The campus is buzzing about security cameras.
At Monday’s Community Senate meeting — the largest attended so far this year — over an hour of discussion led to a final consensus not to fund security cameras for Guilford.
The money would have come from the Senate rollover budget. While the camera plan could still move forward, the Senate decision means the money would have to be found elsewhere.
Community members shared a wide range of concerns about the cameras and other related issues.
“I was overwhelmed because there was so much happening and so many strong opinions that (aren’t) always seen in Senate,” said junior Cristina Guttersen in an email interview.
The meeting revealed that many students oppose security cameras whether or not the money comes from Senate.
“I definitely think things like this need the support of the student body and faculty,” said first-year and Senator Malaika Geffrard. “Or else you can put cameras up, but the students will have this bad taste in their mouth …. You’re saying, ‘You don’t really have a voice on campus, and we’re just going to do what we want to do because we’re in charge.’”
Rather than for live monitoring, the camera footage would be used only as evidence after crimes occur.
“One of my main concerns is that when safety is brought up, it is only for retrospective action,” said junior Colin Nollet at the meeting. “I feel there need to be a lot more initiatives focused on being proactive.”
Despite concerns, Director of Public Safety Ronald Stowe supports the plan for cameras.
“In addition to being able to use the cameras to look back on incidents that occur, I think it would provide a sense of security for the community and … be a selling point to parents and students who want to attend a campus that is safe,” said Stowe in an email interview.
However, many students say security cameras will not solve security concerns.
“Safety isn’t saying, ‘we’ll get you justice for your sexual assault,’” said Nollet. “Safety is preventing sexual assault.”
The meeting led to conversations about wider safety issues which many students want to see addressed.
“I want to know why every single person I’ve known who’s been caught with minor drug offenses has been kicked out, but none of the people who have been reported or accused of rape have been, and why they’re still here,” said senior Layla Rafaoui at the meeting. “I want to know why people have been having their drinks drugged and why that’s not been addressed on an administrative level.”
However, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Todd Clark believes the plan will be beneficial.
“Having cameras in public locations would help us see the truth in cases of crimes committed on campus,” Clark said in an email interview. “Our staff experience a number of difficult situations where having a visual record of the incident would benefit all parties involved …. Where we would place cameras and how we would use them would be based in the values and culture here at Guilford.”
Additionally, many students think camera use will hurt, rather than help, minority students due to implicit bias by Public Safety.
“It will be another form of harassment for students of color,” said Geffrard.
However, this may not be a reason to dismiss the proposal.
“As long as you can show that the process for looking at the footage is fair, I’m pretty sure that will erase perceptions that minority students will be targeted,” said senior and Senate Treasurer Kahlil Perine.
During the Senate meeting, students also suggested increasing diversity among the Public Safety officers, such as hiring women of color, in order to increase trust.
The camera plan would lead to placement of 40 security cameras around campus. They would be installed outside residence halls, in parking lots and at campus entrances, among other places.
Prior to the Monday decision, the plan had been on Senate’s radar for a month and in the works on the board of trustees for about a year. Two previous Senate meetings have covered the issue, but due to greater outreach the third meeting allowed for the most voices to be heard.
Trustee Esther Hall helped conclude the meeting.
“I need to meet with the Senate,” said Hall “I need to meet with the people who are concerned … so I can educate the board of trustees about what matters to the student community”.
With the proposed plan, Senate would have contributed about $40,000 in rollover activities funds out of the $140,000 available. To make up the difference for the plan’s total cost of $80,000, the rest of the money would come from capital funds.
The board originally proposed the plan to Clark, who recommended Senate take it on as a capital project.
During the meeting, some called for more of the community to be represented before a decision was reached. The low attendance of athletes was especially highlighted.
In conversations sparked by the security camera issue, safety concerns have been closely tied to those about community trust and accountability.
“I still think we just need to create a better community atmosphere where we hold each other accountable,” said junior Eva Cosgrove. “I don’t think security cameras are the solution because that’s just going to catch the perpetrators after the fact.”
After the significant turnout at the meeting and the strong interest for this issue, people are hoping momentum will continue.
“I hope those in the community can learn that having these discussions … is how we get productive and useful change,” said Guttersen.
Many proposed alternatives for the rollover money are not allowed by the budget, which only covers one-time expenses. Feasible suggested alternatives have been completing the farmhouse and improving lighting in dark areas on campus. Some have also suggested placement of more emergency blue light phones on campus.
“I’m more interested in our review of safety mobile applications than installing more blue light phones,” said Clark. “The stationary nature of these emergency blue lights hurts their effectiveness.”
Members of Senate have asked for community input about how funds are to be used to benefit the community.
“I really want the campus to know that we have (opportunities for) capital projects,” said Perine. “The security camera initiative is just a proposal. Anyone can forward a proposal to the Senate executives.”