Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 7/14/08
Protecting Safety and Privacy
A recent Court of Appeals ruling regarding Washington State University’s policies toward police in residence halls has refocused public attention on what can be a controversial issue.
For WSU administrators and public safety officials, however, interest in this issue does not rise and fall based on specific incidents or court rulings. Providing a safe and secure environment in our residence halls is a constant focus, and adopting policies that balance legitimate concerns about safety and privacy is an ongoing effort.
In fact, before this court ruling was filed, we were moving away from using random police patrols in the residence halls. Our policies can more wisely aim at making sure police can quickly respond to specific incidents and problems in residence halls, while, for the most part, relying on residence hall staff and resident advisors to provide ongoing supervision.
Such approaches are fully consistent with the Court of Appeals ruling and will protect the legitimate privacy rights of our students.
Providing a safe environment in residence halls is not a new issue, of course. But the emphasis on campus security has only increased following the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois. Even in a small-town locale with a low crime rate, clearly there can be no absolute guarantee of security.
The most effective strategy is to make security not just an issue for police, or administrators, or emergency responders, but for everyone. In our residence halls, we seek to build, through both academic and social programs, a sense of community. We want to open lines of communication and empower students to help defuse small problems before they become large ones.
While our campus police officers continue to do a good job of building relationships with students through on-site programs, we recognize that many students are more likely to share day-to-day concerns with resident advisors. We are confident of those advisors’ ability, and the ability of residence hall staff members, to respond to the everyday issues that result when you have so many college students living in close proximity to one another.
One of the best aspects of a residential campus is that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Where they live, students learn about one another, about mutual respect, about understanding differences and about being responsible members of a community.
Those are lessons that will serve them well, long after they receive their diplomas.