The University Police Department has one of the most difficult jobs on campus. The officers must balance protecting the health and safety of students with respecting students’ rights to independence. Unfortunately, in District House, GW’s newest residence hall, officials have disrupted this balance by violating students’ privacy.
The Hatchet reported earlier this week that UPD officers have routinely patrolled common rooms within affinities, and residents have accused them of using the kitchen appliances without residents’ permission.
For those unfamiliar with affinities’ layout in District House, they feature about a dozen small double bedrooms and a central common room with seating, dining and kitchen space for only that affinity’s residents. It’s enough room for about 20 people to share. Students who don’t live in the affinities can’t tap into the common rooms or the bedrooms, just how students in other residence halls can’t unlock other residents’ rooms.
It’s unclear if UPD officers are legally permitted to enter affinity common rooms unannounced for any reason. But regardless of legality, it is not a reasonable balance of safety and privacy, and GW should prevent UPD officers from entering affinities.
Affinity spaces were advertised as living rooms — not as a public spaces for police officers to regularly patrol. If the affinities were public spaces, it would make sense for UPD to patrol them. But since students were under the impression the common rooms were not open for patrol, officers shouldn’t be able to enter as they please.
Giving up tap access to common spaces in District House affinities would not substantially hinder UPD’s effectiveness, but it would ensure District House affinity residents had the same amount of privacy as other students on campus.
In other residence halls, UPD officers can show up at rooms’ doors with little or no warning if they hear loud noises or receive a noise complaint. If there were loud noises coming from a District House affinity, just as in other halls, UPD could knock on the door and ask students to open it. If UPD officers suspect illegal activity in an affinity, they can knock and ask to be let in, like in every other residence hall room.
But it doesn’t even seem like UPD officers are monitoring affinities just for parties. Officers have incorporated affinity common areas as part of regular rounds in District House, apparently.
Students are not taking the interruptions lightly: A District House resident filed an official complaint after she found UPD officers using an affinity microwave. Even if the University has ordered UPD officers to stop entering rooms without cause, as long as officers have unfettered tap access to common rooms, officials cannot guarantee it won’t happen again.
Although UPD has a challenging job protecting the safety of all students at GW, officers have recently violated students’ rights to privacy. If officials are interested in fostering a community environment and strengthening the bonds between affinity members, they will stop UPD patrols in affinity spaces and force officers to knock on affinities’ doors if there is a real problem — just like in any other residence hall.
Kendrick Baker, a junior double-majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.