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Possible CCTV cameras outside dorm entrances mentioned at senate meeting

| Thursday, September 19, 2019

In its weekly Wednesday meeting, the student senate met with Heather Rakoczy Russell, associate vice president for residential life, and Keri Kei Shibata, chief of the Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD), to discuss the new rules implemented this year about residence life card access policy and some potential future safety measures such as police-operated CCTV cameras at the entrance to each dorm. The meeting began with a brief overview from the University leaders about the new policy and its motivations.

In response to a question about how NDPD can keep track of who is entering and exiting a dorm for security purposes, Shibata said the force is looking at installing Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras to monitor dorm entrances and exits.

Observer File Photo

Notre Dame Police Department chief Keri Kei Shibata, right, speaks at an event in 2017. Shibata met with student senate Wednesday to discuss new residential rules implemented this year.

“You guys don’t know this yet, but we are looking at adding CCTV cameras to cover the main entrances and exits of the dorms, not inside the halls throughout, but just covering those entrances so that we would have that ability and the problem of holding open doors and the fact that was occurring long before this policy was ever in place tells us that there was a gap even before this became the policy,” she said.

Shibata said only police would have access to this footage.

“There will be very strict guidelines about who has access — it will be the police only that have access to that video used for very strict purposes of investigating or if there is something going on following an incident for criminal or safety purposes,” she said.

The prospect of CCTV cameras being in the dorm did not sit well with some of the senators who asked more questions about the topic.

“If there was a student referendum, and it showed that students were very, very, strongly against the addition of security cameras into the main corridors of our dorms, would you guys not add it?” Daniel Feldmeier asked, a sophomore from Siegfried.

Shibata said the University would try to do the “right thing.”

“We would listen and try to understand why, but if we strongly believe that this is the right thing to do, then we need to do it whether it’s student opinion that it should be or not,” Shibata said.

Russell clarified very quickly that these cameras would not be in the main corridors but facing the main entrance and exits of the dorms.

Shibata also said the University decided that the past strategy whereby the locksmith office handled dorm access was no longer feasible.

“Previously access control was really handled by the locksmith office, and maintenance and their department have changed a little bit,” Shibata said. “The University has come to realize that the locksmith’s office should certainly implement door hardware, the access control system and things like that, but that it shouldn’t necessarily control policy of access control, and so we put together a working group and a higher level steering committee to take a look at access control across campus and establish the right policies for campus; … Ultimately, it will result in some broader policy and probably not a whole lot of difference in people’s daily experience.”

Russell addressed the context for the policy change. She brought up three main points about how the world has increasingly become more unsafe in recent years: more domestic terrorism, the fact there are now current Notre Dame students who are survivors of mass shootings with post-traumatic stress and current and past Title IX cases with both parties being Notre Dame students.

“In terms of what informed the decision, I would go back to what I said a moment ago which is assessment as our standard of excellence for making these kinds of decisions at an institution like Notre Dame and also at our peer institutions. The first kind of test we looked at is what we called an Administrative Unit Review (AUR),” Russell said. “It is a process that our vice president for student affairs, Erin Hoffmann Harding, when she became vice president eight years ago, asked every department in the division of student affairs to undergo. At the time, Residential Life was called the Office of Housing and it was the first office to undergo an AUR.”

Russell explained further that Notre Dame looked at four peer institutions who then formally reviewed the University’s self study at the time. The biggest concern amongst those universities was safety and security. A second tool used was benchmarking Notre Dame’s standards against similar institutions in the category of safety. Lastly, they began using National Best Practices as a guidance policy.

She briefly detailed each guideline. The first guideline entails that residence hall doors are locked at all times. The second entails that access to the dorm is limited to only those living in that dorm. The third specifies that all dorm traffic must be directed towards one central entrance outside visiting hours. The fourth is the presence of a card reader access system. The fifth is a general education for the community of safety standards.

“Informed by the AUR, benchmarking against various schools some of which I mentioned, and the national best practices — five of which are relevant here — that started to inform what looked like the policy that you heard announced in early August,” Russell said.

Senators proceeded to ask Russell and Shibata questions about the new policy. Some questions centered around the issue of stalkers on campus.

“Beforehand, if you couldn’t swipe into a dorm, you didn’t belong. People asked you ‘why are you here?’ or ‘who do you know?’ Beforehand, if someone was following you or you thought you were being stalked by someone who doesn’t live at Notre Dame, you could dip into a dorm and hide,” Quentin Colo, an off campus senior, said. “But now people are just letting anyone in; they just assume you are from another dorm, or now, if you are being stalked, you have to go back to your own dorm and the person has to follow you there. … Have you considered that this policy will make campus more unsafe than safer?”

Russell and Shibata addressed the issue together talking about an experience last year with two real students waking up to their stalker outside their dorm door and that stalkers are much more likely to be someone you are close to as opposed to a complete stranger. Russell also expressed disappointment in students letting everyone inside the dorm and that she had begun educating hall staff on having residents follow the new dorm policy.

Later in the meeting, the issue of stalking was brought back to light when discussing the number of stalking incidents per year. Shibata refuted the perception that stalking is done by strangers and not familiar faces; Russell also clarified that theft is the most common crime on campus.

“This decision wasn’t made just because of stalking cases,” Russell said, “What is rampant, is theft, and it’s what rectors and hall staffs are regularly contacted about.”

One of the broad concerns from the senate was the effect of the policy on the sense of community present at Notre Dame.

“Campus living at Notre Dame is fundamentally different than every other school; there is nothing really comparable to Notre Dame because our dorms mean so much to the students, the dorm community means so much,” D.C. Morris, a junior from Fisher Hall, said.

While discussion was beginning to wrap up, there was questions about whether the documentation the University used for their policy could be made available.

“You repeated a lot of talking points over and over again, referring to these studies or councils that you formed,” sophomore Thomas Davis, the senate parliamentarian, said. “I was wondering if you would be willing to share all documentation from those with the student senate so that we can review them in order to understand what direction exactly these points lead to and if we would choose the same decision coming from our perspective, the people who actually live on the student’s halls.”

Russell said she could not share that information.

“No, and for the reason that I would not be able — so it’s not a matter of wanting which was your question — the reason I would not be able to share the benchmarking and National Best Practices is because I don’t own that data,” Russell said. “It comes from other institutions, not our own. It is not my public property or my intellectual property to share.”

Other topics that came up at the meeting include the beginning of this year’s Race Relations Week, which runs from September 20 to 27. There will be events every day next week relating to the event.

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