Bates College officials say they seek to reduce the number of potentially troublesome interactions between students and campus safety officers. Above: Hathorn Hall, the oldest building on the Lewiston campus. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Hoping to reduce the number of potentially troublesome interactions between Bates students and campus safety officers, college officials said they plan to rely more heavily on other staffers to respond to minor incidents, such a noise or alcohol complaints.

“We have created new, live-in positions” for some dormitories, Carl Steidel, the college’s senior associate dean of students, wrote late Monday in an email to students.

The new positions, according to Steidel, “will respond to many of the residential concerns and student support needs” that security officers have often handled in recent years, sometimes smoothly and other times in ways that have created friction with students.

The move is the first concrete response to a new, 20-page report about issues surrounding Bates College’s security department that also includes a wide variety of recommendations officials plan to consider alongside students in sessions likely to continue for months.

Bates hired investigator Sarah Worley this spring after students grew angry about a March incident at Rand Hall, where a white student wound up handcuffed in the wake of a minor noise complaint. It spurred complaints that officers treat Black students worse than white students.

The report issued late Monday included that “some of the tensions on campus have been the result of a blurring of lines between” the Department of Campus Safety’s protective duties and the college administration’s “over-reliance” on its officers “to enforce college rules and policies” that do not have a lot to do with keeping Bates safe.

“There is no quick fix here,” Worley wrote, and the long-term answer is for security personnel, students and college officials to develop greater trust.

The reforms urged by Worley include that campus security officers wear body cameras and receive more training. She said they ought to return to carrying batons to be effective in their most important function: keeping everyone safe.

Worley said in her interviews with many members of the Bates community, she heard about “difficult encounters and uncomfortable situations.”

“Taken as a whole, these narratives demonstrate some shared responsibility: There are instances in which student behavior has not been at its best and, similarly, there are occasions when Campus Safety has fallen short in performing its duties,” Worley said.

“To move forward in creating a better environment for all, both students and Campus Safety need to recognize and take responsibility for the events that have created tensions between them.”

Steidel said the new residential life positions, expected to be in place for the upcoming semester, are meant to serve students “when they most need support, including after-hours mental health concerns and residential conflicts.”

The report urged expansion of the residence life program “to include full-time, live-in residential staff” in some dormitories, adults who would be called residential advisers, senior advisers, hall advisers or residential deans.

Steidel said they would serve as resources for students and deal with situations beyond the scope of students who are placed in dormitories to help classmates. They would also work, when necessary, with campus safety officers, according to the report.

The new positions, advertised since early May and almost certainly in the works before Worley’s hiring, are akin to the dormitory monitors who were a regular part of life at Bates until they vanished about a half-century ago, during the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

The new residential staff positions appear to require a whole lot more than anyone expected in the past. It appears at least five residential life employees are expected to live in dormitory settings in the coming year.

They are expected to have expertise in dealing with everything from sexual misconduct to mental health, according to Bates officials, and address social justice and racial concerns, help student advisers, assist with conflict resolution and more.

In Worley’s report, it is clear a major source of problems is students’ illegal consumption of alcohol. She called it a complex issue.

As is, campus security is expected to enforce a policy requiring officers approach students drinking in dormitories and ask for identification cards to verify students’ ages.

That was the issue that spurred the March 5 altercation between an officer and a student who refused to produce the required identification, Worley said. The longtime officer’s decision to handcuff the student is part of the reason he was fired in the wake of the incident.

Students told Worley the presence of officers in dormitories is intrusive, but enforcing the college’s alcohol policy is part of their job.

Further, Worley said, “excessive consumption of alcohol creates situations in which students may make poor choices,” some of which necessitate the presence of security personnel.

“By the time Campus Safety is called to intervene, the situation may not lend itself to a thoughtful and respectful conversation,” Worley said, a situation where “individuals do not make the best choices.”

Officers “face escalating and sometimes dangerous circumstances in those moments,” Worley said.

Worley urged the college “clarify its policy regarding alcohol tolerance and enforcement,” putting the onus on the college itself “to determine its policy on the consumption of alcohol.”

She said the policy should be clear, “articulated in the student code of conduct” and campus safety manual and “enforced in a consistent and evenhanded manner.”

One of the problems Worley found is security officers told her they experience “a general lack of support from the Bates administration.”

First, they said, they get mixed messages about directives and priorities.

Second, they told Worley, they find themselves in “an environment of isolation,” told to carry out policies, but then finding themselves criticized for doing so when there is “resistance or pushback from students or faculty.” They said the lack of support is demoralizing.

Finally, they said, administrators have “no idea how bad things are on a Saturday night,” when officers routinely encounter belligerent, threatening and drunk students.

By the time those students are hauled before a dean, they are “sober and highly motivated to reframe the event” that got them into trouble, officers said, adding members of the college’s security staff do not receive the support they need.

Steidel said college officials will consider Worley’s recommendations and “decide which specific suggestions for change make sense for Bates, and determine how to move forward with implementation.”

He said a student group has already been convened to help evaluate the proposed changes and Bates’ “overall approach to nights and weekends on campus.”

The new residential life positions are expected to be in place for the fall semester, Steidel said, “but the work will not end there.”

“As we head into the fall semester,” he said, “we will pilot some new strategies and seek feedback on how things are working” from the student community.

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