After thefts, students question the college’s open campus policies

Renown for its natural beauty as well as its academic rigor, the College also acts as a public space for residents and visitors alike at any time, day or night. Parrish Beach provides a spacious lawn for dog walkers and the Crum trails are a popular running spot for Swarthmore residents. Additionally, local sports teams use the field house for practices in the winter and Chester youth groups use the Lang Performing Art Center (LPAC) for programs.

Recently, however, various thefts have raised questions about the safety and integrity of the college’s open campus policy.

Last spring, Michaela Shuchman ’16 was on campus during the first weekend of spring break to rehearse for a show. She was in the lobby of LPAC outside the Frear Ensemble Theater when she was finally called to rehearse.

“All of us were in and out of the theater for the next couple of hours and hanging in the lobby, but there must have been a point during this time where no one was in the lobby watching our stuff. This was probably when my laptop was taken from the chair I had left it on,” she said.

Many computer and phone thefts seem to take place during breaks when fewer students are around. This past June, Ascanio Guarini ’16, who stayed on campus over the summer for engineering research, explained that he stepped out of a lab in Hicks to show his professor something, and upon returning discovered that all his belongings, including his phone and computer, were gone.

That same day, Natalie Campen ’14 was working in Professor Amy Vollmer’s microbiology lab on the 3rd floor of Martin doing research for her honors thesis. She stepped out of the lab around 12:15 to go around the corner and take measurements on a machine in another room, also on the 3rd floor of Martin. When she returned to the lab 10 minutes later, her computer was missing.

Fortunately for Shuchman, her computer was recovered with help from Public Safety and from the Swarthmore Police. She found her interactions with both bodies helpful and productive.

“I had to give a written statement describing the events and a few weeks later was asked to appear in court to testify,” she said. “The Swarthmore Police Department was extremely helpful and kind throughout the whole process, keeping me updated on what to expect and what I needed to do.”

But Guarini and Campen did not recover their belongings. They do not cite Public Safety or the College as responsible, but they do respectively wish more could have been done to help them.

“Public Safety told me to make sure my credit information wasn’t stolen, and they put me in touch with credit score companies,” said Guarini. “I didn’t hear from [Public Safety] after that though. They were helpful because they responded quickly, but they didn’t really follow-up or seem to pursue my stuff as much as I would have liked. I do understand that they don’t have jurisdiction outside the campus, though.”

 While home, Campen wrote to President Rebecca Chopp, in an effort to bring to her attention the lack of security on the campus. Chopp referred her to a meeting with Public Safety, so she met with Mike Hill and Joanna Gallagher, the heads of Public Safety.

“We discussed possible options for making the campus safer, but many suggestions, such as cameras in front of the entrances to academic buildings and key cards to restrict access to outsiders proved to be unviable due to a lack of funding,” she said.

This fall, bike thefts in particular have been a major issue. Recently, Public Safety posted “Awareness Bulletins” on student dorms that detailed these robberies. As of October 26th Mike Hill, Director of Public Safety said that the Swarthmore Borough Police and Swarthmore Public Safety had received 25 stolen bike reports. Of those 25 bikes, only 2 have been recovered.

“Most of these thefts took place near the Swarthmore Train Station,” Hill said. “Public Safety posted several Awareness Bulletins throughout campus with some crime prevention tips. We are conducting additional bike, foot, and vehicle patrols of the areas of concern. We are also exploring other options with the Swarthmore Borough Police.”

Thefts happen on all college campus, whether by other students or by outside perpetrators, but many students assert that they deserve to feel comfortable leaving their belongings alone to get a drink of water or step out to make a phone call. Shuchman, Guarini, and Campen all agreed that they felt differently about the college’s open campus after their belongings were stolen.

“I think the small campus feel gives us a bit of a sense of false security,” Shuchman said. “It’s open and people who don’t go to the college are walking through it all the time. I’m very glad the person who took my laptop wasn’t a student, but it also made me consider that the college might not be as much of a ‘bubble’ as we think it is.”

Guarini had a different take on the open campus. He thinks that an open campus is fine, but that certain places with high value equipment should be more secure.

“The simplest thing for increasing security would be something like self-locking doors, which they have in places like David Kemp [the dorm],” he said.

Campen is surprised that security was not increased after a number of computer thefts and even more reports of bicycle theft during the summer

“To be honest, I’m a little apprehensive about the openness of the campus now, said Campen. “I know I could have been more careful and not leave my valuables in the open, but now I’m definitely more vigilant about locking up my stuff or taking it with me.”

Hill said that although policies are constantly reviewed and changing, Public Safety still counts on students being vigilant and reporting suspicious or criminal activity.

“Swarthmore is still a very safe campus and community,” Hill said. “That said, we are always reviewing our policies to make sure we are using the best and promising practices, which is why the college brought the EmergenSee app to campus this semester and we are expanding the use of other tools, such as cameras.”

Nonetheless, Campen is frustrated because the crime committed against her did not cost the school anything, yet she had to replace her laptop out of pocket, which she noted is no small expenditure.

“I know I’m just upset about the entire thing and it is making me a little more irrational, but sometimes it feels that because I’m just a student, it doesn’t matter [to the college] what happens because I’ll just absorb the cost myself.”