Campus faces negative effects of spring term vandalism

Emily Passey

Acts of vandalism in Sage Hall, Hiett Hall and the Mudd Gallery have been hot topics this year.
Residents of Sage and Hiett in particular have been understandably frustrated with the acts as, in the case of Hiett, the total dollar amount in damage is high enough to necessitate that each resident pay a fee for each term of residence.
The damage done in Hiett has been excessive and varied, from the “routine” theft of a couch from a lounge to feces smeared on Hiett residence hall director Dave Macauley’s door. In that case it was necessary for Physical Plant to remove the carpet to eliminate the smell.
Other acts included a hole kicked in a wall, the spray painting of a knife and the word “Swan” on a wall, destruction of furniture, and most recently, water fountains on the first floor kicked in to the point where they would not shut off.
The current total cost of the damage is $6,505.77.
Most acts have been dealt with as they have happened, but the Hiett Hall Council finally called a special meeting April 28 to discuss the vandalism. At the meeting it was found that the total cost of the damage was high enough for it to be divided into shares – dollar amount per student, per term – and to offer rewards to students with information.
For example, for students with information leading to the recovery of stolen furniture, there was the reward of a $25 Visa gift card. This system of rewards and consequences was made clear to Hiett residents early in the spring so that they would not be surprised, and also to facilitate the return of any stolen items.
Hall Council decided to grant judicial amnesty to students who come forward on their own with stolen furniture. Those who are not willing to come forward and are discovered will be dealt with by the Judicial Board.
Hiett residence life advisor Chelsea Wagner expressed her dismay at the acts. She said that in the beginning of the year the vandalism made her angry, but that now, “I’m coming to expect it.” Wagner also says that she was astounded at the destruction of one of the couches, which was split completely in half like a clamshell.
Wagner stresses that she, Macauley and the other RLAs have had to deal with some harsh backlash from their residents, mostly those who don’t understand that all Hiett residents must pay the fee, including the RLAs.
Macauley points out that, “Some students have blamed us and accused us of trying to punish them, but for the most part people have been pretty understanding of community responsibility.”
Though Macauley is not required to pay because he is a full-time staff member, he has asked to be charged because he is a member of the community.
Macauley reports that he is saddened by the vandalism that has occurred in his residence hall this year. As to the possible reason for the destructive acts, he said, “Whatever the reason it seems that vandals are gaining a sense of anonymity and security, making them feel like they can just get away with it.”
Wagner agrees, saying that some upperclassmen may have a “sense of entitlement” and that “people are just bolder when they’re upperclassmen . the enforcement doesn’t mean as much.”
Macauley makes the point that vandalism is detrimental to a residential environment and may drive up tuition. He also points out that Lawrentians do not always extend the same honor and courtesy with which they practice our Honor Code to social life.
“I am hoping that we will be able to come together as a community to overcome this obstacle,” said Macauley. “I hope that people rally together rather than retreat in the face of this challenge to the community.”
While Sage Hall has experienced less vandalism this year, it has been the site of some apparent acts of destruction. According to second floor RLA Lindsay Semph, the biggest acts of vandalism have centered on the elevator. There has been some explicit graffiti, usually written in dry erase marker, as well as scorch marks that ultimately resulted in the shutdown of the elevator.
The closing of the elevator was a consequence forewarned to residents of Sage in a letter from RHD Sz-Min Chen as far back as November. Because of recurring graffiti, the custodial staff had to clean the elevator much more than usual, an unnecessary expenditure. The consequence of elevator vandalism was necessitated in early March after the scorch marks were found.
Other acts have included the destruction of several ceiling tiles on the second floor. Semph believes the vandalism to have been a sort of “snowball effect,” starting with only a few instances at the beginning of the year but quickly piling up.
Chen considers the vandalism senseless and notes that it has made many of her residents unhappy, especially when the idea of all residents being charged was first presented as a possibility.
After Chen met with ResLife dean Amy Uecke, they realized that the dollar amount to pay for the vandalism was simply too low to charge every single resident in the hall, so this will not be the final consequence. So far, any student who has taken responsibility has been personally charged and disciplinary action has been taken.
Chen has noticed some striking behavior in her residents, however. When several students raised the issue about the injustice of the original idea to charge all residents because they knew who committed the vandalism, Chen pointed out that if they knew, they should tell someone if they did not want to be charged. These students were hesitant, however, and did not release any information they may have had.
When news of the vandalism in Sage Hall was first printed in The Lawrentian, the article stated that the acts were “fires in the elevator and stairwell of the building” and that the “small fire” in the stairwell “soon got out of hand.”
However, according to Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell and as she stated in a correction published shortly after this original article, the fires were not actual fires but scorch marks in the elevator – apparently from a lighter – and a pile of ashes found in the stairwell by Security.
Semph confirms this, as she was the first RLA to find the ashes in the stairwell after noticing a haze and the smell of burning. No one who actually saw the fire has come forward, however.
It is also worth nothing that, as Truesdell explained, when an alumni, trustee, parent or media person from the Appleton community reads news of “fires” in a residence hall they become understandably concerned. Truesdell also remarked that any casual reader could panic if they hear about a hallway fire or the shutting down of an elevator as the result of a fire.
Though this pertains to actual reporting of vandalism incidents in campus media, it also refers to the recent acts by students themselves.
As to the consequences, the Lawrence housing contract clearly states, “If damages cannot be attributed to a single individual or group of students, all residents of the floor or housing facility may be required to share equally in the cost.” There is some disagreement on the effectiveness of this system, however.
Wagner believes that whether or not the vandalism charges are effective, it is something that must be done. Semph believes that in the case of Sage Hall, some of the larger damage done may not be able to be assigned to any Sage residents and thus it would be unfair to make all residents pay.
Finally, Macauley states that if the culprit cannot be found someone must pay the damages, and whoever pays it will not be the one who did it – whether it be students, staff, or that the charge be allocated elsewhere in the university.