Trigger warning: Sexual assault, gun violence
The college has implemented new security measures and safety protocols following the sexual assault that occurred last fall.
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, an Allegheny College student was sexually assaulted in Ravine-Narvik Hall by an unidentified armed man, who allegedly entered the building through an unlocked, exterior door. An ongoing lawsuit filed on Friday, July 24, against the college claims the institution was negligent and did not provide secure housing for residents.
“I received an email the morning that the (sexual assault) happened and I vividly remember reading through my emails and being shocked and thinking that this could not be happening here,” Kathryn Phillippe, ’22, said. “(The sexual assault) was the last thing that I imagined would happen in a community like Allegheny, especially because (the college) relies heavily upon Public Safety.”
The night after the incident occurred, members of the campus community attended an open forum discussion at the Henderson Campus Center, where students expressed concerns regarding their safety to several administrators, including President Hilary Link and Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students April Thompson. Concerns ranged from faulty residence hall doors to adequate lighting around campus. Students also expressed concerns regarding Public Safety’s officers, expertise and response time.
The Public Safety office will be relocated to Murray Hall to create a more centralized location, announced Vice President of Finance and Administration Chief Financial Officer Linda Wetsell in an email to the Campus.
“(Relocating Public Safety) places the office in a more central location, which is closer to the Campus Center where there are larger volumes of students,” Wetsell said. “Moving the office allows for technological upgrades, which is one of the tenants of 21st century policing.”
According to Wetsell, the objective is to increase interactions between Public Safety officers and the campus community.
“Placing the Public Safety Department in a high-traffic area will also increase interactions between the campus community and the Public Safety Department, which will lead toward building a sense of trust and legitimacy,” Wetsell added.
In addition, the college has hired new officers with varying degrees of expertise and training.
Director of Public Safety Jim Basinger was unavailable to comment on any new changes to the department.
In an email to the campus community on Dec. 10, 2019, Link detailed the college’s initial response to ensure campus safety following the incident.
“We are increasing 24/7 patrols and we will continue those enhanced patrols through the end of the semester,” Link wrote. “We have been addressing and will continue to address reported issues with doors and locks.”
Following the email, peepholes were installed throughout the residence halls and locks on students’ doors were replaced by Physical Plant. Door prop alarms were added to the exterior doors of residence halls and trees and bushes were trimmed or removed to increase visibility. All residence halls, with the exception of College Court and Allegheny Commons, are equipped with ID scanners. The college is finishing the installation of ID scanners at both of the residence halls, Wetsell added.
“We had door position monitoring consultants on campus to perform an audit of the doors and access points are functioning properly,” Wetsell wrote. “Residential spaces were inspected for inoperable lights, lights have been replaced where not working or dim. The combination of automated sensors and deactivating manual light switches means that all common areas will have lighting that remains on 24/7.”
Restroom switches have been modified so that they cannot be turned off by the light switch. Additionally, non-residential building hours are limited to 7:15 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and will have a designated entrance to minimize cross-traffic and all other doors will remain for exiting the building only.
“ASG and Physical Plant took a ‘dark walk’ to recommend areas on campus that lighting should be enhanced,” Wetsell added. “Updates to lighting in several areas on campus have been made based on those recommendations.”
The changes made to the campus were noticed among the student body, Phillippe said.
“The response that I personally had seen was that Public Safety officers were fixing doors and making sure that they worked,” Phillippe said. “They also installed brighter lights outside of the area where you would swipe your key to go inside.”
ASG also created a Title IX committee in response to the sexual assault. This committee planned several Title IX-related events such as bystander training and self-defense classes. These were not able to occur due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Later that semester, the Allegheny Student Government began discussing the installation of cameras on campus, according to Phillippe. She was the Class of 2022 President for the ASG Senate at the time of the event.
“(Discussions about security cameras) had mixed responses but a lot of students were against cameras because (students) thought it was a huge invasion of privacy, which I also agree with, Phillipe said. “(Security cameras) also give way to a lot of racial discrimination and profiling.”
Despite student body concerns, a surveillance system has been installed at the college.
Baldwin Hall and Ravine-Narvik Hall have security cameras and the remaining residence halls will have cameras installed soon, Wetsell announced.
