Campus Houses frequent targets for robberies

By Veronique Bergeron

Recent muggings on campus have borne intense discussion on campus security: students have been told again and again to walk in groups, report suspicious persons, ask tailgaters in dorms for Macalester IDs. Off-campus students have buddied up, dorm residents have been warned, but between these two options lies a tenuous group for security. Outlying Macalester-owned houses such as the Language Houses, campus houses near St. Clair Avenue, the cottages on Macalester Street and the Grand Cambridge Apartments (GCA) are unique security paradoxes with a history of problems. Many improvements have been made to these houses aimed at improving security.

Since the muggings, Residential Life has told RAs in the GCA/campus houses/cottages complex that they should not put themselves in a potentially harmful situation. Betsey Engebretson ’07, a Resident Advisor in the GCA said that her rounds were changed a bit after the muggings.

“We were told that if we were walking alone, we didn’t have to go to [campus] houses because that’s too far away and it’s not very well-lit out there,” Engebretson said. Res. Life gave instruction that while RAs could drive to this area or go in groups, they would not be reprimanded if they chose to skip the houses on weekday rounds as long as they reported not going.

Engebretson said she preferred not to go to the campus houses alone and had followed this directive. In terms of the security of the physical sites she monitors, though, she was confident. “I’ve never felt unsafe, and I’ve never had to deal with a theft on my rounds,” she said.

According to Assistant Director of Facilities Management Terry Gorman, many additions have been made to outlying housing in recent years. For example, the Language Houses have recently been equipped with self-locking doors that remain closed at all times.

“Even before we changed those locks, there’s not a lot of crime in the neighborhood,” Gorman said. “Up until that time we would find many of the doors at the Language Houses open … Before we changed the locks, something would be lost with no signs of forced entry, so we would assume it was a robbery.” Furthermore, the Language Houses were also equipped with security windows last summer.

“I can’t remember the last time someone broke into a window and entered a house, on campus or anywhere in the neighborhood,” Gorman said.

Despite this, at least one break-in occurred at the center cottage last year through a window.

The former residents of this house were not available for comment, but current residents said they heard many stories regarding the cottage’s safety upon moving in. According to Dean of Students Laurie Hamre, security problems in the cottage have been addressed.

“Last year we implemented a number of safety/security measures once the middle cottage had problems,” Hamre said. “Like new dead bolt locks, window blocks, lighting at backdoor, non-removeable screens, etc.”

Residents have mixed feelings regarding the houses and their relative states of security. Sasha Cardenas ’07 lives in the center cottage currently and was also familiar with the house’s former residents and their individual security concerns. According to Cardenas, the house was broken into through a window in front of the house last year. A resident’s wallet was stolen and the intruder was spotted on his way out by a passing student. According to Cardenas, all of the house’s residents were in the house when it was robbed. “What was so frustrating for the girls living there was that the administration was hesitant to do anything about the incident. They were skeptical,” she said. According to Cardenas, the students’ parents got involved, and subsequently phones were placed in every room of the house and locks put on the window screens. Cardenas didn’t see these as effective.

“We’ve been locked out of the house a few times and been able to pull the screens off really easily,” she said. Cardenas has witnessed two years of security problems at this cottage, and largely attributes this to the fact that the front porch of the house is not screened in, while the two other cottages’ are.

“The house is like a sitting duck, not quite residential, not quiet urban,” she said. “It’s the least safe place on campus that I’ve ever lived.”

Laura Stewart ’07, a resident of Cardenas’ cottage, had her computer stolen in January. According to Stewart, an intruder entered the cottage through an unlocked back door.

“We were pretty sure that someone must have been watching the house because we were only gone for an hour,” she said. A wallet and a jar of change were also stolen from the house, though the residents didn’t realize a theft had occurred until much later that day.

According to Stewart, the residents called Macalester Security and spoke with a guard. His assessment of the house was that it had not been forced into, and that for that reason, there was little that the college could do. They were told that their only choice was to contact the St. Paul police and report a theft.

“I mean, we were pretty much stuck because the college doesn’t do anything to reimburse you if your stuff gets stolen on campus,” Stewart said. Stewart also said that this was the only time she felt her security compromised in the cottage. “I’ve never felt unsafe on campus or in my house,” she said.

The fate of the cottages, including the one Stewart currently lives in, has been up in the air for many years, and while the campus houses near St. Clair have been slated for demolition in the new master plan, the cottages’ futures are less certain. Gorman admitted that houses slated for demolition will not have been equipped with security windows.

“I don’t really know what else they could do [for security],” Stewart said. “At this point, I understand the position that the administration is in because I think that those cottages are going to be torn down, so putting in a lot of security and expensive measures to renovate the house [is] all kind of pointless at this stage.”