Mount Vernon students look for key to dorm security

Students have criticized security at Mount Vernon College after administrators waited more than a month to address a missing set of master dormitory keys.

MVC students said they felt endangered at the college, which will become a campus of GW in 1999, because the administration did not respond promptly after a resident assistant lost keys to all dormitory rooms in January. Students said the administration did not inform them of the missing keys and did not take quick action to ensure their security.

“It says a lot about how much they care for us,” said freshman Mahwish Bajwa, editor of The Voice, MVC’s student newspaper.

Students said they are outraged the administration did not expedite the process to correct the situation, which MVC Interim President Grae Baxter called “the mystery of the missing keys.”

Under the doorStudents learned of the missing keys when they received photocopies of a memo under their doors one night circulated among administrators.

In the memo, MVC residential life office staff recommended the administration resolve the situation as soon as possible, and it asked for an explanation of the delays, students said.

Written on the memo, presumably from the person who intercepted and distributed it, were vulgar comments expressing outrage that MVC had endangered her safety while denying her knowledge of the incident, students said.

The memo was slid under doors of residence hall rooms in the middle of the night. Those awake when the memo was distributed panicked after reading it. Many from Somers Hall, the freshman residence hall, feared for their safety and spent the night grouped together in rooms, students said.

Face to faceStudents addressed MVC administrators with concerns about the endangerment of their safety at a town hall meeting March 2. The meeting was one of several regularly scheduled interactions between students and the administration.

Students at the meeting demanded Baxter and the administration change keys and locks immediately to ensure campus safety was not jeopardized any further.

“We are the ones living on campus, (the administration members) are not,” MVC Student Government President Bethany Miller said. “The students should have been informed.”

The administration is sympathetic to student concerns, and MVC was not lax in its actions, Baxter said. But security was not imperiled since MVC has a safe community with round-the-clock security, she said.

“My only regret is that I was not aware of the intensity of feeling and concern (prior to the meeting),” Baxter said.

Clark Hall residence assistant Deanna Hackworth said, however, safety of the student body is an especially significant concern at an all-women’s school.

Campus security was informed immediately after officials realized the keys were missing, said Dean of Students Nina Mikhalevsky.

If administrators had perceived the situation to pose a direct threat to the student body, then actions appropriate to the risks would have been taken, Baxter said.

Students at the meeting said the administration behaved as though MVC students were overreacting to the handling of the dormitory locks situation, and laughed at students who said they might seek legal recourse and sue the college for negligence.

RetaliationThe doors of the Webb Building, an administrative office building, were glued shut on the night of the town hall meeting, in what some students believe was a response to the dormitory situation.

Sparking additional student ire, Webb Building’s locks were changed within hours, while the residence hall locks took more than a month.

Baxter said she believes the gluing was a test to see how fast the locks would be replaced. But she said the two situations were different because security systems for office buildings are less sophisticated than those for residential buildings. No suspects have been found for the gluing, Baxter said.

Changing of the guardThe MVC administration changed residence hall locks last week – more than a month after the keys were misplaced.

Baxter maintained that contracting for the work was done before the March 2 town hall meeting.

Hopes that the keys would be found kept officials from disclosing the scenario to students, Baxter said. Several administrators were not even informed of the situation, she added.

The decision to keep the information undisclosed, however, was not taken by the administration, but by staff members of the residence life office, Baxter said.

Hackworth said she and other resistant assistants had mixed opinions when they found out about the missing keys and were told not to release the information to students.

She said she knew pandemonium would break out on campus if students found out. But she said she also felt an obligation to her residents and endured backlash from students for remaining silent.

“A lot of trust was lost,” Hackworth said.

Hackworth said students and faculty believed that if any break-ins had occurred, they would have been during the winter break since the keys clearly had been missing during that period.

In response to student concerns, extra security precautions will be taken during MVC’s spring break this week, Mikhalevsky said.

A March 4 memo to resident students said security patrols would be doubled, especially to check cars entering campus and keep track of residence life office staff on duty throughout the week.

In addition, the memo advised students to perform an inventory of their rooms and give the inventories to the residential life office. Students were told to make sure their parents’ insurance covered all items left in dorm rooms.

Internal problemAccording to Mike Freedman, GW director of public affairs, the University was not made aware of the situation until recently.

“It was handled as an internal matter of Mount Vernon College,” Freedman said. “Nobody at GW was made aware of it.”

Freedman said after the University was informed, it helped expedite the installation of a new security system on the MVC campus.

Additionally, University Police Department Director Dolores Stafford has helped MVC with deciding how to handle security at MVC.

Freedman pointed out that the relationship between GW and MVC is in flux. The University will take a stronger involvement next year when GW freshmen live on Mount Vernon’s campus, he added.

“Anytime something happens that concerns a student, it is a concern to everybody,” Freedman said.-Matt Berger contributed to this report.

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