Julia Balter, ’17, had just returned from a concert in 2013 when one of her friends walked into the room and told her that there was a strange man in their building. She brushed off the information, assuming her friend was playing around, and headed into one of the nearby women’s bathrooms.
Then, from behind her, she heard the click of a stall lock.
She looked over and saw a navy blue jacket, men’s sneakers sticking out from the stall and an eye peering out at her.
This was not the first time — or the last time — that the man, dubbed “creepy man,” would be seen in Lehigh residence halls, specifically those in Lower Cents.
Although the man never hurt anyone, this points to a larger issue within Lehigh’s lack of security on the campus premises.
Other universities have security guards placed at entrances to ensure that nobody without a student ID is let into the building unless accompanied and verified by a resident.
This issue was also raised when Philadelphia-area universities increased campus security in response to an online threat of violence on Oct. 4. The Lehigh University Police Department increased patrols and presence on and around campus as a precautionary measure.
A different approach was taken at Drexel University, which elevated security measures by not only increasing patrols, but also requiring all persons to show identification before entering campus buildings. When operating under regular circumstances, Drexel still has security residence hall main entrances staffed 24/7. Late at night, building access is monitored by uniformed Public Safety security officers, according to Drexel’s Public Safety website.
Even after incidents such as the unknown man in Lower Cents or the alleged sexual assault on Aug. 23 at an on-campus residential facility, Lehigh does not have check-in desks or entrance monitors. Students are free to come and go as long as they have an ID that has swipe access to the particular building. As evidenced by previous incidents, it is not impossible for unauthorized people to enter residence halls if they wish.
According to Ozzie Breiner, director of Residential Services, there are two main reasons as to why there are not security guards or further identification needed at Lehigh residence hall entrances.
First, the layout of Lehigh’s residential buildings are different from those at most schools.
“Where some people have three towers that house 1,000 people per building, we have 40 plus buildings, with students in all of them,” Breiner said.
The number of locations in which students are living, combined with the amount of entrances and exits that these buildings have, would make it difficult to monitor each door, according to Breiner. This is why Lehigh has opted for the necessary swipe to access a building and the alarms that are enabled 24/7 to assure nobody can enter the building in behind a student who has already swiped in.
The second reason for the lack of checkpoints and overnight guest sign ins, is the effect on student’s independence. This is where a student’s responsibility and maturity should come into play.
“We treat our residents as mature individuals who can have a guest at their discretion,” Breiner said.
The unknown man was able to take advantage of the close-knit community of students who assumed that they were doing a favor for one of their fellow hall mates who might have forgotten their ID.
“People just kept letting him in, a lot of the time people would ask who he was looking for and he would say ‘Jessica’ or ‘Samantha,’” Balter said.
After several incidents, including a girl finding the man at the foot of her bed and students seeing him in their laundry room and various other interactions in hallways, meetings were called to address the issue and eventually the police became involved.
Even in light of situations like this, there are opposing opinions among students as to whether Lehigh needs to bump up its security, specifically in lower campus areas such as Lower Cents, or if the students just need to become more aware.
Colby Berman, ’17, was also a residence of Lower Cents at the time of the incident.
“It more falls on the students,” Berman said. “This was a series of students being stupid and letting someone in when they knew he wasn’t in a dorm.”
Though in this particular situation the students proved to be a big source of the problem, some still believe that some type of security presence in the lower campus area would be beneficial.
“I think most of the problems come from the area right off campus, there should be something down there,” Balter said. “Maybe there should be security instead of police who are there all the time.”