As life at the University returns to some semblance of normal, students are becoming more aware of interactions with Public Safety (Psafe).
Walk down Fountain on a Saturday night and you’ll probably run into a couple of officers telling people to throw away their booze or turn down the music. Even though the role of Public Safety officers is to promote safety on campus, a lot of students have been frustrated by their presence, feeling that it is invasive and even worse, unsafe. A lot of this annoyance and confusion stems from a lack of clarity as to PSafe’s role and exactly what rules they are enforcing.
“I think sometimes rather than finding a problem to take care of, they just wander the campus,” Daniel Glickman ’25 said. “I’ve seen a few PSafe officers just walking around campus with a flashlight getting ready to talk to somebody.”
Liam Downey ’22 said that he feels PSafe’s role has definitely changed since his freshman year.
“I felt like freshman year they were in a role of keeping kids in a safe containment or understanding the relationship with the community and just kind of remaining on the outskirts and intervening when needed,” Downey said. “But it feels like now they’re really becoming a bit more invasive and unnecessarily proactive when it felt like initially senior houses and especially nowadays, yards and outdoor spaces, used to be fun places for people to hang out and now I feel like that ability is lost on us.”
Students have taken to YikYak, an anonymous posting forum in which users can view discussion threads within a 5-mile radius, to express their frustrations not only towards PSafe but also towards other students being quick to call PSafe on each other. YikYak has also been a place of humor in regards to the issue.
“This school is so weird, kids beg for a party then call psafe with a noise complaint smh,” one Yakker wrote.
Another Yakker pointed out that PSafe is a campus police force, and that calling PSafe goes against the widely-held belief across campus that the police should be defunded.
“Y’all say defund the police then call psafe with a noise complaint,” they wrote.
Another Yakker drew comparisons between meal points and disciplinary points.
“Thank you Psafe for giving me points, I only had meal swipes left,” the Yakker quipped.
Downey added that he felt students were genuinely committed to being COVID-19 aware through mostly gathering outdoors, and expressed that he felt frustrated when PSafe continually intervened during outdoor gatherings. If students were discouraged from gathering outdoors, he reasoned, that would lead to more indoor and therefore more unsafe situations.
“[Students] say, hey, let’s be outside, if we’re going to hang out, let’s do it outside,” Downey said. “And even now when you’re outside it feels like Public Safety is still there, still pushing people away and it seems a little overstepping in terms of CDC guidance, in terms of guidance from Tom McLarney, stuff like that, feels unnecessary.”
Downey also mentioned that there is a contradiction between regulations for University-sponsored events, like the Club Fair or orientation activities, and those for student-hosted social gatherings, which tend to be primarily targeted by PSafe.
Other students commented that problems with PSafe stem from their role as rule enforcement agents on campus. Glickman commented that there are more effective ways for PSafe to offer assistance to students and to ensure their security than the methods that they currently use.
“I think PSafe should be there to help instead of to force us to find help,” Glickman said. “They have…our best interests in their minds, but they’re also unbelievably intimidating.”
Director of Public Safety Scott Rohde said that the role of PSafe has changed since the pandemic in a way that has made PSafe’s presence more visible to students.
“Although we always had a role of enforcement, we certainly found ourselves having to talk to students much more, stopping and having conversations with groups of students who were just out walking, not doing anything more than being in violation with the COVID rules at that time,” Rohde said.
While PSafe officers are the most visible enforcers, Rohde explained the COVID-19 rules aren’t created by PSafe. They are guidelines made by the Pandemic Planning Committee, chaired by Dean of Students Rick Culliton, and the administration.
“None of these are PSafe regulations,” Rohde said. “This comes from the pandemic planning committee as an administrative-type rule, not a public safety mandate.”
Rohde stated, though, that the responsibility of enforcing COVID-19 rules lies mainly with Public Safety.
“As students came back, then we saw a need to be a part of enforcing distancing and masking rules to assure community safety,” Rohde said. “And while the general feeling was this was gonna be a[n] entire community responsibility, a lot of students felt uncomfortable taking that responsibility and called Public Safety.”
For Rohde, this was especially true during the night or on weekends, times when students are more eager to socialize and gather.
“I think certainly some professors and other staff all stepped up to handle [enforcing COVID rules] but during the evening hours and the weekends it was often Public Safety who were really the go-to people, if you will, for these types of situations,” Rhode said.
While it may seem that PSafe is mostly called for violations of COVID-19 guidelines, Rohde said that the majority of the reports are non-pandemic related.
“I would say…ballpark 20% or less of our work is COVID-related but it was much higher [before this year],” Rohde said.
Rohde acknowledged that this year presents a unique challenge: things aren’t back to normal completely, but enough rules have been relaxed that a semblance of freedom has been restored. This makes PSafe’s role more difficult, and tougher for students to understand.
“What we’re seeing is a little bit of a hybrid still out there where it’s not back to complete normalcy pre-COVID,” Rohde said. “So we still have some of these enforcement issues about occupancy numbers and that, but we are beginning to return to seeing more normal-type activities.”
Downey said that going forward, he thinks it would be helpful if the community was kept more up to date with the rules to prevent people from getting in trouble. He also suggested a more collaborative approach, in which students, PSafe, and the rest of the administration work together to create a safe plan.
“[I want] some honesty about what their expectations really are,” Downey said. “I think there’s a lack of information and communication from them about what they’re enforcing and why they’re enforcing certain things. COVID’s a big thing, so let’s keep everyone outside. And when you still have students outside and you’re still getting in trouble, it seems a little excessive and I think PSafe doesn’t understand that, ok, we’re getting guidance from seven different people saying seven different things. I think a more unified approach would be valuable there.”
Rohde explained that although he’s unsure what will happen with the spread of the Delta variant, he hopes that the relationship between PSafe and students can improve.
“We’re going to be returning to more preventive programming than enforcement-based programming,” Rohde said. “That really is our hope. We’re right in the process of change and it could go either way because of Delta, it could stay in this mode for a while or it could open up and we really would like to return to the typical relationship that we have with the Wesleyan community.”
The Argus reached out to Associate Director of Public Safety Tony Bostick and Lieutenant Sharon McLaurin for comment. Bostick deferred to Scott Rohde, and Lieutenant Sharon McLaurin did not respond.
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