By Amy Bukvich and Nastassia Put
Two free-standing plasma screen TVs, valued at $1,600, were stolen from Caroline Hall this past December amid the chaos of student residents moving out for the semester. A policy that holds all current Caroline Hall residents financially responsible for replacement of the TVs was enforced. In January, the college sent a bill to each fall 2011 resident for approximately $11.
Students have expressed concern about Mount Mary College’s campus security. Opinions on this residence hall policy have also surfaced.
Beth Schoenwetter, coordinator of residence life, said no one questioned the burglars’ actions because Caroline
Hall residents misconstrued them as Mount Mary employees.
“They didn’t have identifying Mount Mary clothing, but they were acting as though they worked for the college,” Schoenwetter said. “They were witnessed by a couple people, but we can’t get exact identifications on them.”
No one has identified the perpetrators or come forth with any information about the theft, but it is assumed that it was a pre-planned incident.
“There are too many people [in Caroline Hall] not to know what happened.” Schoenwetter said. “…It very well could have been someone from off the street, but how would that person know how to get into the residence hall? How to dress? How to act? What to do?”
According to Paul Leshok, director of public safety, one witness reported seeing a woman who appeared to be in her 40s. The gender of her companion could not be determined because he or she was wearing a hat.
Olivia Ellis, a senior in the fine arts program, has lived on campus for roughly four years. she was present at the time of the theft and expressed concerns about safety in the dorms.
“If [someone] can get in the dorms and go to any floor just to steal some tvs, who knows what else they could do?” Ellis said.
Immediately after the theft took place, Schoenwetter locked the campus doors and secured the third TV in a room in the residency hall. However, her main concern stemming from this event was the students.
“TVs are replaceable,” she said. “But my biggest worry was, what else could happen? Is everyone safe?”
In an e-mail to all residents, schoenwetter wrote, “This incident will undoubtedly bring up many questions. But I can assure you that security around campus has been strengthened and will remain as such.”
Prior to the incident, Dr. Eileen Schwalbach, president of Mount Mary, and other members of upper administration had discussed with Leshok whether the college should place security cameras throughout the campus.
While Leshok thinks the installation of cameras will help, he does not think they will completely prevent crime from happening on campus.
“Cameras are one tool,” Leshok said. “[But] there’s not one answer [to which] I’ll say, ‘This is going to stop all crime on your campus.’ Cameras are not the cure all, but it’s one tool in investigating these things and a possible deterrent.”
“Mainly, the people who live here have to be more aware,” Leshok continued. “We are an urban campus and there will be urban problems, even if we don’t see them every day, and we have to be aware that these things can actually happen at Mount Mary College.”
Another factor making the theft successful was the tvs had not been mounted to the wall. Schoenwetter had originally purchased three TVs with the approval from the Caroline Hall council in the summer of 2010 using funds from the residents’ annual activity fee.
The residence halls were being renovated at the time and the TVs were placed in the commons area. The council discussed whether it should pay an additional estimated cost of $100 plus labor to secure each tv, but it was not decided upon, according to Schoenwetter.
“Unfortunately, we were experiencing some turnover in the position of the associate dean of academic affairs right around that time,” Schoenwetter said. “Other incidents [took] priority. And unfortunately, what happened there was the money [didn’t] necessarily get lost … but there were miscommunications.”
Therefore, the TVs were not mounted to the wall as originally discussed by the Caroline Hall Council, so students were held accountable for the theft.
This is not the first incident of theft on campus. Thefts of computer mice, for instance, and vandalism of the residents’ computer labs have occurred consistently since and before schoenwetter began working at Mount Mary in July 2009. After keyboards began disappearing, the residents came to schoenwetter asking that the problem be dealt with.
At that time, Schoenwetter established a policy determining how stolen or damaged goods would be replaced. That policy is a contract that holds Caroline Hall residents financially responsible for the loss or damage of property to common public areas within the residence facility.
As a result of the contract, all 138 Caroline Hall residents have been held responsible for the theft of the TVs and have paid their portion of the restitution. If the culprits are caught and restitution is made, the students’ money will be refunded.
Schoenwetter feels the policy promotes leadership in the residents and encourages them to care for their community. Theft from and damage to the computer labs have stopped since the new policy was instated.
Kristin Poehls, a first-year Mount Mary resident who transferred from the university of Wisconsin-Green Bay, expressed frustration with being fined for the TVs because she had already vacated the dorm for winter break. The college requires Caroline Hall students to leave the dorm 24-hours after their last final exam. Poehls had finished classes and moved out on Tuesday. The theft occurred on Friday.
According to Schoenwetter, the residents remain under contract until the official start of winter break.
“I think it’s horrible that Mount Mary is going to the kindergarten mentality of ‘we have to punish the whole class to try and weed out the one,’” Poehls continued.“Shouldn’t [they] have insurance to cover this?”
Schoenwetter explained that the TVs were insured. But because the insurance deductible exceeded the cost of the stolen property, there was no insurance money available to replace the TVs. This meant that the fee charged to the students would be used to replace the stolen TVs.
Kristine Grabowski has lived on campus for two years. While she, too, is frustrated with the contract, she does understand the need for it.
“Even though I don’t like the policy, I’m not incredibly against it because the money has to come from somewhere,” Grabowski said.
Replacement tvs have been purchased and will be mounted to the wall for protection.