Since the implementation of the Garnet Pledge, the set of rules and guidelines intended to mitigate COVID-19 on Swarthmore’s campus that all students had to sign before the beginning of the semester, Public Safety infrastructure on campus has fundamentally changed. Before, students mostly turned to Pub Safe whenever they were accidentally locked out of their dorms or needed rides to distant campus buildings late at night. Now that Pub Safe has a key role in enforcing the pledge that could cost students their on-campus housing, students’ opinions on Pub Safe have become more polarized.
A common concern among students was the vagueness of the Garnet Pledge’s enforcement procedure and the lack of clarity about which infractions could lead to which punishments. Last semester, The Phoenix reported on ambiguity in the Garnet Pledge that contributed to students’ removal from campus, specifically the lack of clarification about how many students could be in a dorm room or NPPR lounge at one time.
Jino Chough ’22 said in an interview with The Phoenix that even though he abides by the Garnet Pledge guidelines, he continues to feel apprehensive about his interactions with Pub Safe officers.
“It sounded like [there were] inconsistencies with what [removed students] were told about why they were getting kicked off and what they were actually doing. So, obviously, you can just say, ‘You just need to follow all the rules to a tee, and you’re fine.’ But I feel like maybe I’ll walk out of the bathroom with my mask off after taking a shower, and they’ll grab me or something. It’s probably not gonna be that extreme, but it makes me feel … a lot more cautious and apprehensive.”
One student, “Jonathan,” had his housing privileges revoked over winter break for sneaking into Danawell through an unlocked window to access a student food pantry after he missed lunch and dinner that day at Sharples. According to Jonathan, a Pub Safe officer noticed his footsteps in the snow leading to the window and subsequently reviewed security footage and OneCard key logs to identify him.
Administrators asked Jonathan to leave campus for two reasons: because of the breaking and entering, and because in the process of entering Danawell through a window, he entered an EVS closet, which is considered a strict COVID-free space where students are not allowed. Jonathan wrote an appeal letter about how the punishment of revoked housing privileges did not fit the Garnet Pledge infraction, but both Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Nathan Miller and Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Terhune did not grant the appeal. On Pub Safe’s case logs, they reported the incident as “Burglary/Forced Entry” and described the entrance as “unlawful entry into a residence hall.”
Jonathan said that Terhune considered his entry into Danawell as criminal in nature.
“Initially [Terhune] was very aggressive, in terms of treating [the entry] like a crime,” he said. “Even near the end, in the email where he gave us a letter that we were getting kicked off campus, he was like, ‘Oh, I’m being nice because I could have treated this as an actual criminal offense because you were entering a building that you didn’t have access to. But we’re gonna deal with it inside the Swat network so you don’t get criminally charged.’”
On the other hand, some students feel that Public Safety surveillance has been too laid-back this semester, considering the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Molly O’Sullivan ’24 expressed her concerns about reckless behavior and a lack of enforcement.
“I do think that increasing [monitoring] around buildings would be good because I’ve been hearing things about people gathering not socially distanced and without masks, which is really reckless behavior,” she said. “I just know how vicious COVID is and how spreadable, and I don’t want to pass it on to people who are more at risk.”
While preventing the spread of COVID-19 is essential for students to safely remain on campus, students have expressed various degrees of concern about putting that responsibility in Public Safety officers’ hands due to their potential to surveil students. There are rumors that there are more CCTV cameras on campus than in previous academic years, though it is unclear to The Phoenix how many new cameras have been installed since the implementation of the Garnet Pledge.
“I heard that supposedly there were more cameras put up on campus,” said Dana Homer ’21.
“And I’m not really sure how to look for them to tell if it’s true or not. But I think with the Garnet Pledge in general, there is definitely more of a concern about when and where administration and staff are watching students.”
Chough echoed this sentiment, saying that “I really do think they are probably watching us walk down wherever, just waiting for us to mess up and to see if we’re breaking the Garnet Pledge in any way.”
In an email to The Phoenix, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill wrote that Pub Safe maintains roughly 270 cameras around building exteriors and the Crum Woods entrances. (There are 800 students on campus this semester, meaning that there are roughly three students per camera.) Pub Safe monitors these cameras and handles footage per the college’s CCTV policy. Though officers are not actively watching the cameras at all times, Pub Safe is required to dispatch an officer if they notice a safety concern or issue, though it is unclear what falls into this scope.
Some students, like O’Sullivan, are not concerned about the amount of surveillance because they feel comfortable with how they have been following the Garnet Pledge.
“I would definitely prioritize protecting the Garnet Pledge over surveillance because I don’t really mind being heavily surveilled. I know that I’m following the rules, so I hope it would help people do the same,” said O’Sullivan.
A major change to Pub Safe’s interfacing with students is the introduction of the Community Resource Officer program this academic year, which designates one Pub Safe officer for every residential building. Pub Safe intends for the CRO to become a point of contact for community members, including residential students, RAs, and RCCs.
“In and of itself, the CRO program is just the beginning of building trust and strong relationships with our community,” Hill wrote to The Phoenix. “We have begun to send out anonymous feedback surveys more frequently and to more community members. For example, I just received a survey response that represented one student’s experience in two different situations, where they were extremely satisfied with our professionalism, helpfulness, and knowledge.”
