Vandalism in the residence halls represents a challenging issue on many university campuses. While we recognize that the vast majority of our students do not and would not vandalize, it unfortunately does occur and if left unaddressed and/or under addressed can easily create morale issues among staff members and negatively impact the opportunity to sustain a positive community environment for residents.
Within the past few years the staff at Gwynedd-Mercy University made the commitment to address the issue of vandalism in new ways for our campus. This came through the realization that there were several important stakeholders interested in this issue and each with a strong desire to curb vandalism. At first, potential solutions were varied and not necessarily embraced by each stakeholder. A decision was made to bring representatives of these groups together with the shared purpose of discussing the issue and researching best practices from other institutions. Members of the resident life staff, resident students, public safety, housekeeping and plant services embarked on regular meetings where the topic of vandalism was discussed as well as the results of inquiries made to other institutions. From these meetings we learned that many institutions shared our frustrations regarding vandalism and seemingly also wanting any solution we could find. What became most clear to us was that there likely exists no single solution for curbing vandalism but rather a combination of intentionally structured efforts that might prove most effective. As a group we determined our overarching shared mission.
It was agreed that our mission was to reduce the impact of vandalism in the residence halls through cooperation between resident students and staff to achieve a healthy and responsible community.
We also agreed that the most important item we could achieve was to change the culture of our staff and resident students to think differently about vandalism and to acknowledge it will take time, perhaps several years, to successfully make this change. We also acknowledged that it will be impossible to completely eliminate vandalism but very important to work with intention to reduce it. As a result our group developed six primary goals:
- Create a committee of key stakeholders to implement strategies in line with the goals and mission of this initiative
- Reduce vandalism
- Reduce the financial impact on students and the University
- Foster a greater sense of community and responsibility
- Gather and share best practice strategies with other institutions
- Establish best practice strategies and educate the University community
The Office of Resident Life takes ownership of the Vandalism is Preventable (VIP) Program through:
Resident Assistant Training – RAs go through training sessions on the impact of vandalism within the residence halls and their role in helping students understand the responsibility they have to each other and their community in regards to curbing vandalism on their floor and in their hall. In addition to the training on the VIP program each Residents Assistant and their floor assigned Housekeeping staff member are brought together to initiate a foundation for a closer working relationship expected of them throughout the year. The RAs include information in their first floor meeting agenda to educate their residents on the VIP Program. Resident Assistants also maintain a section of their bulletin board strictly for the VIP Program. Displayed on this bulletin board are the names of the VIP Drawing winners each month, the number to the Anonymous Tip Line through Public Safety & Security, as well as a tally sheet where the RAs keep track of how long their floor has remained vandalism free.
Rewards Program – The Office of Resident Life conducts monthly drawings to reward students who live on floors that have been vandalism free that month. One student per residence hall is chosen. Resident Life also conducts one Grand Prize drawing per semester for students who live on floors that have remained vandalism free that entire semester.
Specific Eligibility Requirements:
- Once a floor has been vandalized, that floor will be deemed ineligible for the remainder of the month.
- If a person or persons are found responsible for the vandalism prior to the drawing, then the rest of the floor will still be eligible to win a prize that month.
- Persons found responsible for an act of vandalism will be ineligible to participate in the monthly drawings for the remainder of the semester. They will regain eligibility at the beginning of the next semester.
- If a person or persons are found responsible for vandalism after the drawing, the rest of the floor will be eligible for future drawings.
- If there is common area damage that cannot be attributed to a specific floor, the entire building will be deemed ineligible for that drawing period.
- The only students that will be eligible for the Grand Prize drawing at the end of the semester will be students who’ve lived on a floor that’s been vandalism free for the entire semester.
When a student comes to the Office of Resident Life to claim their prize, they have the opportunity to have their photo taken to be displayed on digital signs throughout campus as well as on a bulletin board in the central office.
Professional Staff Responsibilities – The professional staff keeps track of any acts of vandalism through various efforts. Resident Directors perform daily building walk throughs to assess any issues. Professional Staff reviews the duty logs submitted by the Resident Assistants each night. Through consistent communication with Housekeeping, Plant Services , and Public Safety & Security staff, the Resident Life staff is able to track any vandalism within the residence halls constantly. These open lines of communication also allow all parties involved to manage any issues quickly and efficiently. Resident Life Professional staff also maintains a calendar which is updated any time vandalism occurs within the residence halls. The date, location, and description of the vandalism is recorded.
Public Safety and Security
The Public Safety and Security Department takes an active role in curbing vandalism through participating in morning and evening walk throughs of the residence halls. Upon any sign of damage, Officers report this information to Housekeeping, Plant Services and Resident Life. It is with intention that they are even more vigilant during peak nights on campus (ie. dances, concerts, other large campus events). In addition, Public Safety and Security monitors the banned list closely which helps prevent individuals who do not belong in the residence halls from entering. This is facilitated with greater opportunity for success as a result of the implementation of a one entry/one exit policy in the residence hall complexes. Finally, in the spirit of cooperation and problem solving the Public Safety and Security Department will monitor even more closely any areas of the residence halls where a spike in vandalism may be noticed.
The Housekeeping staff works closely with the Plant Services, Resident Life, and Public Safety & Security staff to report and resolve vandalism issues within the residence halls as quickly as possible. The housekeeping staff works to clean up any problem areas in the residence halls as quickly as possible or report any maintenance concerns to Plant Services for repair so that the impact on students in the community is kept to a minimum. The Housekeeping staff members maintain a presence on their floors and gain an in depth understanding of the culture on each floor for which they are responsible as well as build rapport with the students living on those floors. Being integrated as part of the community on a floor encourages the students to take pride in their environment as well as have more respect for the staff members who work to keep it clean.
Plant Services staff receive damage reports from Resident Life, Housekeeping and/or Public Safety and Security staff members. Over a period of time the leadership of this department has become increasingly receptive to the assertion that the timeliness of response for corrective action reduces the likelihood of additional vandalism. Our campus resources for such a response are limited and while at times this can be challenging to accomplish, when damages are addressed more quickly a reduction of on-going vandalism has been realized.
Assessment and Conclusion
Assessment findings along with anecdotal information inform us of success.(see data that follows). Through the cooperation and collaboration between these departments our residence halls have experienced a reduction of common area damage billing to students of 52% during year one of instituting the VIP Program, 73% reduction during year two and a 100 % reduction in year three. Staff directly involved in meeting with students who have been chosen as prize drawing winners also report a much higher degree of recognition on the part of students about the VIP Program during the second and third years of use.
This program along with other intentional efforts has likely contributed to an increase in our student satisfaction and learning self-reported outcomes. The annual EBI Resident Assessment results for the past two consecutive years show an increase in student satisfaction in the major factor areas of: Room and Floor Environment, Facilities, as well as Safety and Security. Likewise, there were also increases reported from this instrument on student learning in the major factor areas of: Fellow Residents are Tolerant, Fellow Residents are Respectful, Sense of Community, Personal Interactions, Manage Time, Study and Solve Problems, and Personal Growth.
Stakeholders have agreed to maintain regular meetings and believe their ongoing diligence and commitment to this effort will continue to raise awareness, reshape culture in a positive manner and result with an enduring sense of community and responsibility exhibited throughout the residence halls.
Submitted by Michelle Murray, Resident Director and Rick LaRosa, Director Resident Life, Gwynedd-Mercy University
In Collaboration with Cindy Braeunig, Resident Student, Dawn Wilson, Lead Housekeeper, Jim Meager, Public Safety Officer, Joe Moll, Director Plant Services