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UMN renovates buildings and implements safety measures in residence halls

HRL installed bathroom locks and turnstiles in dorms to increase safety.
Image by Shalom Berhane
Students using the turnstiles at Pioneer Hall on Oct. 11, 2023.

The University of Minnesota’s Housing and Residential Life (HRL) renovated several dorms on campus in response to safety incidents.

In past years, the safety of dorms has often been compromised as unauthorized individuals have entered dorms, stolen from residents, made inappropriate comments to individuals and watched residents in the shower.

Susan Stubblefield, interim director of HRL, said in an email interview with the Minnesota Daily that HRL prioritizes providing a safe and comfortable environment for residents.

“HRL routinely invests in the residence halls and always considers ways to enhance and modernize the living environment, including safety and security, as part of each project,” Stubblefield said.

HRL implemented building infrastructure measures, like minimizing entry points, installing alarms at emergency exits, using surveillance cameras, installing window limiters and utilizing fire and life safety measures, according to Stubblefield.

Stubblefield said HRL has an increased staff presence with staffed lobby desks, community advisors who go on regular rounds during business hours and University security protecting the inside and outside of residential buildings.

HRL encourages students to use their U Card or fob when entering residential buildings, deter non-residents from entering buildings, escort guests and report suspicious behaviors, Stubblefield added.

Renovations focused on safety have successfully protected students. The turnstiles recently installed in Pioneer Hall have stopped people from entering the building and bathroom locks have worked well for residents, according to Stubblefield.

HRL plans to install live feed monitors and turnstiles in other buildings, addressing one to two buildings each year, Stubblefield said. HRL continues to modernize safety upgrades in their long-range planning in partnership with the Department of Public Safety.

Bathroom locks have been installed at Territorial, Centennial, Bailey, Pioneer, Comstock and Frontier halls, with the locks being added to Sanford Hall several years ago. Middlebrook Hall has all single-user bathrooms that residents lock upon entry, according to the University.

Evan O’Connor, a first-year student at the University living in Territorial Hall, said he feels relatively safe. In Territorial, communal bathrooms require a key for entry. O’Connor said there are curtains used for the shower instead of doors and some locks on the toilet stalls do not work.

O’Connor added he has been told not to let people in the building, but it can often be uncomfortable to stop people from entering.

“Let’s say you forgot your ID, it’s hard because how are you going to get in the building?” O’Connor said. “I don’t want to leave someone out in the cold.”

O’Connor said the turnstiles in Pioneer Hall are somewhat effective but not foolproof. The turnstiles require scanning a U Card, but O’Connor said there is potential for abuse, where one person scans multiple cards, triggering an alarm that often goes unnoticed.

“If they really wanted to get in, it wouldn’t be that hard,” O’Connor said.

Gina Sheehan, a first-year student at the University, also lives in Territorial Hall and said she has had several encounters with strangers disturbing her.

Sheehan said a man knocked on her door and asked to be let into her room. Sheehan let him in, but he began to make inappropriate comments to her and she eventually was able to make him leave. She said the man was not a University student and said he went to Augsburg. Sheehan does not know how he got into the building.

Sheehan also shared another encounter where two women experienced a group of men opening their door while they were changing.

Sheehan’s roommate, Lilia Melco, a first-year student at the University, said she felt uncomfortable when a man walked into the women’s restroom after she had showered.

“I’m from a small town so things like that are never a problem and everything’s super safe,” Melco said. “Being here, I’m always on alert.”

Andrew Larson, Undergraduate Student Government Student Life and Wellbeing Committee director, said he is happy with the dorm renovations but thinks there is still work that needs to be done.

“The locks on the bathroom, although certainly a step in the right direction, everybody on the floor still has access to the bathrooms,” Larson said. “There are still quite a few points of failure there, it’s not quite the same as having locks on an individual kind of stall.”

Larson added USG passed a resolution for adding full-length doors to stalls of showers as an added layer of safety.

“I think going forward overall, not just for safety, but also to make sure students feel comfortable and welcome in their facility,” Larson said. “Making sure that there are plenty of options available for single-use shower and bathroom facilities.”

Larson said what the University has done is good, but stronger measures still need to be implemented.

“I personally would like to see the University investing a little bit more in addressing the causes of the lack of security in dorms,” Larson said. “These responsive measures that are being implemented, they feel much more of a measure of, ‘Let’s see what we can do to lower the number of instances where we have to push something to my SAFE-U system.’”

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