This article is featured in the 2023 Homecoming special issue.
When a student first thinks of the Department of Safety and Security, they might recall a few key experiences: loud banging on a door, officers asking for IDs or parties being quickly broken up soon after they’ve started.
When asked about his perspective on DoSS, previously referred to as SNS, one word came to mind for Connor Federico-Grome ’27: “buzzkill.”
Federico-Grome said the the Class of 2027’s perspective of DoSS stems from their involvement in shutting down parties: Students may come across an officer at a dorm party who is answering a noise complaint, infiltrating the basement floor of the Fayerweather Halls, also known as the Fayesment, or forcing students back up the stairs into the boredom of their own rooms.
Outside of such events, however, students’ opinions of DoSS are shaped by small but impactful encounters. One might recall asking an officer for help when they’re locked outside of their room, or patroling an event like Fallapalooza to make sure students are safe.
Although these experiences often shape our perception of DoSS, the department plays a much larger role on campus behind the scenes. From service calls to facility checks, the department’s main goal is to protect members of the Dartmouth Community, according to DoSS director Keiselim Montás.
“Our services go from [helping] somebody who’s lost, somebody who’s new, somebody who’s visiting, somebody who’s locked out of their dorm or their office, somebody who fell and twisted their ankle, [responding in the event of] a fire … We take on so many calls,” he said.
Among its services is SafeRide, which currently offers students the ability to get a ride to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, if they are in need of medical attention. Prior to the pandemic, these services assisted students who felt unsafe walking alone; after the onset of the pandemic, Safety and Security no longer offered rides but instead had walking escorts, according to previous reporting by The Dartmouth.
Aside from SafeRides, Montás added that DoSS’s services also include, but are not limited to, recovering lost or stolen items, connecting people with maintenance to fix broken appliances and filing incident reports — which he believes go unnoticed by students, who often have a negative perception of DoSS. Some students only associate the department with busting parties.
Montás reflected on this perception, saying, “I don’t ever want our staff to think that their job is to go and bust people doing something wrong.”
The process of the department’s response to reports of partying or noise complaints follows a streamlined response plan. Once notified of an event or suspicious activity, officers are sent to the site and investigate.
“If we identify issues, we talk to the organizers, to the civil leaders, and we say ‘how can we help you to fix this?”’ Montás noted. Afterwards, DoSS will return in one to two hours and reassess the situation. If nothing has changed, the event is then shut down. The goal of DoSS, then, is to not interrupt fun, but instead to maintain the well-being of the Dartmouth community.
Another significant role of DoSS is that of checking registered events, such as those hosted by Greek Houses, and ensuring that they fall within certain guidelines. Milanne Berg ’24, a member of an gender-inclusive Greek space, reflected on the role of DoSS in Greek spaces.
“I think they have to go to every registered event and check in on it,” she said. “And usually, that goes fine. They just come in and talk to us [and] leave. They’re pretty chill with us. Other places, sometimes they’re a little more intense, but that’s just because of what’s happened prior in those spaces, so I understand that.”
Despite negative perceptions of DoSS, students still recognize a need for the department on campus. Federico-Grome reflected on the importance of safety, stating that “there are people who, this is their first time going out and doing all those things. There needs to be some type of safeguards in place to protect [them].”
While noting that students recognize the importance of keeping Dartmouth safe, Frederico-Grome added that DoSS is also seen as a barrier to community building and social events like parties.
For example, the presence of DoSS cars outside dorms or parties can often be disruptive to students who live there. This activity creates an uncomfortable environment, where students may feel apprehensive about going out or walking with friends, in fear of encountering a DoSS car or officer. Federico-Grome described the feeling he has when seeing a DoSS car outside of a dorm on an on-night.
“I always see [DoSS] cars driving around, and that can be a little bit eerie sometimes,” he said.
Berg shared a similar experience.
“If you’re just wandering around, it’s nice to have them,” she said. “But I remember beforehand, in the COVID era, they were scary. If you saw them, you are like, ‘Oh, God, what are you going to do?’”
For many ’24s, DoSS took on a very different role throughout their early college experience: that of breaking up social events to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or “[cracking] down on socializing,” as Berg put it. During COVID, students were expected to limit themselves to gatherings of nine people or less, unless pre-approved, which often interfered with the ability to hang out with friends.
