April 14, 2023 | NEWS | By Michael Braithwaite, Co-Editor-In-Chief
Content Warning: mentions of sexual harassment.
On Monday, Jan. 16, the start of Colorado College’s January Half Block, two individuals walked into Barnes Science Center. These individuals, unaffiliated with the CC community, were engaged in some sort of verbal altercation with one another, an altercation which made its way up to the third floor of the building.
According to email accounts from witnesses inside the building, as the individuals climbed to the third floor, they began to terrorize staff and faculty who were working in the building.
“When I approached the atrium on the 3rd floor this individual had people trapped in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Staff Assistant office,” reads the firsthand account of a staff member in an email sent that afternoon. “When he noticed me, he disengaged with the door and engaged with me. Most of what he said was incoherent but several times he did put his hands in his pants and indicated that he was looking to ‘get off’ in much more crass terms.”
The staff member called the college’s campus safety office, who, upon arrival, escorted the individual out of the building. After hearing the experiences of those who were involved with the incident, college administrators made the decision to restrict access to the building throughout the rest of the Half Block solely to members of the college community.
However, the incident left staff and faculty members in the building terrified, with many wondering the same question: how is this possible? In a world where more and more schools are falling victim to violent mass shootings, including 14 such tragic events so far in 2023, why are we welcoming strangers into our academic buildings, unattended?
Last summer, CC returned to its pre-pandemic door access policy. As a result, Tutt Library, Shove Chapel, Ed Robson Arena, Cutler Hall, and El Pomar Sports Center, as well as all the academic buildings, were now open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. According to director of campus safety Cathy Buckley, this decision was made with the idea of the buildings being utilized as a resource not only for the campus community but for the Colorado Springs community as well.
“We looked at ‘how do we be that community resource,’ and balance, because it is always a balance, between being completely open … or using card key access to our best benefit,” said Buckley. “This is definitely a very sensitive community topic. But, as a college, one of the things we do is that we are very forward facing, and we are a community resource.”
Ideally, Buckley noted, members of the Colorado Springs community would use the buildings, as well as staff and faculty within, as a means to have any academic questions answered, to learn about relevant or interesting information, or just to gain a better understanding about the college community in general.
However, not all staff and faculty supported this shift back to pre-pandemic policy and the community-facing mindset. Email records obtained by The Catalyst date correspondence with the campus administration about this issue as far back as July 11, just five days after Campus Safety announced the new policy.
Within the emails, staff and faculty within natural sciences departments outline their concerns with the college choosing to return to this policy, discussing not only the possible security risk of having these buildings open to anyone who walks by, but also the fact that they can house expensive equipment, chemicals, and delicate scientific experiments.
“What people should have access into the science buildings who do not have gold cards?” wrote one faculty member. “Delivery people, for instance, have been making deliveries by appointment and calling for two years. We legit don’t know who the college is hoping to welcome with this open-door policy.”
“Virtually all [President’s] Cabinet members have receptionists and/or administrative assistants who could push an emergency phone button before someone enters their office. Some have lockable inner suites,” wrote another faculty member. “Virtually no other departments on campus have such setups. My department… has no barrier from someone going from the sidewalk to walking into faculty offices – no outer door lock, no hallway lock, no suite lock, no department lock, no receptionist.”
In response, campus administrators defended the college’s decision to keep the natural science buildings accessible to the public. Administrators also noted that doors along busy public routes, such as the entrances to Barnes along Nevada Avenue, will remain only accessible to individuals bearing a Gold Card ID.
“Admittedly we do live and work in a world which offers many challenges,” wrote one administrator. “The college has decided upon a balance for building access. Part of this includes going back to pre-pandemic practices.”
Another administrator went into more detail on the considerations behind allowing academic buildings to be accessible to the general public.
“One could consider; what is our role as a college and as a civic institution?” one administrator wrote, “Might it be ok for folks to wander into the lobby? Might it be ok for someone to seek shelter on a 90-degree day or when there is a blizzard (as happened a few months ago?) Or maybe it is simply someone who was wondering “so what’s this Colorado College thing” who walks in, and then walks out. Maybe we don’t need a reason to be somewhere.”
Campus Safety made the decision in late February to close public access to academic buildings over college breaks and the summer session, but the buildings still remain open during daytime hours. Despite this recent decision, some staff and faculty are still not satisfied with the buildings remaining open during the daytime.
“I’ve read what’s come from the campus that’s been like ‘you know, we want to be a welcoming campus,’ and it’s not that I don’t want to be welcoming, but I think we have to weigh these things,” said Kristine Lang, professor and chair of the Physics Department. “Do we want to just let anybody walk into our classrooms? Is that what we mean by welcoming? Do we have public restrooms that anybody walking by can use, even if somebody might be in there alone?
The Jan. 11 incident in Barnes was not the first time Lang had seen an unwanted individual make their presence known within the building. Just a few years prior, the professor had an individual come into her classroom with a backpack on and refuse to leave, even after multiple requests by Lang for him to do so.
“His clear perception was that he was [allowed to be there] because he could just walk into these buildings,” said Lang. “It turns out he wasn’t dangerous, and he didn’t have a gun in his backpack, but it sure freaked me out. I came down to my office and I was shaking, like literally shaking, because what are you going to do [in that scenario]?”
While understanding the certain uncomfortable situations that could arise as a result of keeping the doors unlocked, Buckley also noted that locked doors do not always guarantee safety – in the tragic mass shooting in Nashville on March 27, the assailant used a firearm gain access to the building. Moreover, Buckley also mentioned that eliminating the public accessibility of the buildings may not even stop the threat of such an instance taking place at CC.
“For the most part, the violent threats that we are concerned about, and that we see in society, come from the inside,” said Buckley. “That’s where, as a campus, we have really embraced the wellness piece in the last year, and we’ve really talked about how we do that work, knowing that students, staff, and faculty have been impacted. That’s where with that concern that the threat is going to come from someone inside, that we have to be those caretakers for campus.”
Despite potential security risks coming from within, the public-facing nature of the buildings still troubles the staff and faculty within them, some of whom are still reeling from the incident in January.
“We hear a lot about shootings that happen in schools and even in our [city],” said Lang. “It seems very present, like it could happen here.”