Vandalism in Ham Center poses safety concerns

In response to a string of vandalism, Hamilton “Ham” Center was closed during the early mornings over fall break. Numerous discussions among the Dean of Student Affairs Tracy Murray, campus police and the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) led to the closing of Ham, which, at the time, was seen as the most viable option in an effort to keep students safe.

Ham was closed at 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings and at 1 a.m. on weekday mornings. It reopened at 8 a.m. each day.

Three different incidents led to this preventative action, two of which occurred within the first three weeks of school. According to Murray, they were seen as “isolated incidents.”

However on Oct. 6 a more pressing act of vandalism was reported to campus police. The report filed noted that “compost material and fecal matter” was found on the floor in Ham. A burned newspaper was found in a trash can. In the men’s bathroom a “paper towel dispenser was knocked off the wall and broken.” A 32-gallon trash bin was missing as well.

According to Murray, this incident was reflective of some of the earlier incidents. However due to the obvious safety and health concerns, Murray and the NCSA decided to take action.

“Let’s say if a pool table had been damaged or somebody had spray painted something on the wall, maybe our reaction would have been something different,” Murray said. “The discussion I had with campus police and student government might have been something different. I always treat this as a safety issue and as a health issue. It was not vandalism in and of itself that was concerning to me, it was the type of vandalism.”

Chief Officer Michael Kessie emphasized that the locking of Ham by campus police was in response to a request from Murray and NCSA.

“I don’t have a preference,” Kessie said in regards to closing Ham.

It is currently unknown who committed the act of vandalism. Kessie asserted that the acts could have been committed by a student, guest or someone from off campus.

“We’ve found it’s normally not one of our students,” Kessie said about past vandalism.

He remarked that the New College community does not condone damage, and he seems to be right. A number of students reached out online to discuss how the reported events were unacceptable. Murray thinks it is unlikely that another act of vandalism of that kind will occur due to the “public shaming by students.”

Ham is no longer being locked in the mornings. According to Murray, everyone involved agreed that closing Ham was only a temporary measure to keep students safe.

Murray, Kessie and the NCSA understand that Ham is a student resource. Numerous students study in Ham in the early morning. Murray has received a few emails from students discussing why they like Ham’s late-night and would prefer to see it stay.

“I’m here pretty much every night,” second-year Austin Richardson said during a late-night Ham interview. “I would say a fair amount of people are normally here.”

Currently two options are being seriously considered for Ham. Others have been proposed but have been deemed less feasible.

The first is to spend more time educating students on respecting community spaces. Ham would be treated like the lounges in the residence halls.

“Student government and I have been talking about whether that is something that we want to explore,” Murray said. “Just say that this is a common area and when a common area is damaged here’s how we determine whether we call somebody in and here’s who pays for it.”

The second option is installing security cameras looking at the entrances and exits of Ham. Currently the cost of implementing this is being reviewed.

Originally Murray was looking to form a student group to address the situation. Only two students responded to his e-mail on the topic, however.  The installation of security cameras is a popular solution with the NCSA and campus police. Since this is the case, Murray believes that the student group may not be formed until after the new measures are put in place for Ham, due to the fact that it may take months for the student group to reach a decision.

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