Mount Vernon residents said they feel safe and that security is a “non-problem,” even though many said Somers Hall is easy to get into.
Mount Vernon officials and residents cited a safe neighborhood, University Police presence and a “tight” community as reasons the Mount Vernon Campus seems safer than Foggy Bottom.
“The campus as a campus is very secure,” Mount Vernon Executive Dean Grae Baxter said. “We’re fortunate enough to be in an environment to be very safe.”
Last semester, there were twice as many reported thefts in Thurston Hall than on the entire Mount Vernon Campus.
Baxter pointed out that Thurston houses more than 1,000 students, while Mount Vernon has about 300 residents. The numbers also refer to only incidents reported to UPD.
Despite residents propping open hallway doors and leaving rooms unlocked, freshman Ben Davidowitz said, “the thought of not being safe has not even crossed my mind.”
Davidowitz said he has had money stolen from his Somers Hall room in the past but said he views the theft as an isolated incident (see sidebar).
Besides student rooms, Somers also houses an office, an art studio open to all students, a fitness center open to Mount Vernon residents and various offices and the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers.
Some students said they are concerned about the need for Somers to be accessible yet safe for its residents.
“It is much easier to get in than any dorm at Foggy Bottom or any Mount Vernon dorm,” said freshmen Anissa Dehamna, a Hensley Hall resident.
Somers resident freshman Ebony Winston said she is uneasy about security because any GWorld card works for entering the residence hall.
“Anybody can get into our hall and can wander around and whatever,” Winston said. “It is so terrible that anybody has access to our building.”
Somers is the only residence hall on Mount Vernon that uses GWorld card readers. All other Mount Vernon residence halls are accessible by the individual room keys of residents.
UPD Director Dolores Stafford said GW is in the process of specializing readers in different parts of the building.
“This is only a temporary situation,” she wrote in an e-mail. “As soon as all of the security systems are operational, the academic portion of the building will be available to all authorized GWorld card holders and, the residential portion of the building will only be accessible to the students who live in the building.”
GWorld Card Program Director Patricia Boone said the new GWorld card readers will be functional within the next several weeks.
Hallway doors are supposed to remain locked to prevent anyone without a Somers key from entering the interior hallways that lead to the resident rooms. But Somers Community Director Amanda Schafer said those doors have often been propped open since first semester.
In a letter dated Nov. 7, Schafer urged residents not to prop open hallway doors, especially with fire extinguishers, because it “violates the fire safety code and also allows non-residents into residential corridors.”
“It is still a problem,” Schafer said. “We’re encouraging the students to take responsibilities for their building.”
But the majority of students said they feel secure in the residence hall.
Somers Hall President Morgan Pierson said residents keep doors open on the first floor by propping or taping them open.
“It’s just that people feel safe,” he said. “If people didn’t feel safe, they wouldn’t prop the doors open.”
Stafford said UPD cannot protect students without their cooperation.
“We spend a great deal of time while on patrol, undoing things that others have done to create situations that are security and safety concerns,” Stafford said.
Many Somers residents said they also leave their room doors unlocked, some even when they are away getting food or at classes.
Freshman Somers resident Becky Bortnick said she often keeps her door unlocked because she feels safe on campus.
“I would say most people in Somers leave their doors unlocked – shut but unlocked,” Bortnick said.
While some residents leave their doors unlocked, they said they do it
because of Mount Vernon’s small, closely-knit campus, They said they would act differently at Foggy Bottom.
“At Thurston I would never leave my door unlocked,” said freshman Brian Levor, a Somers resident.
Freshman Edgar Tam, a Pelham resident, said he does not think safety is a concern at Mount Vernon but does think that the security at Somers is easy to bypass.
“If there is any (community host) there to sign you in at all, you just make up a false name and then you’re on your way,” Tam said.
Freshman Melissa Heuer, a Somers resident, said, “Somers’ security went kind of downhill after this semester. (Community hosts) don’t know who’s new and who’s not. I’ve never been asked if I live here or not.”
Most Mount Vernon residents interviewed for this story said they generally feel safe on the campus in part because of the small community.
Freshman Ben Hobson, a Somers resident, said, “I know and I trust pretty much everyone. It would be like stealing from family.”
This article appeared in the February 7, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.