Incidents of dorm vandalism rise in residence halls

The Colby Student Handbook does not define the term “vandalism.” It does however state the following: “Vandalism and reckless damage to facilities and property are very serious concerns for the College and the well-being of our community.” 

In a recent interview with the Echo, Assistant Vice President for Facilities and Campus Planning Mina Amundsen shared some of the various forms that dorm vandalism may take. 

“I think there are four or five types [of vandalism] that are pretty typical,” Amundsen said. “Throughout the year, often we see a lot of vomit, especially after weekends. But we also, to a fairly regular extent, see bottles of urine that are left for the custodians in the trash. We see a lot of soot damage on the walls, from what you would think are innocuous candles. But soot is really painful and expensive to clean. Then you have smashed and broken furniture.” 

“And then we have people who paint on the walls,” Amundsen continued. “Again, it’s hard to clean, and people try to paint over it which is worse because we have to repaint anyway. Another kind is people smashing exit signs or opening fire extinguishers. Those we take very seriously because they are safety hazards and endanger everybody in the dorm.”

Vandalism of this nature is common Colby’s campus according to Assistant Dean of Students Cameron Cox. In a recent interview with the Echo, Cox described how the culture of dorm vandalism has impacted the work of his office. 

“I think Colby is maybe at a disadvantage just because of the history,” Cox said. “It seems like this has been a problem for a while now. And when you’ve had that sort of culture where this has been a problem for so long, that presents a problem for me.”

Cox went on to explain his role in the adjudication process. “I’m the Conduct Dean so I enforce the student handbook. What that entails is when different incidents happen on campus, I meet with alleged students who have taken part in the incident. My job is to determine responsibility and investigate if necessary, then issue sanctions with what’s consistent in the student handbook.”

Cox also noted that the rate of dorm vandalism at  Colby surprised him. “Vandalism is bigger than I thought it would be here. I actually didn’t expect to have to deal with this amount of vandalism on part of the students. The problem that I’m running into is that so much of it happens, and it’s hard to investigate because it’s hard to find people who are responsible, which makes it tougher to adjudicate.”

Cases of dorm vandalism have been historically difficult to solve because of the lack of available evidence needed to merit punishment of a student. Most dorm vandalism occurs in the common spaces of the residence hall, leaving little information for assessing responsibility.

 The Dean of Students Office relies heavily on the reports of students and staff regarding dorm vandalism. Many of the reports made by students come from Community Advisors (CAs) who oversee the residence halls. 

In a recent interview with the Echo, Jackie Lermond `21, a CA on the second floor of Dana, described her experiences with dorm vandalism. “I don’t know if I can qualify dorm vandalism in one nicely wrapped package of how I encounter it,” Lermond said. “I feel like each incident is different and each person or group of people has their own reason. Last year I was a CA in AMS, and it mainly took the form of people leaving trash in places they weren’t supposed to or vandalizing the bathrooms.”

Reflecting on the current atmosphere in her dorm, Lermond said “this year in Dana it’s been a bit more destructive. When it happens, we do try to address it with the dorm as a whole right away in the hopes that it’s not going to continue.”

CAs like Lermond often work to speak to residents of their dorm and gain more information about incidents of dorm vandalism. 

“When I talk to a resident about an incident, I’m trying to think about why they did it and their motivation behind it,” Lermond said. “I worry about why. I want to understand them more than blame them. A lot of times I also try to invoke guilt so that it doesn’t happen again. People typically try to avoid taking the blame because they’re worried that they’ll face a consequence. But that’s not my goal. My goal is to get it to stop and make sure people are respecting the dorm.”

CAs are not able to issue sanctions to residents, however they are responsible for reporting it to the Assistant Dean of Students. According to Cox, when a student is found responsible, they are typically fined and asked to pay restitution for the damage caused to the dorm.

“I think [the policy] is fair, Cox said. “You should be responsible to pay for whatever damage you’ve created. One of the shortcomings is finding those students who are responsible. It’s been my experience that those who are found responsible and pay for the damage don’t do it again. So I think it’s an effective sanction.”

Although these sanctions seem to be effective, Colby has continued to see a sharp rise in dorm vandalism since the 2018-2019 school year. 

“I think last year we saw much higher incidences in a small cluster of dorms,” Amundsen said. “This year, Campus Life is using a slightly different strategy, so the senior apartments numbers are slightly lower. But the vandalism in Heights and Dana are way up. We’re seeing much more common area damage in the past year and a half than we’ve seen in the past. In Dana all the shower stalls were ripped out, which inconvenienced the entire dorm.” 

Campus Life and Facilities have been working to decrease the amount of dorm vandalism in various ways. Last year Campus Life began inspecting dorms throughout the year to monitor vandalism that could have roots in individual rooms.

The policy for dorm vandalism also saw a change last year. It no longer requiring every member of the dorm to be fined for common space damage. Despite these changes vandalism is continuing to rise, and its effects impact all members of the campus. Amundsen also described how vandalism has created a great burden not only on the budget of her office, but also on the facilities staff at Colby. 

“The part that is degrading to my staff, especially the custodial staff, is this routine cleaning of vomit, urine, and feces,” Amundsen said. “It’s very very hard for them. It’s demoralizing, it’s dehumanizing, and that is something I really do want students to

think about.  I think many of the students when they do these things are probably not aware of what they’re doing,

and they don’t see it the next morning because it’s been cleaned up. But think of what it would be like if you had to come in first thing in the morning and clean up someone else’s bodily waste. They’re paid for normal cleaning, not this.”

In addition to the impact on the staff, dorm vandalism also limits the quality of dorm furniture and other maintenance on campus. 

“We have an operating budget that is used for the care and maintenance of the campus.,” Amundsen explained. “So, ideally what you would expect at the end of the year is that there is a certain amount of wear and tear from living in the dorm for a year, but not to this extent.”

Commenting on the resources and goals of her department, Amundsen said “my staff and I feel that we’re spending all our time and money staying at the status quo, so there isn’t a net improvement made to the dorms. We care about the students and we’d like to offer an improvement each year. But if we have to clean and repair so much to keep it exactly where it is, it’s not a very good use of that money.” 

In the past few years the College has spent anywhere between $70,000 and $100,000 annually in dorm repairs. These costs are fairly high compared to other institutions and also completely preventable. 

When asked what it would take to decrease dorm vandalism on campus Cox said, “I think we would need to see a shift in the culture among the students. Students being more accountable, especially toward one another. I think it really lies on them.”

Similarly, Amundsen would like to see a shift in the culture of vandalism at Colby. She believes that the best way to do this is to educate students on the impact that their vandalism has. 

“In my view, I think it will help if people have a full understanding of the impact it has on the different members of the community,” Amundsen said. “It’s a conversation that needs to be had by more than one group of people. There are students who are bothered by this. It’s unpleasant to live with. I wouldn’t say we need to place blame or point fingers at anyone. But we really need to be more educational by sitting down and talking about it.”

According to Amundsen, “nobody sees the difference one night and the next morning. I have tons of pictures and I don’t think any of the students really see that. I’m willing to bet if they looked at what my staff has seen, people will care. I think putting a face to the people who have to clean it up is helpful. They’re people who take care of the place you live in, and they care about you. Interact with them, that helps.”

To make a report regarding any instances of dorm vandalism please visiting the following link: https://www.colby.edu/securitydept/report-a-crime/