Thu. Nov 21st, 2019

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Open community space in Willard Hall raises concerns among Virginia Hall residents moving in January 2020

3 min read

The newly renovated Willard Hall includes a ground floor open to all UMW students (Emilia Michalkiewicz / The Blue & Gray Press)

By ERIN MATUCZINSKI

Staff Writer

With the move of Virginia Hall residents to Willard Hall approaching with the end of the semester, students are expressing their concerns for safety in their newly renovated building. Willard’s ground floor will be open to all students on campus, not just its residents, to be a “living and learning environment,” according to UMW police chief Michael Hall.

According to the UMW Police Department, there have been three sexual attacks in Virginia Hall within the last two months: two sexual batteries and one rape. One incident caused the building to be evacuated at 1 a.m. in order to search for the perpetrator.

With these events in mind, some students are troubled about the move to a building with an open ground floor. Most have not even heard a definite answer about the new building or the moving process.

“I am concerned, and the whole transition is very confusing. The whole hall has received very little information about living in Willard, the most formal information so far has been about the moving company,” said freshman Nina Sacco. “The only information I have heard about the ground floor situation has been from other students, but no formal information has been sent out, which makes the rumors about the new hall more concerning.”

The ground floor of Willard is set to be a shared-use building similar to the Link between Mason and Randolph. The space is designed to have places to study, relax or spend time with fellow classmates or hall mates. However, Hall said that safety is the top priority with these upcoming changes.

Students who do not reside in Willard will not have access to the residential area of the dorm and there will be sixteen cameras in varying places such as entrances, exits and common areas. Corridors and the rooms themselves will not have cameras in order to preserve privacy.

There will also be additional emergency blue light towers with cameras. Students are advised to lock their dorm doors behind them, even if they feel safe enough not to.

“You still have to treat it like an apartment,” said Hall. “Everyone has a responsibility for their own safety.”

Before the reports of sexual attacks, many students living in Virginia Hall said they were not locking their doors. This can pose problems not only with other students violating the honor code, but unwanted guests who find their way into the building before the front door is closed.

“At night when we were in the room we didn’t even think about locking the door,” said Sacco. “After the reports and evacuating at 1 a.m., we always lock the door before we fall asleep, and sometimes in the morning when I have class and my roommate is still asleep I lock the door when I leave.”

Now, with the news of the ground floor of Willard being open to all students, some currently residing in Virginia say that they will be more inclined to lock their door in the new building for their own safety. In addition to locking their own doors, students are encouraged to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the UMW Police Department.

“I don’t feel unsafe in Virginia Hall; I still feel just as safe as I did before the assault reports came in because I know the police are keeping an especially strict eye out for possible issues of the same nature,” said freshman Elizabeth Kondzella. “However, I think they should have Willard open only to students who reside there, or divide open campus study spaces from the residence areas so that the dorm rooms themselves are protected.”

With the move to Willard scheduled to take place before the spring 2020 semester, residents who have reservations have the opportunity to speak with Chief Hall or any other police officer to ease their anxieties.

“Give me the opportunity to address your concerns,” said Hall. “The hallmark of it all is communication. No information or misinformation is worse.”

Before the move takes place, Hall also advises students to communicate with one another and their resident assistants through hall meetings to ensure the continuation of top tier safety methods.

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