It’s a simple decision: you either walk right out of your dorm door every morning or you stop to lock it behind you. Either way, it’s nothing more than a reflex. It simply is what you do. Personally, I haven’t locked my dorm door since the bizarre first few weeks of my freshman year during Covid. But a very large portion of the people in my hall and those I know lock their doors when they leave. I set out to figure out why. Was it safety or security? Was it distrust of those you live with or merely a habit from home? And, most importantly, does the average Wheaton student feel safe on campus?
I decided to take my questions directly to the people, via a Google Form posted on the Wire Instagram story. The majority of respondents (73.2%,) answered that they either always or sometimes lock their dorm room door. This was certainly much higher than I expected, given that 89.5% of respondents also said that they feel safe while on campus. When asked why they might possibly feel unsafe on campus, respondents overwhelmingly chose “lack of faith in Campus Safety” as their primary reason.
When asked to choose why they might possibly feel safe on campus, the overwhelming majority of respondents chose “trust in fellow students” as their primary reason. When asked to list places where they might feel unsafe on Wheaton Campus, students listed locations such as the parking lots and the paths to and from them, paths which used to be dotted with Wheaton’s Blue Light units before their removal. Students were then asked how they would improve safety on campus, with many of them citing the reinstalling of Blue Light units and increased lighting as their primary reason. Many also wanted to see a change in Campus Safety’s response structure and response methods, with one student stating that they would like to see “trust building between campus safety and students, the school upholding their promises and responsibilities of protecting and helping survivors of sexual misconduct”. It became clear to me that the student body was not only concerned about the removal of the Blue Light system, but also about Campus Safety and their practices in general.
I took these concerns directly to Campus Safety, who gave me a multitude of reasons for the removal of the Blue Lights. Emil Fioravanti, Director of Campus Safety, explained via email that the Blue Light system would not be able to sustain connectivity due to changing technology, specifically the switch from 3G to 5G. Lieutenant Roy Mulcahy pointed to cost as another major point of concern, explaining that the free-standing Blue Light units are incredibly costly. Both officers did clarify that Campus Safety is speaking with the Code Blue Corporation into installing wall-mounted Blue Light units on the outside of buildings on campus, as they are cheaper to install and can draw power directly from the building to operate. Lieutenant Mulcahy expressed Campus Safety’s desire to also install free-standing units once again in spots on campus such as the Lots 2 and 3 and the campus pool, but the general sentiment seems to be that the LiveSafe app will be good enough for now. In his own words, “we liked the Blue Lights, but you try and show me a kid walking around on campus without a phone in their pocket”. Campus Safety hopes to see the installation of these new Blue Light units start this summer, although the timeline is still up in the air as of yet.
The idea of the LiveSafe app makes sense at first, Wheaton’s campus is populated by a generation increasingly tied to their mobile devices, and giving each student the ability to contact Campus Safety directly from any spot on campus seems like a smart idea. But, as anyone who has checked their iPhone battery after a long day will tell you, our phones are not exactly reliable when we need them to be. The LiveSafe app has been around for several years and, admittedly, boasts an impressive set of safety features. Users can chat with security, contact Campus Safety or emergency services at the push of a button, and even share their location with someone and let them virtually “walk home” with them to make sure they make it to their destination on time and unharmed. But what if someone’s phone isn’t compatible with the app? What if your phone has offloaded the app due to inactivity and you don’t have the data or connection to redownload it in an emergency situation? And, perhaps most obviously, what if your phone is dead?
Much of the backlash and concern surrounding the LiveSafe app’s replacement of the Blue Light system seems to stem from the student body not being consulted about this change and the fact that the LiveSafe app is replacing the Blue Light system and not being added as a supplementary form of emergency communication with Campus Safety. Given that the majority of students feel safe at Wheaton, if our poll is to be trusted, the backlash to the removal of the Blue Lights can only reasonably be explained by the fact that they were a big part of the reasons that students felt safe on campus. Anyone who has been on a college tour will tell you that any tour guide worth their salt will mention their school’s Blue Light system and Campus Safety response time, and having the distinctive blue symbols of safety missing from Wheaton’s campus is certainly a noteworthy change and a point of concern for many.
Adding another layer of complexity to the issue of campus safety at Wheaton is Emil Fioravanti, who is the interim chief. Director Fioravanti was recently mentioned in a story that the Boston Globe broke last month about a series of sexual assaults committed by a Campus Safety officer at UMass Dartmouth while Fioravanti was chief of Campus Safety at the school in 2010. A report issued by the town of Blackstone found that Fioravanti “failed to conduct a minimally competent investigation” (Wuthmann, WBUR) concerning the matter. In an campus-wide email sent out mere hours after the story broke, President Whelan made it clear that “Wheaton College cannot comment on the policies, procedures, and actions of another institution, or the integrity of the town’s investigation. However, it is our understanding that Emil Fioravanti was not the leader of the university’s investigation in the matter”. The discrepancy between these two claims led an unidentified group of students to put up print-outs of the Boston Globe article and the Blackstone report with the relevant information highlighted, but most of these print-outs were taken down by the following morning. It should be noted that many respondents to our Instagram poll also listed Director Fioravanti and his alleged involvement in the scandal as part of the reason they felt uncomfortable and unsafe on campus.
It would seem that Campus Safety is attempting to modernize how they monitor safety on Wheaton’s campus. Recent events such as the Mail Office break-in and the recent fire at 25 Pine have increased the push by Campus Safety for more cameras on campus, of which there are frighteningly little to be seen. Director Fioravanti is set to leave Wheaton in the near future, and it is safe to assume that whoever replaces him will have their own plans to renovate and revitalize Wheaton’s approach to safety. While it is too soon to say what kind of effect the removal of the Blue Light system and subsequent implementation of the LiveSafe app will have on the student body’s relationship with Campus Safety, maybe having a more direct line of communication with them will improve trust between the two groups. I can’t help but feel that many of the student body’s concerns with safety on campus and the LiveSafe app are valid, but I understand how budget constraints and a desire to stay technologically proficient led Campus Safety to make the decisions they did. Personally, I feel that the student body should have been consulted about this change, or at least kept in the loop as the change was implemented, but it all would’ve probably been buried under emails about course registration and timesheet submission reminders anyway.
A big part of feeling safe on campus comes from how we feel about each other. According to our poll, the majority of people on this campus feel safe while they’re here and much of this stems from trusting one another. I think it will be an uphill battle for Campus Safety and its new director to win back the trust of the Wheaton student body, but the data we collected shows that doing so should be one of their primary concerns. I would urge both sides to be as transparent as possible and communicate clearly and efficiently about what we expect from each other. For instance, when the campus paper puts a poll on its Instagram story, do us all a favor and take some time to fill it out. And for those delighted to hear that I leave my dorm unlocked, I live on the fourth floor of Stanton and you can take anything but the Joni Mitchell records. Those, unfortunately, I cannot live without.