Students checking on their belongings in Parrish basement storage last week made a surprising discovery: piles of open and sealed boxes containing various school files and records, many of which contain sensitive information about former and some current students. It is unclear if the files were placed in the storage room after Parrish basement flooded in early September or if they had been there before it, but some of them did appeared to have suffered water damage.
Many of the boxes did not have lids and were brimming with files. Records found inside, which went at least up until 2010, included monthly payment plans (including financial aid information), home addresses and phone numbers, bank routing and account numbers, health insurance information and social security numbers, along with other personal student information.
“The covers weren’t on the boxes, meaning someone’s social security number was in plain sight,” said Chris*, one of the students who discovered the boxes. Some of the files displaying social security numbers sat at the top of boxes without lids, facing up. In total, hundreds of students’ social security numbers were discovered on various documents, including lists of them in printed confidential emails among school officials discussing financial aid and health insurance.
Additionally, tuition statements and records of student fines were found, as was information marked “confidential” about potential endowment investments. Several of the boxes had “toss” or “shred” labels on them. Some records found went as far back as the 1960s.
Laura* saw the boxes while helping a friend move her belongings from storage in Parrish Hall. While looking around the room to find her things, she noticed some open boxes near one of the shelves. When she glanced inside, she saw that there were thick stacks of paper rubber-banded together.
“I realized that all the papers had information for individual students on them: names, expected graduation years, social security numbers,” she said. “At first, I thought the papers were related to student payroll but then I saw that they were actually details of monthly payment plans. It was pretty shocking, especially since the papers I saw were for students who had presumably graduated in 2006 or earlier.”
While Parrish student storage is typically locked, the room became accessible after the flooding damaged Parrish basement, leading the school to remove the bottom several feet of the plaster walls, potentially allowing students to crawl in.
Even so, according to Chris, the room is not always locked, including on the weekend he went down.
Mark* was one student who crawled under the wall. He discovered that there were boxes with social security numbers and payroll information. He was disturbed by the accessibility of the files and immediately left.
Similarly, upon this discovery, Laura expressed disappointment, noting that she could not believe documents containing such sensitive student information were left in the open, mentioning how scared she would be if her personal information were left out.
“It takes a special kind of carelessness to leave so much information, on what looked like hundreds of students, lying around. If I found out that the college left my social security number and the details of my payment plan out like that, I would be pretty upset,” she said. “I don’t want some random students to have access to that, especially not a decade later.”
Dean of Students Liz Braun and Assistant Dean of Residential Life Rachel Head both declined to comment, referring instead to Sharmaine LaMar, assistant vice-president for risk management and legal affairs. Lamar stated that it at the moment it appeared that no information was taken or used improperly.
“In an abundance of caution,” Lamar said, “the college is investigating the matter to ensure that no one’s information is in jeopardy of being misused.”
Lamar further noted that the administration takes issues of this nature seriously.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to protect and maintain the privacy of educational records and personal information of all members of the college community,” she said.
* The following are pseudonyms for students contacted by The Phoenix who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the confidential nature of what they discovered.