NYU RAs demand better response to dorm security failures

There is a “clear and present” risk of danger at NYU dorms, according to a group of RAs who have signed a petition asking for additional training, revised protocols and better communication.


Samson Tu

File photo: Coral Tower, an NYU residence hall, is located at the northeast corner of the intersection between East 14th Street and Third Avenue. (Samson Tu for WSN)

Nikki Mirala, Staff Writer

Resident assistants working at NYU dorms are demanding a response from the university to a series of demands alleging that little has been done in response to recent lapses in dorm security. A group of RAs who have signed a petition are demanding that NYU provide them additional security training, commit to prompt communication deadlines in the event of an incident, and end a “gag order” policy that has prevented them from speaking to the media.

Last year, NYU saw a number of incidents in which trespassers were able to evade dorm security and enter dorm facilities, going as far as to enter student rooms while they were asleep. Four intruders were reported at Coral Tower, Alumni Hall, Third Avenue North and Lafayette Hall in November alone. Weeks afterward, President Andrew Hamilton ordered a review of dorm security that resulted in security upgrades, including an increased security presence and the installation of additional surveillance cameras in residential buildings on campus. Several RAs said they have been at the forefront of these dangerous situations without receiving necessary training or compensation.

Each year at NYU, over 250 students are selected as RAs and assigned to live and work in one the university’s 20 undergraduate residence halls. They manage a range of responsibilities, including resolving conflicts between residents, organizing programming, documenting policy violations, being on call for overnight incidents, responding to emergencies before a professional response team arrives on site, patrolling hallways and working in the mailroom or resource center.

The student employees receive free housing and dining, but do not receive wages for their work as RAs or for the office shifts they are scheduled for. They are also prohibited from speaking to the media without prior permission and oversight from their supervisor and the university Public Affairs office. Some have expressed concerns about being able to ask questions or speak publicly about their working conditions, including compensation, training and personal safety.

According to the petition that lists the demands of the student employees, residence halls are currently unprepared to address intrusions. Signatories are skeptical about whether the administration intends to address their concerns about a lack of adequate training in responding to security incidents, compensation and student safety measures. Training for RAs takes place two weeks before the fall semester begins and two full days before the spring semester.

Signatories of the petition demanded that residence hall staff inform them of intrusion incidents in a timely manner with stipulated deadlines, which RAs allege has not happened during past incidents. They also ask that the university involve them in future safety training, and rescind the policy preventing them from speaking publicly.

NYU spokesperson John Beckman said that the Office of Residential Life and Housing Services, which manages student housing on campus, is willing to cooperate with RAs on the issues presented, but that administrators were previously unaware of the issues raised by the petition.

“I’ve spoken to my colleagues in Res Life and Student Affairs, and they tell me that they are puzzled: Despite there being ample opportunities to flag and discuss issues such as those contained in the petition, they have not heard of these issues being surfaced or inquired about, nor were they previously acquainted with the petition,” Beckman said.

Fountain Walker, the head of the Campus Safety department, said that his office had already undergone an internal safety review, which RAs were included in. The intrusion response protocol written by Residential Life and Housing Staff will also be reviewed during upcoming meetings with RAs, he noted.

Walker said Campus Safety has nothing to do with the petition, despite the fact that the document specifically addresses the department.

“This is a matter citing concerns that Campus Safety is not directly responsible for,” Walker said. “We are speaking with the Dean of Students about specifically adding an RA rep to the committee or working group.”

Contact Nikki Mirala at [email protected].