“If you were too close, they would come and make you break up,” Berg said.
Part of the process to combat student misconceptions has involved a rebranding of the previous SNS to DoSS, its current title. According to Montás, the reason for the name change was largely due to the impression that SNS left on previous classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are the DoSS, the Department of Safety and Security,” Montás said. “I wanted to get us from the old mentality [the department had during the COVID-19 era]. I want to have no relationship with anything that is called SNS.”
Both Montás and student body vice president Kiara Ortiz ‘24 clarified the purpose of the recent rebranding in separating the department from any of the “negative aura” of pandemic-era security, as Ortiz put it. During the period of social distancing and restrictions on social events, the Department then known as SNS was often villainized in its enforcement role, so it became DOSS to redefine its reputation.
Berg added to this, noting that the pandemic truly impacted the Class of 2024’s view of Safety & Security.
“I feel like a lot of 24s still have that residual anger,” she said.
Although there are no longer COVID-19 restrictions for the number of attendees at an event, one constraint that students — particularly first-years — may be unaware of is the requirement to register any event with more than 10 people, according to Montás. This requirement is not listed on the department’s website.
Federico-Grome shared his opinion on the registration requirement.
“I could be having a very chill night sitting in someone’s dorm and there will be 12 people in there,” he said, adding, “That is not an event. We’re literally all sitting around, listening to Mountain Goats and Lizzy McAlpine.”
However, Federico-Grome also pointed out that sometimes “the conversations about [DoSS] have been more harmful than [DoSS] themselves.”
When some students paint DoSS in a negative light, it is no wonder that it is a struggle to recognize and acknowledge the important work of the department. Shouts of “SNS!” send students at parties running, when in reality, DoSS is not there to arrest or apprehend anyone — that is simply not their job.
Like most students, Federico-Grome has not had a direct encounter with DoSS, but he recalled being present when a party was broken up and following the swell of students out from a basement and into the street.
“And when that’s happening, I’m thinking to myself, like, I don’t know if [running away from DoSS] is that urgent,” Federico-Grome said. He added that if Dartmouth students began to shy away from stereotypes of DoSS, instead embracing the necessary role of the department on campus, perhaps there would be less negativity associated with it.
One way DoSS has worked to combat its negative reputation is through its involvement on campus aside from its role in parties. Ortiz described DoSS as “resourceful, in the sense that if a situation is happening, they are able to find a way to help mitigate it.”
Recently, DSG has worked with DoSS to make campus safer. Ortiz described the work of DSG with DoSS.
“If SafeRides didn’t work out, they provided SafeWalks, which is an alternative option for students,” she said, in reference to a student who may not necessarily want to be taken to the medical center, but instead need to be escorted to their dorm or another location.
Students can now choose to receive SafeWalks to and from Dartmouth locations. DoSS also contributed to adding more stops to the bus route, allowing students to more easily commute around campus.
Over the past four years, Ortiz has seen DoSS become “more communal” through interacting with students and sharing resources that would otherwise go unnoticed. These efforts have allowed students to become more aware and familiar with the department, with the hope of mitigating its negative perception.
Although these new programs may be beneficial, they also cannot have an impact on student perceptions of DoSS if students do not know what resources it provides. For example, when it comes to SafeRides and SafeWalks, many students may be worried about repercussions, particularly when it comes to underage drinking. Berg noted that students might be more comfortable with DoSS if they understood the programs better.
“One thing would be ensuring that people know that if you ask for a SafeWalk or a SafeRide home, you’re given immunity,” she said.
Despite these mixed emotions, Ortiz indicated that the department is still an overall net positive for Dartmouth’s campus.
“Do I think that there are improvements to be made? Yes, but I do think they are a good resource,” she said.
In the future, DSG hopes to build on its collaboration with DoSS.
“From our conversations with them, [they are] always willing to help students and find the best route for students, even though sometimes it might be hard,” Ortiz said.
“I think ultimately, we are also part of the educational process,” Montás said. Although the purpose of DoSS may be misunderstood by students, it is certainly a crucial campus resource that works to ensure the safety of all students.