Last semester, 11 fire alarms went off in the Centennial, Anderson and Letts Halls complex. According to emails that students received after alarms, more than half were intentional pulls, meaning that someone pulled the physical fire alarm and smoke did not cause the alert. Not only are these constant fire alarms annoying, but they make the living environment in the residence halls unsustainable for students’ livelihoods.
The fire alarm count in fall 2022 was down drastically from last school year. Between August 2021 and April 2022, there were 60 fire alarms in Letts, Anderson, Centennial and Roper Halls. Eleven fire alarms in one semester, especially when they are primarily intentional, non-emergency pulls, is still unacceptable.
In September 2022, a sexual assault was committed in Leonard Hall after a man entered Leonard’s all-female floor. Not only has this devastating incident caused fear amongst women, non-binary and femme students on campus, but it has added to a sense of unsafety in what is supposed to be our home. We deserve to feel safe in our residence halls, especially the students choosing to live on the all-female floor of Leonard Hall or Black Affinity Housing in Roper Hall.
The constant fire alarms and the sexual assault case have left students wondering: how can we make our living environment safer? The answer lies in security cameras.
As of February 2023, Anderson, Leonard, Letts, Roper and Centennial Halls do not have a security camera system in place. According to the AUPD website, the University does have security cameras in some places: “AUPD has stepped up its use of video cameras, sometimes as a tool to gather evidence for investigations, but also to identify people who may be violating AU rules, policies or the law.”
But this isn’t true in residence halls. We see security cameras in places like the Eagle’s Nest, presumably to prevent theft, but why do we rely solely on our One Cards, on-duty resident assistants, desk receptionists and the occasional on-duty AUPD officer to protect our halls? One Cards can be easily lost and stolen, and scanning into buildings, elevators and staircases is far from foolproof. Not to mention the fact that the University relies mainly on RAs and desk receptionists to control who enters the building, which is a very large expectation to put on a student job.
I reached out to the University’s Communications and Marketing Office for comment regarding why security cameras are not already in place. Jasmine Pelaez, an internal communications manager, responded via email: “Cameras are not placed on residential floors to preserve the privacy of residential students who make the residence halls their home while at AU.”
Additionally, Pelaez noted, “Any change would require substantial input from members of the AU community to thoroughly consider the possible impacts of increased surveillance and to evaluate resources needed meet this approach.”
That excuse is ridiculous considering that the University has the ability to enact change, and they are actively choosing not to. The University needs to put in the work to change this, especially after the Leonard assault, to protect its students and keep residence halls safe living environments.
Security cameras should be installed in public areas of residence halls that do not look into rooms or hall bathrooms. More specifically, there need to be cameras in the entryways of stairwells and in the elevator area on every floor. This is a solution that not only addresses student concerns about privacy but also helps with the constant issues students face at AU.
After each intentionally pulled fire alarm, the University sends emails that claim: “Any student found to have intentionally activated the alarm system will face disciplinary action.” But there is simply no way to know who is pulling alarms. If there were cameras, however, there would be a higher probability of seeing someone sprint away from the alarm after pulling it. Additionally, cameras in common spaces like elevators and staircases could ensure that, if needed, AUPD could see who entered what floors of the buildings and when.
Although cameras cannot, and should not, be placed in or near bathrooms in an attempt to prevent situations like the anti-semitic graffiti found in Anderson Hall in September 2022, I do believe that having at least something is a step in the right direction. We can’t eliminate every single threat to students, but something as small as security cameras are much more helpful than they are harmful.
Alana Parker is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Leta Lattin, Luna Jinks, Natasha LaChac and Sarah Clayton.