Students question safety after alleged rape

Questions and concerns regarding last week’s alleged rape were addressed by administration during a Residence Hall Association open forum Monday night. Students had expressed concern with the scant details they were given by the University about the alleged rape, while others were concerned about the resident visitation policy, safety on campus, and the new policy of bolting shut the first floor windows in the residence halls.

Rumors about what had happened spread rapidly through the Residence Village, but few facts and even fewer details were made available by the University.

“None of us know anything about it, which pisses me off,” freshman Jennifer Drago said two nights after the rape occurred.

Other students expressed similar reactions during the RHA forum.

“It bothers me that they didn’t let anybody know, said freshman Krysta-Lynne LoDico, who lives in DaSilva Hall. “If I’m in danger, I want to know.”

St. John’s released a statement Sept. 30 affirming that a student was allegedly raped in a residence hall by an acquaintance of a University student. No further details were released.

Vice President of Public Safety Thomas Lawrence said that while keeping students informed in a timely manner was a priority, the privacy of the victim and her family and respect for the New York City Police Department’s investigation were of the utmost importance.

“We’re appropriately updating the resident community as we learn things,” Lawrence said in an interview Tuesday.

While students continue to express discontent with the current resident hall policy, many resident students have come to understand reasons for the policy’s existence in light of recent events.

“When something like this happens, I understand why we have such tight security,” freshman Rico Ryan said.

The current residence hall policy requires all visitors to be signed in at the security desk by the resident being visited. Visitors are only allowed to visit the room they have been signed in under, and they must sign out upon their departure.

“These policies and procedures are designed for the safety and protection of all community members,” Father Maher, vice president for Student Affairs, stated in a press release Friday.

Maher said that he believes the people involved in the rape were able to enter the building illegally through the assistance of some students.

“What we can’t stress enough to students is the use of their StormCard for themselves in terms of entrance into the buildings, and if they see someone suspicious on campus and they see activity that they are not comfortable with as students in this community, they really should alert [Public Safety] right away,” Maher said during an interview Tuesday.

Some resident students claim that the rigid visitation policy has led some visitors to find alternate means of entering the residence halls, including sneaking into buildings through the first floor windows.

The University began the process last week of securing the windows on the first floor of all residence halls with tamper-resistant screws to enhance the “safety and protection of students,” said Maher in the release.

Because the windows are not designed as fire escape windows, securing them shut from the inside is not a fire safety issue. Maher stated that the buildings are equipped with sprinklers and are designed for exit through the halls.

“On the first floor, there are three means of egress, where on the other floors there are only two, the two stairwells,” Lawrence said. “On the first floor, you have the two stairwells as well your main entrance, so you have three means of egress.”

According to Lawrence, securing the windows completely was the second security measure implemented after it came to the attention of the University that people were utilizing the first floor windows as a means of entering the residence halls.

“Initially, when we first put in those windows completely, a fix was put in to restrict them to a six to eight inch opening, but people could break that, so we went to the screwing of the windows,” Lawrence said.

Some residents felt the move was excessive; others saw the need for it.

“Two days after we moved in, someone broke into Hollis through the windows,” student Liam Gramfield said. “This is a constant thing, not just one incident.”

Despite the strict residence hall policies and the precautions taken with the first floor windows, some students still question whether the campus is secure enough.

“I’m more concerned about the safety of students off campus and around campus and the kind of people who can just walk on campus any time during the day then about safety in the dorms,” senior Jason Wirt said. “I think you’re getting people on campus who shouldn’t be there and who are causing these problems.”

St. John’s maintains an open campus policy and according to Lawrence, it is not currently considering restricting open access to campus.

“At night we try to keep just the one gate open and restrict access there,” Lawrence said. “We have two officers, and access controls are in place.”

In addition, there are always two officers assigned to the Residence Village during the night shift, said Lawrence. Public Safety also removed a contract service this year that they had used for officers at the resident desks. They hired per diem officers interviewed and chosen by Public Safety to replace the contracted officers.

“We feel that we are getting a much better guard at the front desk as well,” Lawrence said.

While Lawrence admits that the residence hall visitor policy is “unpopular” and its effectiveness is still debated by residents, most students feel safe in the residence community.

“Things happen in colleges, in dorms,” Wirt said. “It’s something St. John’s can’t avoid.”

According to Maher, the University has a “good system” in place working to establish the safety of students who reside on campus, and Resident Assistants and the Resident Directors are an integral part of that system.

“Our focus has been to communicate as effectively and succinctly as we can to our students to ensure them that this is not only a safe environment, but it is a great place to go to school,” Maher said.

Public Safety’s role in keeping students safe on campus does not go unnoticed by many resident students.

“The (Public Safety) officers always watch out for us,” freshman DaSilva resident Rochele Ocampo said. “They’re really nice.”