Jailhouse Rocks the Boat

Last semester, on Tuesday nights, I volunteered at a local prison playing volleyball. Upon arriving at school this semester, I received a letter in my mailbox from Kim Martin-Anderson, the Interim Director for the Department of Residential Life. After reading this letter, I was struck by the similarities between her five-bullet program and the environment of the prison. At the prison, access points are limited and alarmed. Security personnel frequently patrol the hallways and perimeter of the building. The guards are highly visible and all visitors and staff are required to wear ID badges. But I am writing today not to discuss my extracurriculars but to express that I was troubled by the letter I received from Ms. Martin-Anderson. Residential Life’s new programs make the dorms feel less like home and more like a prison. While Ms. Martin-Anderson is implementing these programs, might I suggest installing bars on the first floor windows so no one can break in through them, and metal detectors at the “2 entry/exit doors per residential complex” so no one can enter with a weapon? These additional measures might further advance residence hall safety. I am providing this satire to prove a point: the new programs Ms. Martin-Anderson’s department is initiating are not creating the “welcoming positive quality of life in our residence halls” that her letter claims. All aspects of the program are troubling, but I choose to address two in particular. First is the establishment of “emergency exit-only” doors. I live in Patterson Hall, and our rear entry door has been labeled “emergency exit-only.” This door provides the main access from Patterson to the parking lots, Slade Hall and South Prospect Street. The labeling of this door is at best an inconvenience. However, much worse than that, it is a safety hazard. Suppose a resident is down South Prospect Street, where a female student was attacked last year. Instead of being able to escape the potential perpetrator through the door into Patterson, the resident finds that the door no longer opens from the outside. While running to one of the “2 entry/exit doors per residential complex,” the resident is violently attacked. Ms. Martin-Anderson’s program may indeed have good intentions of keeping perpetrators out; however, it will not. What it is doing is keeping those who need to get in, perhaps sometimes desperately, out. Secondly, the implementation of her programs is troubling. The letter I received claims that she made these choices “Based on direct feedback from students.” Of all the students I talked to, none were contacted by the Department of Residential Life. May I once again remind the reader of the striking similarity between the implementation here and at the prison? Residents were not notified about the choices; rather, the choices were made by administrators. A notice was sent out and meetings were held only after the ‘program’ was initiated. Had the department truly valued “direct feedback from students,” these meetings would have been held while the ‘program’ was being considered. Instead, meetings were held after the fact, telling students about the new ‘program’ and the punishments if disobeyed. The implementation of Residential Life’s ‘program’ is disgraceful. It is a shame that for their first two years, students at UVM will be held behind locked and alarmed doors, in halls roamed by security personnel. It is ironic how the gap between two very different institutions, universities and prisons, is being closed. Residential Life is wrong in implementing this program – it contains many mistakes and virtually no input from the people who matter most – the residents who call the dorms home. I encourage readers to contact Residential Life to voice their opinions directly. The department can be reached directly by telephone at 656-3434 and Kim Martin-Anderson’s e-mail address is [email protected]