Several crimes in residence halls this month have tested the strength of the new Residential Advisory Council committees.
GW Housing Programs created RACs last spring as a non-punitive replacement for community facilitators in residence halls. RAC committees consist of about 10 residents in each hall who organize events and work with the University Police Department to respond to problems in the community. They are based on a self-governance model and are intended to implement and sustain “systems for collective accountability and responsibility,” according to the GW Housing Programs Web site.
RACs are part of a major overhaul of the housing department last year that included eliminating community facilitator positions, which had the authority to write up students for things such as alcohol, drug use and noise violations. Residence halls now have house proctors, scholars and mentors instead of CFs.
On Nov. 16 a broken main door in the West End allowed a man unaffiliated with the University to walk through the halls for about half an hour. He stole one student’s wallet and attempted to steal several others. An hour later, he had charged more than $1,000 to the student’s debit account at a nearby CVS, said Erica Mandell, the sophomore who was the theft victim.
A similar incident occurred in the West End Nov. 8 when a man stole two laptop computers from a room on the building’s fourth floor. No one has been charged in either case and UPD is investigating.
In response to the incidents, the West End RAC committee worked with UPD and posted signs warning residents to be wary of suspicious individuals trying to enter the building. It also reminded students the importance of keeping doors locked.
“I think (the response to the robberies) gave more credibility to RAC as a governing body over students,” said sophomore Andrea Criollo, the vice president of the West End RAC, “because people saw that we were actually trying to help the community instead of just trying to get people to come to an event.
Some residents said they feel that the committee has a limited ability to effect change, which detracts from their usefulness as a governing body.
“I think that it’s nice for students to have some sort of role in their community, but only if that role is an actual one,” said Natasha Simons, a sophomore resident of the West End.
Unlike last year, residence halls do not have community hosts, or student greeters stationed at the main door to monitor who enters the building.
Joel Thomas, a campus community director for GW Housing Programs, said he supports the department’s elimination of community hosts at entrances.
“We don’t have officers there and we don’t have CH’s anymore because we do feel that students are capable of creating a safe environment,” he said. “It’s just looking differently at how we achieve the same end.”
Ashley Montalbano, a sophomore resident of the West End, said students should look after themselves.
“(My roommates and I) used to not lock our door, and now we do it religiously,” Montalbano said. “I think that we all kind of realize that we live in a city and we need to lock our doors before we leave.”
University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said the police patrol of the West End has not changed because the hall has not experienced more theft so far this year compared to last year. She added, however, that there have been more instances of theft this November.
In Ivory Tower, the RAC is addressing problems emerging from within its community.
On several occasions throughout the semester, ceiling tiles were broken and scattered throughout the hallway and elevator of the hall. UPD was dispatched each time, and several of the cases remain open.
Stafford said the number of reported destruction incidents in Ivory Tower has increased to seven this year, compared to four last year during the same time period.
When destruction worsened Nov. 21, the Ivory Tower RAC posted signs and directed residents to call a UPD anonymous tip-line to turn in the perpetrators. The committee held an open meeting Wednesday night to discuss residents concerns.
Several committee members said that policing the upperclassman hall is difficult because many residents are also their friends and peers.
“I feel like when you know a lot of people in the building, it makes it a bit more challenging,” said senior Kate Szilagyi, the president of the Ivory Tower RAC. “It’s hard to tell your friends, ‘Hey, I’m going to get you kicked out of housing.'”
“It’s a very fine line between policing and being friends with the residents; you want to be part of the community not above it, yet still have a sense of authority.”