This semester, Pub Safe is also launching the Garnet Guide program, which will employ students as “Garnet Guides” for basic tasks related to public safety, including letting students back into dorms after accidentally locking themselves out and escorting students at night. According to the position’s description on JobX, “Garnet Guides will have the responsibility to act as a Student Communications Operator, Parking Enforcement Agent, Safety Escort Guide, which provides escorts of community members between different points on campus, and Admit Assistant, performing room lockout admissions in the residence halls.” Hill expressed enthusiasm for the Garnet Guide program and other connections that will allow Pub Safe to interface more with students and implement student feedback.
“I am very excited to work with SGO, the Student Life Committee, and the Public Safety Advisory Committee as we reimagine the student employment opportunities in Pub Safe and how we can support our community together,” he wrote.
“Taylor,” an RA, said that the expanded RA responsibilities this year now include Garnet Pledge enforcement. RAs used to be on call in every residential neighborhood on Swarthmore’s former designated party nights, Thursdays and Saturdays. While on call, RAs were obliged to respond to emergency calls throughout the night and do rounds through residential buildings in their residential neighborhood to check on residents. Under the Garnet Pledge, however, RAs are on call every night while Pub Safe is now responsible for rounds. It remains unclear why RAs are on call every night under the Garnet Pledge, especially since the Garnet Pledge essentially bans parties, with strict restrictions on dorm room visitors and alcohol quantities.
“Being on-call is a lot less hands-on than it was in previous semesters where we’d have to physically walk the building every hour, or buildings in the community, every hour,” said Taylor.
“Whereas now it’s just you’re in your room with the phone, and you respond to a call if it’s necessary. As for why we’re on call every night, I don’t know. It’s a little weird.”
Taylor expressed uncertainty about when to enforce the Garnet Pledge because she does not know how strictly administrators will enforce punitive measures for any given infraction. For example, possessing two bottles of wine and holding an unmasked gathering of multiple students in a closed space are both Garnet Pledge violations; the former, however, does not pose a direct risk to campus community health and safety, unlike the latter. She also said that because of the expectation for RAs to enforce the Garnet Pledge, RAs sometimes find themselves in the difficult position of being primary enforcers of on-campus surveillance through reports.
“Regardless of the situation, whether right or wrong, we have sort of been implicated in [surveillance on campus] because we are the ones that often make reports,” said Taylor. “Obviously, a dean isn’t going to say to a student, ‘So-and-so reported you,’ but people can kind of figure it out. And I think that that is a hard position to be put in.”
Taylor also believes that based on her experience interacting with Pub Safe, officers have undergone some training about responding to high-stress situations and emergencies on campus.
“They just seem to be doing their due diligence, like double and triple checking with us on everything. So that was really good,” she said. “Without getting too much into the specifics of the situation, I think that they were doing their utmost to be really careful with privacy. What I could read from [handling that emergency alongside Pub Safe] is that yes, they really cared, but they also were following some sort of handbook to a T.”
One notable change in the Garnet Pledge for the Spring semester was the Alcohol and Other Drugs policy. Whereas last semester alcohol was completely prohibited from campus, students over 21 this semester are allowed to have up to 72 ounces of beer or 750 milliliters of wine for private consumption in their rooms. Several students expressed that they don’t believe that alcohol possession should necessarily be grounds for removal from campus and that the new alcohol policy is unenforceable.
“I understand why they specified limits on alcohol because I think the prospect of having people alone in the room with hard liquor scares administration for safety purposes,” said Taylor. “But again, a lot of the students on campus right now have been at Swat for three or four years, and they don’t want to be told what they can and can’t drink. So I think that some parts of the pledge are just like not going to be followed.”
Chough also expressed skepticism towards the new alcohol policy, believing that alcohol possession, in any capacity, should not result in losing housing privileges.
“I feel like stuff like [possession of hard liquor] shouldn’t really be a cause for getting kicked off campus,” said Chough. “I can’t really think of anything that would be like, ‘For sure, like you should [revoke a student’s housing privileges].’ At least not without at least a proper hearing or something.”
Molly O’Sullivan ’24 agreed that the potential removal of students from campus for alcohol possession is off-putting to her.
“We’re obviously on a college campus. It’s a bunch of teenagers or people in their early 20s. I think you can’t really expect … people not to underage drink, in my opinion,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s kind of disturbing that that’s what sent people home instead of the matter of life or death for some in terms of the virus.”
It remains unclear how much possession of alcohol factors into the decision to revoke students’ on-campus housing. During multiple meetings with students who were later removed from campus for not following the Garnet Pledge, deans confirmed to students that the main issue with their conduct was failing to socially distance, rather than alcohol possession. According to the Department of Public Safety’s case logs, at least one student has been removed from on-campus housing in part because of alcohol possession, though the student also had marijuana, which is illegal in Pennsylvania except for medical use and prohibited on Swarthmore’s campus.
Homer said that she believes that the current alcohol possession limit is a means of allowing Pub Safe and administration to discriminate in which students get removed from campus, adding that many parts of the Garnet Pledge seem arbitrary with respect to established health guidelines.
