If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself

by Jason Spitainick | 11/24/98 6:00am

Last week, I received an e-mail from Erica, one of my best friends who is a freshman at Amherst College. I hadn't heard from her in a while, though I didn't really expect that anything was wrong. I found out in her letter, though, that something terrible had happened. Her letter roughly coincided with the surge of discussion about campus security and locking dorm doors. I realized, pondering over what had happened to Erica, that if you want something done right, do it yourself. Locking the outside doors is a nuisance and isn't even very effective; locking your own door, on the other hand, is a virtually foolproof measure to ensure the security of your personal possessions.

Erica lives in a typical freshman triple at Amherst. Her two roommates, Carrie and Julie, happened also to be her two best friends. A few weeks into the term, Erica thought that she'd misplaced her credit card. It turned up within a few hours, though, so she thought nothing of it. Some days later, she noticed that she was missing some cash. She told Julie, who said that she, too, had had some money taken. The two, along with Carrie, resolved to be more careful about locking the door when they left the room. Nevertheless, after returning from a weekend at home, Erica realized that a few of her shirts and a pair of shoes were missing. She was concerned and reported the incident to campus security. They said there was little they could do and that she should be very careful about keeping her door locked at all times. Things seemed to improve briefly, until Erica got her credit card and phone bills. Her credit card bill had on it purchases she had not made. However, they were made in between ones she did make, signaling to her that someone had been removing the card from her wallet and then putting it back. Her phone bill indicated that her service had been disconnected because she'd exceeded the $300 spending limit. She looked carefully at the calls and discovered that they'd been made to Julie's friends and family. She confronted Julie, who called the campus phone service and asked if it was at all possible that her calls had accidentally been billed to Erica's pin number; they said that it couldn't happen. Julie said she had no idea how it had happened, but she offered to pay the money to Erica and to check her bill to make sure that nothing was wrong. When Erica's mother heard about all of the strange happenings, she took the credit card bill up to Amherst to show Erica. When Erica saw the bill, she was shocked; though the signatures were made in her name, they were penned in the hand of her roommate, Julie. She immediately reported the events as a whole to campus security, which started an investigation. Within days, Julie confessed to the theft, from Erica, of over $850. Julie has an upcoming hearing; Erica tells me that if she's not expelled, she'll surely transfer. For now, she's been put in a single room and was forced to move out of the room under the supervision of security officers and deans.

Amherst, Mass., where Amherst is located, is not very different than Hanover. As a town, it is quite dependent on the colleges in and around it. It is not near any major urban area and security on campus is not considered a major problem. At Amherst, the outside doors to the dorms are locked around the clock. That didn't help Erica. In her case, as can be the case anywhere, the thief already had the key. Everyone here has valuable items in his or her room. Personally, I have my computer, stereo and phone, as well as items valuable for reasons other than their monetary value. I completely trust my roommates; I couldn't live in a dorm situation if I didn't. We all lock the door each and every time we leave the room, as well as before we go to sleep. We can't trust anyone else here, but we can at least be comfortable knowing that we take measures to protect each other's belongings. To me, the message is clear. Locking the outside doors won't do much at all, aside from making me take out me key twice to get into my room. To get into a dorm here even during a locked-door weekend all you have to do is wait a few minutes until someone with a key walks by. However, you and your roommates are the only people who have the key to your room and access to the items within it. If you take matters into your own hands and are careful about keeping your door locked, those possessions will be safe.