More than four weeks have passed since Atwater Commons Residence Director Esther Thomas called Atwater suites residents into a meeting about consistent damage in their buildings, including urination in elevators and sign theft. And, while all of the signs stolen in October have since been returned and inappropriate urination across campus seems to have come to a halt, destruction of and disrespect for property at Middlebury is nowhere near over.
Masted signs — the large blue-metal placards on posts outside many buildings on campus — were knocked down by students in the past several weeks, most notably outside of the Robert A. Jones ’59 House and Carr Hall, according to facilities staff. Repairs for these signs will collectively cost between $400 and $600, as the bases of the posts must be re-welded. Students also tore down recycling and custodial signs in Atwater Hall B.
Wayne Hall, a facilities supervisor, has worked at the college for 25 years, and has seen the levels of damage over the years ebb and flow based on the populations of different campus buildings.
“I get youthful exuberance and accidents, but the malicious vandalism and disrespect, I don’t get how people can feel okay about that,” Hall said.
On Monday, Oct. 14, shortly after the Atwater community meeting and only five weeks into this year, the total residential damage cost for the year came out to about $2,500. This suggests a higher rate of damage this year in comparison with others, given that during 2018–19 school year there were $4,200 in damages for the whole year. During the 2017–18 school year there were only $2,700 in damages.
If destruction continues at this rate for the remainder of the school year, there could be an unprecedented $16,000 in residential hall damages. And, according to reporting from 2015, damages tend to pick up in the spring.
Hall and Custodial Supervisor Dan Celik spoke about the burden that deliberate damage places upon the custodial team, especially in a time of staff shortages.
“In the long run, [damages] are costing the college money. And with our staff reduction, I’d rather be fixing things that need to be fixed than fixing things that didn’t need to be broken,” Hall said.
Facilities has been suffering from staff shortages for years, but vacancies have peaked recently.
“I’ve been here for a long time and this is the first time that I remember having as many openings as we do,” an anonymous custodial staff member told The Campus last month.
When conducting fire safety checks, residential life and facilities will often find signs that have been stolen hanging on the walls of rooms and suites, like “trophies” according to Celik. The act of taking signs from the buildings in which people live for their own decor is particularly troubling to him.
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“You’re taking from your own community. You’re disfiguring your own building,” Celik said. “We pride ourselves on having a world class facility: not every place looks like this. And when it gets defaced it’s super frustrating. We do our best to make the bad places look good, keeping them clean.”
However, Celik noted, it’s not the so-called “bad places” — older buildings like Battell — where the damages primarily occur. It’s newer, nicer facilities like the Atwater suites.
Conversations about damage by students have often hinged on laying blame: if someone gets away with destruction without being caught — which is often the case — who should have to be responsible for the cost of repairs?
At the recent Atwater Community Meeting, students debated who should be charged for the $2,300 in damages that were originally to be divided among Atwater residents. Many argued that destruction in common spaces should not be charged to all residents, most of whom were not present at the time of damage or hosting the parties that brought in guests.
Thomas responded by imploring residents to set a tone in the building, and noting that they are broadly responsible for the space, even the communal spaces outside of their suites.
Celik and Hall echoed this sentiment. “We consider where you are now to be your home,” Hall said, referencing the way that students would likely behave in their own houses. He believes people are responsible for the buildings they live in and the behaviors of people who visit those spaces.
To students who have caused damage, either deliberately or accidentally, and want to avoid high fees for their entire building, facilities staff have a solution: fess up.
When a student comes forward about causing damage, the labor rate per hour is reduced from $59 to $39. When a specific student is not found to be responsible for damage, an entire hall or building will be charged the higher rate, but when responsible parties admit to destruction, they are individually charged at the lower rate.
While materials costs remain the same, facilities hopes to incentivize student honesty by reducing the labor fee in situations where students confess.
“I think if someone is honest enough to come forward and return the sign, we’re going to just fix the sign. We see that as an adult reaction. We’re not out to screw over the students, we just need to fix things,” Hall said.
Riley Board '22 is the Editor in Chief of The Campus. She previously served as a Managing Editor, News Editor, Arts & Academics Editor and writer.
She is majoring in Linguistics as an Independent Scholar and is an English minor on the Creative Writing Track.
Board has worked as a writer at Smithsonian Folklife Magazine and as a reporter for The Burlington Free Press. Currently, she is a 2021-2022 Kellogg Fellow working on her linguistics thesis. In her free time, you can find her roller skating in E-Lot or watching the same sitcoms over and over again.