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Recent violence sparks safety concerns

October 12, 2006

Safety at UW-River Falls and around the nation is becoming an increasingly important topic due to recent acts of violence.

On Oct. 2, in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, five young girls were killed and another five wounded before the shooter turned the gun on himself.  In Montreal on Sept. 13, a student at Dawson College opened fire, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. Police eventually fatally shot the self-proclaimed “angel of death” in one of the school’s buildings.

Most recently, an alleged bomb threat was made in North Hall Sept. 29. Though there was no real reason to worry about the threat and no casualties of any sort, it brings the scare of the ever-increasing trend of campus violence home to students at UW-RF.
After such incidents, questions are raised about safety on campus not only in academic buildings, but in the dorms as well.

In any residential building at UW-RF, a person with a valid school ID can enter the building without being stopped. Even if the person is borrowing an ID card or is not a resident of on-campus housing, he or she can still enter.

At each entrance, a scanner allows students easy access to the building. By swiping the card correctly, the door opens. In the entrances there are signs urging visitors to check in with the student manning the front desk, but with hundreds of people occupying each building, it is nearly impossible for one person to pick out non-residents.

At 10 p.m. the scanners change to allow only registered occupants access to the buildings by using the electronic system.

“We allow access to students with University IDs so that friends may visit friends across campus,” Director of Residential Life Terry Willson said. “Access is limited to building residents only after 10 p.m. Any locked access security system is only as safe as students allow it to be.”

However, an ongoing problem, according to faculty and students, is people entering the dorms by someone simply holding the door open or catching it before it latches shut.

“It scares me a little that anyone with an ID card can enter the residence halls, but it makes me feel better that they can’t past a certain time at night,” Jessica Odden, a freshman and Parker Hall resident, said. “Also, anyone can grab the door after someone goes in the building. I know it has happened.”

“We continue to emphasize the message that student residents should not open doors for strangers, but our campus and many others struggle with this ongoing issue,” Willson said.

Violence from outsiders is not the only issue to worry about when living in campus housing. With people living together who do not already have an established knowledge of one another, personalities and interests are going to clash.

In Hathorn Hall on Sept. 8, two students, Steven Wyman, 20, and Benjamin Nikosch, 21, were involved in a dispute involving two knives, including a Swiss Army pocketknife.

“While one person had a scratch on the neck, it was not determined if the scratch came from the pocketknife,” Willson said.

Residential Life does not tolerate instances like this and took immediate action. Both students were arrested by the River Falls Police Department. Wyman was held on bond and Nikosch was released.

“We terminated the housing contracts of both students and they may no longer enter University residence halls,” Willson said. “Both students also face civil charges.”

Staff and students agree that the proper safety procedures, including the electronic scanning system, are in effect to protect on-campus residents. However, it is apparently the student’s responsibility to keep people from entering who have no business in the dorms.

“I don’t really see the RAs or Res. Hall staff do too much in terms of safety from random people coming into the building,” Michelle Ault, a sophomore and Prucha Hall resident, said. “All they do is tell us not to hold the door for anyone, but nobody listens to that.”