A Letter to the Editor: Treatment of Off-Campus Students

During the first week of the fall semester, Student Affairs hosted a mandatory off-campus meeting that seemed like the opportunity for it, along with the Chestertown Police Department and other members of the Chestertown community, to lecture off-campus students on issues like trash, parties, and parking. While I understand the pertinence of these issues to the community, it was extremely disheartening that issues like break-ins did not seem to be on the agenda. In fact, a concerned student had to raise his hand and ask for burglary to be discussed. This only resulted in some condescending comments about how students need to be more responsible by keeping doors secure, windows closed, and not leaving valuable items out. As a victim of burglary myself (and one that did not do anything to “encourage” the crime), I found myself sitting in the meeting annoyed, discouraged, and feeling that the safety of off-campus students was being trivialized. In addition, as I will explain later, I think that the supposed communication between the CPD, Student Affairs, and concerned students leaves much to be desired.

Firstly, I am an honor student in my senior year and this is my third year living off campus. I have never hosted a party, and no one has ever made complaints about my conduct. I moved off campus for financial and lifestyle reasons, and I have loved it for the most part. I think Chestertown is a wonderful place to live in and Washington College is a wonderful school to attend.

Last January, a man broke into my apartment, off Philosopher’s Terrace, that I shared with three roommates. I was the only one home at the time (we were on winter break, but I was still working at the college). All of our neighbors were at work and my door was locked. An unknown man picked the lock and preceded to check the apartment. When he found me in the back bedroom, we looked at each other for a moment before he ran. He did not steal anything in the process.

In shock, I called my boyfriend, Zach Briglia (who was also working at the college), and he immediately drove from campus to our apartment. When I explained what happened, he encouraged me to call the police and I did so.

When the officer on duty showed up, he gave me a hard time for not calling immediately and for not remembering many details about what the man looked like (something people who have had a shocking experience are prone to).  He had me walk him through what happened, questioned everything I said, and begrudgingly confirmed that our front door lock had been picked. I went home that weekend feeling ashamed of myself when I was the victim. That officer never followed up with me, despite his assurances that he would.

The following week, my mom and a friend of hers from the Marines, drove all the way down here to complain to the CPD and inquire as to what they were doing about my case. Not surprisingly, they sent a detective over the next day and again, I walked him through everything that happened of what I could remember. He informed me of the rash of break-ins that were occurring throughout the town and assured me that the  CPD had a solid suspect for the crimes. He asked me if I could identify the man I saw if he brought me a photo line-up. I said I could. He said he would have a photo line-up ready for me within two weeks and even gave me his cellphone number, but still have not heard from him again.

I reached out a few weeks later and the officer on the other line asked if I had any new information. I told him no, but informed him that I had been expecting a photo line-up. He never got back to me. I also let Public Safety know about the incident and they called me and asked for the details and then sent an generic email out to the school.

When school started up again, one of our neighbors told me that he had had a run-in with a man matching my description who was skulking around inside our building, tapping on doors. I didn’t bother reporting this because I had become convinced that nothing was being done about my case and I didn’t want to worry my family or have any more hassle.

My landlord replaced our lock with a deadbolt and I spent the next several months looking over my shoulder, locking myself in, and dreading the walk to and from campus.

Back track three months prior: it’s October 2014 and my roommates and I are about to head to Middletown, DEL to celebrate Zach’s birthday. We are about to leave when we realize that an ambulance has pulled into our very small parking lot. We watch from the window as the ambulance loads one of our neighbors (a friend of ours) and then precedes to try to back out of the parking lot and into the driveway. We immediately notice how uncomfortably, impossibly close the ambulance is to Zach’s car (which was parked in one of our two designated parking spaces). We run downstairs and sure enough, there are deep, obvious scratch marks on the side of his bumper.

Zach called the police and the emergency response company. An officer came and questioned everything we said about the incident and told us that he had spoken with the chief of the emergency response company who denied touching the car. The officer insinuated that it would be very hard to make a case for the repairs even though we had four witnesses altogether. We all went to the police department to file reports of the incident anyway and they assured us they would be in touch.

That same week, Zach emailed Student Affairs, explaining everything about the incident because we knew that we were getting “the runaround” and Student Affairs had told us at the beginning of the year in the off-campus meeting to reach out to them if we had any questions. During that meeting, they had lectured us about working with the town and then assured us that they would be there if we needed help and Student Affairs has yet to respond. It has been almost one year.

As I said these issues are in the past now. Zach and I have moved to a safer part of town. I have come to terms with the break-in and Zach has saved enough money to repair his leased car himself. Nevertheless it is extremely hard to sit through an hour long meeting with these people talking to me like I am a degenerate who does nothing but park illegally, liter, and throw wild parties and that all I worry about is getting drunk and getting citations.

Zach and I are not menaces to Chestertown. We cook dinner, go to bed early, wake up early for work, pay bills, take classes, and contribute to WC. We get just as annoyed as everyone else about loud, late night parties. However, a lack of communication, help, and general humane empathy from Student Affairs and the town’s public departments have led us to worry about much more than that. The off-campus meeting has made me well aware of how seriously these groups take partying (with threats of dragging students back onto campus housing, criminal records, and expensive fines). However, these meetings and my experience have yet to tell me who is going to be on my side when I have serious, life-changing incidents.

As adults, Zach and I recognize that these things happen and we have to deal with them alone, but I resent that Student Affairs specifically references themselves as the people to reach out to to facilitate these issues, and yet they failed to even respond to us. Using their relationship with the CPD to slap students on the wrist for having parties and not for facilitating major issues is not good enough. Pretending that burglary is not a serious, frightening issue is not good enough. I am glad that the SGA is trying to get a student representative for off-campus students, because it really seems like we need one.

– Emily Summers ‘16

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