Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Yesterday morning, in a case Public Safety has labeled as an “attempted sexual assault,” an unidentified intruder entered a Willets dorm room and threatened a female Swarthmore student. The assailant was described as a “male with dark complexion, approximately 20-30 years old, medium to stocky build, height between 5’6″ to 6 feet tall, short hair, wearing long jeans and a white tee shirt.”
The student woke up to the sound of her door closing, and, after being threatened, screamed. The assailant fled the scene. The student was left unharmed.
Public Safety and the Dean responded quickly to the incident. By 7:30 AM, the campus was first notified of the intrusion, and Dean of Students Jim Larimore reported that the external locks for Willets will be changed. Associate Dean of Student Life, Myrt Westphal, asked all of the College’s RAs to make a strong case against the practice of propping, or forcing exterior doors to remain unlocked.
Tyler Wallace ’09, the RA for Willets 3rd North, told the Gazette that the building’s doors had “been propped quite a bit. During moving weekend, the doors seem to be propped all day.” This practice isn’t new however–door propping is common at the College, and this was the first major intrusion into Willets in recent history.
In the past two years, there have been several other intrusions. In 2006, unidentified intruders in Parrish stole student laundry and pulled back a shower curtain. Then, College administrators speculated that the dorm was targeted because it was part of a public building. Five months after the initial intrusion, keypad locks were installed to secure the residential sections of the building from outsiders.
In a Gazette article on the incident, former Dean of Housing Liz Derickson expressed concern that door propping could cause similar incidents in other dorms. Her concerns were well-founded.
Palmer RA Stephanie Appiah ’10 believes that Willets itself may be a target. “Willets seems to get all these problems first,” she said, specifically mentioning other incidents last semester in which a laptop was stolen, and an intruder was found sitting in a dorm room.
“At first it was Parrish, but then they installed the locks. Willets should undergo a similar securing process,” she explained. In particular, Appiah expressed concern that the windows for Mephistos Lounge provide an easy and hard-to-block entrance to the building. “Maybe Mephistos should have a different lock from the rest of the building,” she mused.
More importantly, Appiah believes that the incident highlights a dangerous trend–students sleep without locking their dorm-room doors. A poll in her dormitory of 31 students revealed that 20 did not lock their rooms. “This isn’t your home,” Appiah argued, saying that “you can’t sleep with security if your door is unlocked. It could just be a drunk person entering the wrong room–but this time, a person didn’t just stumble in, they came in with a purpose.”
Wallace and Appiah both believe a one-card electronic lock system might relieve some of the security problems. “It would be an improvement, and I know the administration has been looking into it,” reported Wallace.
In the meantime, the administration is asking all students to make sure to lock their dorms and rooms at all times. In a [students] email, Larimore warned that “assaults and thefts can and do happen, even in places that are regarded as safe,” but that these crimes frequently are “crimes of convenience.” A locked door keeps you from being the next low-hanging fruit.