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Students speak on UMN residence hall safety

Students, parents and employees raise their concerns about safety and security within residence halls.
Image by Shalom Berhane
There were two reports of inappropriate conduct at Frontier Hall in October 2021.

Some students, parents and employees at the University of Minnesota say they wish Housing and Residential Life (HRL) were more proactive and transparent about crime and security in University residence halls.

There have been a number of break-ins and incidents of inappropriate conduct in University residence halls since fall 2021, some of which were reported to students while others were not, causing some students to feel less safe in their residence halls.

Between Oct. 13 and Oct. 21, 2021, there were three reported incidents of inappropriate conduct in Frontier and Comstock hall, two in Frontier and one in Comstock. The University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) released a person of interest description and surveillance photos on Oct. 26, 2022.

A suspect was identified in the Frontier Hall Oct. 13, 2021 incident and charged with a peeping gross misdemeanor on Feb. 15, 2022. There is currently an active warrant out for the suspect’s arrest because he failed to show up to a court hearing on March 7, 2022. Since the initial incident alert, there have been updates sent out to students.

Similarly, there were two reported incidents of indecent conduct in September 2022, one in Smith Hall, which is not a residence hall, and the other in Middlebrook Hall. The Middlebrook incident involved the suspect looking at the victim while the victim was in the shower. Another indecent conduct incident occurred at Middlebrook on Oct. 29, 2022, and again, the suspect was looking at the victim while the victim was in the shower.

More recently, there was a SAFE-U alert for an incident of indecent conduct in Pioneer Hall on March 29 from an individual in a stairwell making inappropriate comments to students.

HRL installed more bathroom locks in most residence halls

“In general, I don’t think enough is being done,” Brian Peck, a parent and president of the Campus Safety Coalition nonprofit said. “The dorms should be the safest place on a college campus.”

Peck’s son, Jack Peck, is a first-year student living in Territorial Hall. Brian said as a parent, his son living on campus when security is so “lax” makes him anxious.

In May 2022, HRL announced bathroom locks would be installed that summer in Frontier, Centennial, Territorial, Pioneer, Comstock and 17th Avenue residence halls.

“Bathroom locks are installed and operational in all Twin Cities residence halls, except for Frontier Hall,” Susan Stubblefield, HRL interim director, said in an email statement to the Minnesota Daily. “The Frontier Hall project requires the installation of new bathroom entrance doors and frames, which will occur during summer 2023.”

However, Aysa Tarana, a first-year student who lives in Middlebrook Hall, said she has not noticed any additional bathroom locks in her residence hall on the community bathroom doors. Middlebrook Hall dorm rooms already have semi-private bathrooms with locks that are typically shared between four residents.

Luke Schneider, a first-year student who lives in Territorial Hall, said he noticed bathroom locks were installed in his hall in late September.

Erin Vos, a second-year student who has been the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) campus life committee director for two years, said for the past year, USG has been working on implementing full length doors in residence hall bathrooms.

“Lack of communication has been the biggest downfall, and improper allocation of money,” Vos said.”They [HRL] have yet to allocate the funds from the University to get those full length bathroom doors.”

Residents and staff wonder why not all incidents are communicated to students

On Feb. 5 2021, Stubblefield sent an email to all residence hall staff informing them there had been several break-ins in residence halls, mostly in the four Super Block halls.

The email infomed staff the intruder was tailgating behind students, breaking into unlocked dorm rooms and stealing personal belongings. There was a poster with the intruder’s photo and a description attached to the email.

Following these break-ins, there were no SAFE-U alerts sent to students. Sam, who chose to use a pseudonym due to their current position at the University, said they were a Community Advisor (CA) at the time the email was sent to staff. They said HRL told staff not to share with their residents that the break-ins were occurring and not to hang the poster from the email in their residence halls.

HRL did not answer the Daily’s inquiry confirming whether staff were told not to share this information with students at the time.

“I immediately told the residents that were in my group,” Sam said. “They [the emails] did imply to me that it was pretty widespread, like there have been more than two or just three occurrences of this.”

On Feb. 12, 2022, HRL sent an email to Super Block residents informing them UMPD was called six days prior to investigate an individual who had entered Territorial Hall and was in the women’s bathroom. University Security increased building rounds in Territorial Hall, according to the email. There was no SAFE-U alert for this incident.

