm room security. We hope that this system will replace conventional locks and keys as future dormitories renovations are realized.

While rare, theft does and will continue to occur at the College, as it does everywhere. We jokingly refer to our campus as the purple bubble, but this should not lead us to naively assume that there are no risks in leaving our valuables unattended. We, as both students and responsible adults, need to take responsibility for the safekeeping of our belongings. We are privileged with a community that respects personal possessions while owners are away, but the bottom line is that if the unexpected happens, we have only ourselves to blame.

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