Students steal signs, urinate in elevators and damage property

By RILEY BOARD

Broken bottles and trash in Atwater B, phalluses drawn in an elevator, ripped and stolen signs in Allen Hall, torn-down and broken emergency lights in Starr Hall, and urine in an elevator of Atwater B are just some of the deliberate damages done to residence halls by students so far this fall. Some significant property damage has occurred every weekend of this school year.

Urination in elevators, broken beer bottles in stairwells and ripped-off door signs in Atwater A and B, totaling more than $2,000 in damages, have prompted conversations about community respect, culture and responsibility among suite residents and staff.

We need folks to realize that Atwater is our house, that elevator is part of our house. How would you like it if someone peed in your room and left it there?”

— Daniel Celik, Custodial Supervisor

Facilities Supervisor Wayne Hall began noticing consistent and severe damages in the two upperclassman residence halls, well-known on campus as popular weekend-night social spots, during the first three weekends of the school year. Hall and Custodial Supervisor Daniel Celik, who oversees the buildings’ custodial staff, brought the damages to the attention of Atwater Commons Residence Director (CRD) Esther Thomas.

“This is our house,” Celik told The Campus. “This is our life. We’re here every day. We need folks to realize that Atwater is our house, that elevator is part of our house. How would you like it if someone peed in your room and left it there?” 

All seven of the signs stolen from Atwater A and B were anonymously returned early this week, some to public safety and some to the Atwater Commons office. Although emails sent to residents early last week suggested that all Atwater B residents would be charged for a portion of the estimated $2,300 in damages, the returning of the signs should reduce some of the costs, according to Facilities.

Thomas said that her office is “holding off on charges as we are still investigating.” 

To address the impacts of the damages on residents and staff, Thomas and public safety hosted a mandatory community meeting Thursday, Oct. 3. Only one resident of each of the 43 suites and singles was required to attend, but the room, which fits more than 60, was filled to capacity, with additional students standing in the back.

“My goal is to put everyone in one room to talk about our community, and how the things that are happening affect others, and how we can hold each other accountable,” Thomas said.

At the meeting, Thomas called upon Atwater residents, as upperclassmen, to set the tone for the building and the Middlebury social scene more generally.

“Atwater is becoming known as the space where you can come and mess things up with no consequences,” she said. “When upperclassmen set a tone, usually that tone sticks. Will this conversation eliminate all of the issues? No. But I don’t think damage like this will be repeated.”

Two days after the meeting, Atwater B residents noticed phallic images drawn in marker in an elevator and on a suite door. A resident tried to scrub the drawing from the door, but was unable to fully remove the image.

Weekend damages are not unique to Atwater. Although no destruction occurred in buildings A and B this weekend, other locations on campus sustained damages. In the stairwells of Starr Hall, vandals ripped down emergency lights that will now need to be replaced. In Allen Hall, a first-year dorm, they ripped four bathroom signs off the walls, totaling over $800 in damages for the costs of the signs, repairs and reinstallation. 

The same weekend the most serious damages were made in Atwater, custodial staff also found urine in an elevator in first-year dorm Hadley Hall.

At the meeting, Thomas encouraged students to be bolder in calling out peers they see engaging in destructive behavior. If they don’t feel comfortable doing so themselves, she said, they should call public safety. 

Public Safety Officer Bryan LeFave and Sergeant Robert Patten recounted at the meeting previous incidents of damage and violence in Atwater. Last year, a student dropped a fire extinguisher five stories down the center of an Atwater stairwell, an incident that would have caused a “certain fatality” had a student been struck, Patten said. Several years ago, a bottle was smashed over a student’s head during an Atwater party. 

“The reason we’re talking about getting [destruction] under control at this level is so that we can prevent things from escalating to a level that is tragic,” Patten said. 

The public safety officers suggested residents limit their parties to those over 21, to prevent open events from escalating.

Thomas also talked to students about the burden these damages place on custodial staff. Custodial Supervisor Celik said his staff wants students to understand that someone has to clean up after their messes, and that students should be more respectful. 

“It detracts from our morale over time,” he said. 

“If you’re home and your parents are gone and you’re having a party, you’re responsible for the space,” he added. 

Celik also emphasized the impact that defacing property has on other residents. 

“It’s not just disrespectful to our staff, but it’s also disrespectful to your fellow students,” he said. “People get in the elevator to use it and they have to stand in pee and touch the buttons. Nobody wants to do that.” 

Cleaning urine out of an elevator is not a simple or easy task: Custodial staff have to throw away the mops they use to clean urine because of sanitary issues; urine can seep beneath linoleum; the necessary cleaning products can eat away at the finish of the floor to cause general degradation; and the elevator will often smell of urine for days after being cleaned. 

“I feel that sometimes students forget that actual human beings clean up after them,” Emma Schoblocher ’20, an Atwater resident who was at the community meeting, told The Campus. “The amount of times that I have heard people on this campus say things like, ‘Ew, I don’t want to clean that vomit, the custodians will do it, it’s their job,’ is appalling. We need to show more gratitude for our custodial staff.” 

In a question and answer portion of the meeting, students also discussed whether specific suites might be responsible for bringing in the guests that cause property damage. Jules Struzyna ’19.5 suggested that athletic suites habitually throw events that result in destruction. 

“Male sports teams take up a certain space on this campus and create a specific culture — our building is colloquially known as ‘fratwater’ for a reason,” Struzyna said in an email to The Campus. “Fellow current residents have the responsibility to change that culture, otherwise they are tacitly approving of it, and the behaviors it deems appropriate.” 

Cross country team member Jack Litowitz ’20 responded to the accusation and Struzyna’s use of the phrase “dumb bro” at the meeting, noting that he knows many athletes who are respectful of their spaces and care about where they live and the people they live with. 

“I don’t think it is either productive or fair to make the sweeping generalization that somehow all athletes on campus are ‘dumb bros’,” he said. “While it is true that many teams do hold large social functions, so too do many other groups that live in Atwater, like clubs and even groups of friends.” 

In an email to The Campus, Litowitz commented that the issues “will not be solved through blind accusations, unfair stereotyping and hurtful language. Progress will only be achieved through calm and collected dialogue and an open mind.” 

Facilities Supervisor Wayne Hall and Custodial Supervisor Roger Norton said that when they’ve had issues with sports suites in the past, they have reached out to the athletic coaches, who then discuss behavior with the teams. 

“It’s about how it reflects back on the team,” Norton said. 

Property damage on campus is not a new phenomenon. According to a recent search of The Campus’ archives, a record-breaking $16,000 in damages was incurred in the fall of 2011. While a substantial portion of that cost was attributed to a fire in a Gifford Hall suite, college administrators also called for increased respect for staff and residential halls in the aftermath.

Managing Editor James Finn ’20.5 contributed reporting for this article. 

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