Tarana said her biggest concern as a student in the dorms was in the beginning of April, when Middlebrook residents heard there was a shooter in their residence hall.

Tarana said there was a lot of confusion about the incident and all the residents were hearing different things from someone’s Snapchat story. Some heard it was an active shooter, while others heard it was just police doing a wellness check. Some residents heard a resident was threatening to harm themselves.

She said at the time, Middlebrook went on lockdown and CAs informed residents they could not leave their dorms.

“I wouldn’t have known that there was a threat present had my roommate not called me and let me know,” Tarana said. “We had to go on lockdown for a little bit and that was scary.”

At 11:50 pm, the University Department of Public Safety tweeted that UMPD was on a “Check the Welfare call” and there was no immediate threat to the public in Middlebrook Hall.

Tarana said eventually, the CAs told residents it was safe to leave the residence halls, but the University never told them what happened. She said she thinks she has a right to know what is happening where she lives.

“SAFE-U notifications are only sent when there is confirmation of a dangerous situation or emergency that poses an immediate or serious, ongoing threat to the campus community,” Stubblefield said in her statement.

Students have mixed feelings about overall dorm safety procedures

Jack Peck, Ryan Carew and Schneider, all first-year students in Territorial Hall, said they have never felt particularly unsafe in their residence hall. However, all three said they wish there was more of a police presence in the area to better ensure safety.

Not all students felt as safe as Jack Peck, Carew and Schneider though.

Due to the recent shooting misinformation incident on top of the bathroom break-ins, Tarana said she has not always felt safe in her residence hall.

“Safety wise, it has been pretty rocky,” Tarana said. “We live on West Bank [campus], and I didn’t realize how scary it would be.”

Tarana said she wishes the University would provide secondary locks for dorm doors, increase security officers and find a way to ensure students are not bringing weapons into the dorms.

“It just shocked me that there could be literally somebody with a gun in their dorm, and there’s no way of knowing that they have their weapons in any way,” Tarana said.

Tarana and Sam said they wished the University would screen residents before admitting them into the dorms.

“You would also think that HRL would screen their residents a little bit before accepting them into the dorms,” Sam said. “But I can absolutely confirm that they do not.”

Part of the University’s housing application includes a statement requiring students to report whether they have been convicted of a criminal offense or if they have a pending charge against them, according to an email statement from Stubblefield.

If a student answers yes to either of these situations, they must provide further information about their conviction or charges. Stubblefield said this information is used to consider whether to admit the student to University housing.

HRL also works with the Office of Admissions to confirm students have been admitted to the University, Stubblefield said. When students sign their housing contracts, they must agree to abide by Community Behavioral Standards.

Students want more communication

All students agreed they want the University to be more communicative about safety and send updates more often when intruders are caught.

“I would definitely say it would add an extra level of comfort,” Schneider said.

Stubblefield said in her email statement that HRL has increased security at exterior doors and been working with University security to increase security within residence halls to prevent future incidents.

“We know that the single most effective way to prevent unwanted trespassers is to make sure that nobody else follows residents into a locked building or to keep secured entrances closed, as opposed to propping open exterior doors,” Stubblefield said. “We ask for every student’s help in making sure they don’t let anyone in behind them, either intentionally or unintentionally, and to never prop open any exterior doors.”

Tarana expressed frustration about the reminders to not let people tailgate because she said it is difficult to know who is a student and who is not, and “no one in the dorms cares about tailgating.”

“It puts the responsibility on us,” Tarana said.

Stubblefield also said in her statement security advisors actively cover HRL facilities every day from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Jack Peck said he has noticed security late at night on weekends by the front door, but not as much during the week.

Tarana, who said she usually does not get back to her dorm until midnight, has never noticed security when arriving home.

Future policy efforts are on the horizon

Vos said administration often does not respond to emails, making it more difficult to get resolutions passed.

Right now, USG is working on passing a Consistent Dorm Security Resolution, which would entail the Minneapolis Police Department and dorm directors having a set amount of security present in the residence halls. The resolution also calls for said security guards to be the same personnel and to wear name tags so students can get to know them, Vos said.

Vos said USG has been working on passing this since March, but progress has been slow due to lack of response from HRL. Vos said they have student group support and student support, so once they can connect with HRL, it should pass.

“I think that’s important because a lot of people don’t feel safe with cops,” Vos said. “We can never take away security, so why not try to develop a better fostering of connections between students and security?”

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