Arson sparks fire safety frustrations

By Megan Lupo

The reinforcement of forgotten fire safety policies, following a recent arson incident, raised concerns among residents.

The catalyst for these recent clarifications was the event of an intentional fire set to a bulletin board in Switlik Hall on Oct. 13.

A training session was held by Residence Life the following Sunday to discuss what fire safety rules should be emphasized that weren’t before, as resident advisors prepare to conduct fire safety checks. The rules included the ban of battery-operated string lights, tapestries or flags being used as curtains, and dream catchers hanging on the wall.

According to Associate Dean for Residential Programs Roberta Butler, many questions were asked during this meeting about the confusion, as to why the policies are being enforced now, compared to the beginning of the year.

“[The meeting] was me saying, ‘I apologize that you got this information in training, but that’s not accurate. Here is what it is,’ and reminding the staff that it’s not about trying to get students in trouble,” Butler said. “It really is about creating a safe environment and safe community.”

The reasoning behind the late update was due to a lack of communication and a loss in translation due to updating The Source to The Student Code of Social Conduct.

Residence Life meets to revise The Source every March, and by the time August comes, people tend to forget or have other issues to discuss, Butler said.

According to Public Safety Coordinator Michael Yeh, “The university transitioned from a hard copy of The Source to online, and that occurred in a very compressed period of time. It’s not as easy as just saying, ‘Put this over there.’ So there was a little bit of a challenge, making sure that all the information got to be posted online. And I can tell you for a fact that there was some kind of miscommunication, as that transitioned.”

The reaction to this miscommunication led the Student Government Association to create a task force that focuses on providing knowledge and interpreting The Student Code of Social Conduct to answer students’ concerns, executive vice president Demiera Lockhart said.

“The ultimate goal of this task force is to work alongside Public Safety to advocate on behalf of the students,” Lockhart said. “It will insure students that their input is taken into consideration when it comes to decisions that they will be impacted by and to inform the general student body of pressing issues and changes.”

One of the more prominent debatable miscommunications is that The Student Code of Social Conduct has not translated over the prohibitence of all string lights, including battery- operated string lights.

“I get that [Residence Life] is trying to reinforce other policies that we’ve had but never enforced, but I feel that as community assistants, we should’ve been told that from the very beginning,” Conover community assistant Alyssa Bromke said. “We have been told that’s OK, and I don’t like in the middle of the year now they are trying to change that. I feel like they could’ve waited until next year to enforce it.”

Conover resident and freshman elementary education major Amanda Turner echoed that sentiment.

“I think it’s stupid because we have twinkle lights, and now we have to take them down,” she said. “Now our room is very boring. I think anything with batteries is fine. You never had anything with a battery explode.”

Batteries may not seem troublesome to students, but Yeh explained the decision behind banning all types of string lights.

“A lot of more inexpensive, neat things are produced overseas, and they don’t have the strict standards that the U.S. has when we manufacture things,” Yeh said. “We want to remove anything that might be that ignition source for a fire.”

The most recent arson incident, as well as previous Switlik arson incidents that happened earlier this year, brought policies into perspective for Residence Life.

“The other thing that also precipitated this was the situations that were happening in Switlik with the unknown person that is setting the bulletin boards on fire,” Butler said. “If we’re letting too many things slide because it’s not that big of a deal, then we really have neglected what we have signed up for by saying we are here to protect the safety and security of our students.”

Conover resident and freshman health sciences major Selina Govani disagreed.

“I do think it’s dumb that just because of the Switlik thing, they are making all these strict rules everywhere,” she said. “The fact that it’s just one person that’s causing all of these issues, they should just step up, so no one else has to go through any of this.”

Even though these sentiments were expressed in the residence halls, they haven’t been expressed to the Office of Residence Life.

Butler said, “[Student concern] hasn’t been extremely high, since we had the staff meeting on Sunday. I would say this week in total, we probably have gotten, at least people that I’ve actually spoken to, six or seven calls. To me, for a campus of 2,000 students, the volume could have been a lot higher, but I think that students get it. Either they don’t have them or they are like, ‘I don’t have string lights so that doesn’t really apply to me.’”

The harshness that students might feel by these rules comes with good intentions.

Yeh said, “It might be a little abrasive to students, but our job is to keep everybody safe. Nobody has been injured or killed on campus due to any type of a fire. We will always continue to revisit and look at things. We owe it to our students.”

As for updating The Student Code of Social Conduct, Butler said, “We’re working to submit a ticket with [the Office of Information Technologies] to at least update the one online, and that’ll be the most accurate one.”

Butler and Yeh emphasized that students can reach out to either Public Safety or Residence Life if they have any questions or concerns.

As for finding Switlik’s arson culprit, “Public Safety is working very aggressively with the Lawrence Township Police Department, and we update the Mercer County Prosecuter’s Office. This is something that is not going to go away just because we will look at every aspect of this,” Yeh said.

Butler added, “We’re trying to manage the safety and security for all of our students, and we are trying to mitigate any problems that could pop up. And we hope that there aren’t, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Students can reach Public Safety with their questions and concerns at 609-896-5029. Residence Life can be reached at 609-896-5102 or reslife@rider.edu.

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