“All of the security cameras monitor public locations at the points of ingress and egress,” Wetsell wrote. “The camera monitoring station is located in a secured area of the Public Safety Department and it is not visible to the public. The cameras are passively monitored. If an incident is reported, Public Safety has the ability to view previously recorded footage because the recordings are retained for a specified time period in accordance with Pennsylvania State Laws.”
All information and observations made from the surveillance cameras are confidential and can only be used for official purposes, she clarified.
“Talks about (installing cameras) made me very upset because I felt as though we have a (Statement of Community) that (we) are upholding in the Allegheny community,” Phillipe said. “(We) are going to be honest and trustworthy students and the faculty should not have to monitor (the student body) everywhere that (we) go.”
While Public Safety officials increased patrols during the fall 2019 semester, many students, especially female-identifying students, took extra precautions on campus to ensure their safety.
“(The sexual assault) was a situation that made me think more about keeping my guard up,” Phillippe said. “I never thought about carrying around pepper spray or walking in groups, but the people around me, such as my friends, suggested that we shouldn’t walk alone and that we should bring pepper spray and make sure that where we are going is in an area that is not too isolated. A lot of (the student body), including myself, found that we were traveling more in groups and less late at night to make sure that we were safe.”
Students walked in groups or utilized the buddy system when traveling around campus, especially during finals week when students are using the Lawrence Lee Pelletier Library past midnight, Phillippe added. She recalled walking a fellow student back to their dormitory with her friends one evening during finals week to ensure that everyone was safe.
The administration’s response to the sexual assault created mixed reactions among the student body.
“At the beginning portion of my sophomore year, I was a Ravine-Narvik resident,” Emma Godel, ’21, said. “That next fall, as a junior, when I heard that an on-campus rape had occurred, I was like, ‘oh, did that happen in Ravine?’ I opened the email and there you go.”
Godel was not surprised to hear about the unlocked door at Ravine-Narvik Hall, she added.
“Her (residence hall door) was not working, which again, I am not surprised,” Godel said. “Ravine residents do not usually get as much reception as I think other residents do. I have noticed that first-hand as someone who no longer lives there.”
While Godel believes the administration inappropriately handled the situation, she does not blame the college for the sexual assault occurring on campus, Godel clarified. She also recalled fearing for her own safety while she was a resident there due to the relocation of a convicted Title IX offender to that residence her first year at the college.
“I sat down with a Residence Life representative and explained that (being placed in Ravine-Narvik Hall) was impacting my mental health,” Godel explained. “I was not able to focus and I could not stop thinking about my safety next fall.”
After meeting with the Residence Life representative, Godel alleged that the college official responded by citing new additions of furniture in the building.
“Ever since this communication, as much as I love the Residence Life employees, I have had a very difficult time trusting Residence Life as an institution,” Godel said. “A pool table is never going to increase or decrease on-campus rapes so that was so sickening to hear.”
Godel later relocated from Ravine-Narvik Hall to Brooks Hall.
While the sexual assault took place last year, from the time that students arrive on campus until Thanksgiving Break, college campuses are in what is known as the Red Zone, a period of time where a disproportionate amount of sexual assault cases occur.
“The Red Zone refers to the six-week period of time between arrival on campus in August and Thanksgiving Break in November, during which, according to research, students are at the highest risk of sexual assault,” wrote the Delta chapter of Alpha Chi Omega in an Instagram post.
Alpha Chi Omega traditionally hosts tabling events during this time period, however due to COVID-19 guidelines, the organization will raise awareness through their social media platforms.
Godel encourages all students to report any safety issues or building maintenance concerns to their Resident Advisor to prevent further sexual assaults, especially during this time period.
“If there is something that (you) think is unsatisfactory, (you) need to report it,” Godel said. “Do not let someone tell (you) that (your concerns) are not valid. (You) need to get in the way, (you) need to make noise because (your safety) is not a petty issue. (Your safety) is more important than anything else (you) will have at this college.”
Any individual who has experienced a Title IX offense is able to reach out to Title IX Coordinator Gilly Ford located in Murray Hall.