Amidst shifting party regulations in response to COVID-19, tensions have flared between students and security. As campus security officers shut down an outdoor party that had exceeded the allowed capacity on the night of Oct. 8, chants of “F YOU CAMPO” rang throughout the crowd.
As COVID-19 cases have remained generally low on campus, the student vaccination rate has approached 100 percent and the number of active cases in Dutchess County has dwindled, the administration has gradually lifted its strict restrictions on gatherings (Vassar College COVID-19 Dashboard, 2021; Daily Freeman, 2021). Students have scrutinized the College’s frequently-shifting party regulations for a lack of transparency surrounding the guidelines, and more specifically, Safety and Security’s enforcement of these often vague protocols (The Miscellany News, 2021). The growing friction between students and Safety and Security officers escalated on the evening of Oct. 8, when a student threw a glass bottle at a Safety and Security officer and struck them in the chest. Associate Dean of the College for Residential Life and Wellness Luis Inoa later informed the student body about this incident in an email on Oct. 9.
On the night of Oct. 8, after Safety and Security received a noise complaint, the department dispatched officers to address the situation. Upon arrival, the officers found that the party in the Terrace Apartment (TA) outdoor space had grown significantly larger than party registration rules allowed for. After speaking with the party’s hosts, the officers waited as they dispersed their guests until suddenly someone from the crowd threw a bottle that struck one of them in the upper chest.
A student who attended the party and requested to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns recalled the events of the night. According to the student, the party took place right after a concert hosted by Vassar College Entertainment (ViCE), and attendees swarmed the party after the concert. The student noted, “Initially, it was well controlled, I even received a ‘sticker bracelet’ to prove I was allowed to be at the party just in case security asked. Then, about 30 minutes later, the crowd just grew too large.”
The student recollected how the situation unravelled after Safety and Security arrived on site: “Campus police [stopped] by and first shut down the music. Then, they started flashing the lights toward the crowds and people start[ed] leaving.” The student noted that there was a chant of “Fuck you Campo” throughout the crowd. Although the student did not witness the person throwing the bottle, they did claim to see one of the officers yelling at a group of students. Another student present at the party who requested to stay anonymous for privacy reasons verified that they did see officers yelling at students, but also did not see the actual moment the bottle was thrown.
In his email on Oct. 9, Inoa shared that the events that had transpired the evening before injured and rattled the officer. Safety and Security Director Arlene Sabo reported that the officer involved has since returned to work. Currently, the College is still determining who is responsible for throwing the bottle.
When asked about her reactions to the incident, Sabo responded, “Frankly speaking, this doesn’t seem like it should be part of what happens to anyone at Vassar. When this level of harm occurs it’s quite dehumanizing.” She proceeded to say, “Safety and Security Officers work for Vassar; they work nights, holidays and weekends, when most people are in bed enjoying a good night’s sleep.”
Sabo continued,“Our department performs a service for Vassar as dictated to them by Vassar. Most of the job is about helping people; we don’t relish being put in confrontational situations with students.”
According to Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, this is not the first confrontation between students and Safety and Security personnel this semester. Prior to Oct. 8, there was another bottle-throwing incident, but no object struck the officer. When addressing these rising tensions, Alamo-Pastrana attributed it to a fundamental misconception of Safety and Security’s role on campus: “They are [not] police officers and the comparison of them with police officers falls short on several fronts. Safety and Security are asked to support students in a multitude of ways and to assist when our shared expectations are not being met.”
Inoa expressed his belief that the incident is symptomatic of a chronic tension between students and Safety and Security that existed even before the pandemic: “This isn’t a one off incident.” He cited previous incidents during the pre-COVID era when Safety and Security officers had been completely ignored, pushed aside and even punched by students after being sent to dissolve parties. Inoa stated, “That kind of dismissiveness of someone who’s another human being who’s just trying to do their job leads to the incident that we had, most recently.” He continued, “I feel…a level of responsibility to act to address not just the incident, but the environment and the climate and the culture that created that.”
Moving forward, the Safety and Security department hopes to collaborate more with students to determine how to proceed in a way that ensures the safety of all community members. As Sabo stated, “We would love to have student parties run smoothly. We’d love to partner with students to make this be the case.” According to Sabo, the department has already taken some steps to find ways to engage with the student body For instance, the Safety and Security supervisor who works during the VSA meetings has volunteered to come in early to discuss these topics with the VSA.
Towards the end of the week of Oct. 25, Inoa, Campus Safety and Security Lieutenant Heidi Hunsburger, Assistant Director of Residential Life Lizzie Jáuregui and student leaders for the apartment areas convened to discuss party registration guidelines moving forward.
From this conversation, the administration developed a revised policy, which was announced in an emailed statement to the student body sent on Nov. 2. The College will permit party hosts to register for a maximum of 15 attendees inside their residences and an additional 10 guests outside. They will also require hosts to keep their music systems inside to avoid future noise complaints.
For the future, Inoa recommended the entire Vassar community — not just students — make a concerted effort to help foster an environment of mutual respect between community members and Safety and Security: “I want us…to understand … how we support campus safety in holding one another accountable for the expectations that we have on our campus.” He concluded, “We could figure out a way to address not just simply the incident, but the kind of root causes of this by sitting in space together, really reckoning with and excavating what is leading to this.”