“I don’t think it really makes anyone safer; I think it’s just an excuse for enforcement,” she said. “I’m also not a big fan of the Garnet Pledge overall. I like the idea of trying to have everyone kind of have an agreement about how we’re gonna keep each other in the community safe … But it seems like a lot of it seems really arbitrary to me from a safety standpoint. So for example, there’s a rule that you have to have a mask on even when you’re outside, and yet they’re allowing indoor dining, which is weird to me. If you’re going by CDC guidelines, it’s actually pretty safe to have a mask off if you’re outside and distanced, whereas indoor dining is a little riskier.”
Homer also wrote to The Phoenix that when she visited the Ben West Visitor Information Center (which houses Pub Safe) on March 3, the officer at the communications desk did not wear a mask and did not attempt to put one on while speaking with her. In addition to the Garnet Pledge requiring students to wear face coverings when not actively eating, showering, or brushing teeth, Swarthmore’s ongoing expectations for all employees for on-campus work require on-campus employees to wear face masks.
Like Homer, Chough showed alarm at the ambiguity of the punitive measures used to enforce the Garnet Pledge. As concern amongst students has grown with respect to the possibility of arbitrary punishment, many seek further clarity in the specific measures that might be taken if they are caught in the midst of a certain violation.
“I think it would definitely help, actually, if Public Safety gave us guidelines of what they would do [for a certain violation],” said Chough. “I heard there were instances last semester where people weren’t socially distancing or being too careful, and they didn’t get in trouble or anything at all. While there were also severe punishments for minor infractions.”
Both Chough and Homer expressed discomfort with the idea of students having to request trained Pub Safe officers to let them back into their dorm rooms.
Students have also repeatedly called out Pub Safe for racist behavior and having double standards for white students and students of color. In 2019, the now-disbanded student activist group Organizing for Survivors called for the disbandment of Pub Safe, in no small part due to racism, homophobia, and transphobia directed at students from officers. Several posts on the @blackatswat Instagram page, which posts submissions from Black Swarthmore students to amplify Black voices, also describe Pub Safe breaking up and repeatedly surveilling casual gatherings and registered parties of Black students. Though it is technically prohibited for Pub Safe officers to monitor students based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or another protected class, the aforementioned experiences of racism are evidence that Pub Safe does not always follow this rule.
Taylor, who is a person of color, spoke about how she has had to show her ID to Pub Safe officers every time that they have let her back into her dorm, whereas her white friends have never had to show their IDs to Pub Safe officers. She believes that before expecting outright acceptance from students, Public Safety must first reckon with the racist biases that affect their enforcement of policies.
“[Racism and racial profiling from Pub Safe] will absolutely turn off people, rightfully so, from Pub Safe because they’re going to view me differently as a person of color, and I’ve been dealing with this a long time,” said Taylor. “I don’t need to deal with this from the school as well. And so, you know, a reckoning of the racism embedded in their community would be helpful.”
In an interview with The Phoenix, Martin Tomlinson ’23, the at-large senator with SGO, described how SGO interfaces with Pub Safe. Tomlinson is a member of the Public Safety Advisory Committee.
“The impression I’ve gotten is that [Pub Safe has] stepped up with looking for student input and student voices, and I really appreciate what John Bera [Public Safety’s associate director for community engagement] and Mike Hill have done, because they’ve taken time to go to SGO meetings and really letting us ask them sort of pressing questions,” Tomlinson said.
SGO also plans to work with Pub Safe regarding the new Garnet Guide system. SGO’s primary role will consist of recommending ways to make the system more holistic by addressing student concerns with Public Safety, specifically those vocalized by students with marginalized identities.
“SGO will be working to address concerns regarding the Garnet Guide project in an attempt to make it as safe as possible for students,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson said that though Pub Safe is slowly changing, he believes that students still mostly view Pub Safe as an extension of the police.
“On campus, perceptions of Pub Safe are that they kind of exist in a role that reinforces a lot of [harmful] structures that exist in the US, especially regarding policing,” he said. “It’s slowly moving away from that, but it’s reinforcing these social hierarchies that exist on our campus in a negative way.”
I think another important question is whether these “security” measures will be stepped back post covid. Or are students going to have to deal with increased surveillance and arbitrary rules when there isn’t a pandemic, too? Have admin talked about plans to decrease this surveillance?
270 cameras?! Swarthmore College is a security state. I looked up the most surveilled city in the world, Taiyuan, China, and it has one camera for every eight residents. Swarthmore’s neighbor, Haverford College, has 45 cameras, about one per thirty students (out of around 1,130 students). In comparison, in a normal year, when around 1,600 students are on Swat’s campus, there will now be one camera for every SIX students.
Not sure how this comports with our “Quaker Values.”
– Matthew Keegan, “The Most Surveilled Cities in the World,” 8-14-2020, US News & World Report.
– “2019 ANNUAL SECURITY REPORT & ANNUAL FIRE SAFETY REPORT HAVERFORD COLLEGE,” September 27, 2019, page 5
Thank you for sharing this one