It's a chilly night in the middle of finals season. DAT student Olivia Weiss is running late for a recording session at Cogswell College. Coming straight from a performance that evening, she places her rehearsal bag in the back seat of her car in a rush. Olivia doesn’t usually leave her belongings exposed in the back seat. This bag, however, is bigger and doesn’t fit next to her in front. As she arrives at the campus, she parks between the school and the next door apartment complex, then heads to the studio to start working.
Finishing her session at 1:00AM (as campus closes), she walks to her car after a long day of hard work. As she approaches her vehicle, she notices something unusual and alarming – a figure digging through her trunk. Someone has broken into her car. He grabs multiple items from her trunk before shutting it with a loud thud. Realizing the impact this moment will have on her finals week, Olivia pleads with the robber to return her stolen items. The robber throws a stolen blanket and pillow at her, gets in his car, and speeds off.
Weis has become the latest victim in the string of thefts in the Cogswell parking lot last fall.
She runs back inside in a panic, yelling for help. Friends and classmates search for the robber, to no avail. Olivia has lost her computer, theater makeup, jewelry, and shoes for her next four performances. “I cried for days after,” Weis tells us. “I was completely stressed about school. I lost all of my work and notes for the semester because my computer stopped backing up a long time ago and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet.” Thankfully, Weis’s teachers have been understanding of her situation and granted her more time to submit her work. This, however, was not enough to give her peace of mind – she now has an overall sense of nervousness whenever she stays late at Cogswell.
Olivia Weiss is not the only student whose car was broken into in the Cogswell parking lot last year. One had his car broken into in the middle of Game Jam last fall, while another documented her break-in experience publicly on Facebook. An alumni had multiple game consoles stolen from his car. A Chronicle staffer lost car parts such as his headlights, side view mirrors, spare tire, and personal documents during a break-in. In the second week of the spring 2018 semester, a student's car was searched by a thief who shattered her window.
Weiss met with Dean of Students Brittany Bogle to report the incident. She also filed a report with the local police department. Because the incident happened a week before finals, she had to redo two of her final projects and most of her assignments.
The recent string of break-ins has made students feel unsafe in the Cogswell parking lot at night. DAA student Brianna Sierakowski is leery about parking on campus once it gets dark out. “I'll either move my car to the front of the school or park in front [initially, if I plan to stay late],” Sierakowski says. In response to this safety concern, many students began voicing requests for the school to take action by suggesting measures such as having a campus security guard, installing more lights in the parking lot, and installing monitored security cameras both in the parking lot and in the college. Lighting, according to DAT student Bradley Jardine, may be “the most simple, cost-efficient, and impactful change that would make the school parking lot much safer. It would deter crime and help make the students feel more comfortable walking to and from their cars in the dark.”
As robberies continue to happen right outside of Cogswell’s doors, safety inside the campus has also been questioned. Last semester, it was reported that an unknown individual had stolen a container of money from the Game Development Club. In a separate incident, an unknown perpetrator cut the wires on the Cogswell Engineering Society’s 3D Printer. Multiple students expressed their fear of the robbers in the parking lot making their way into the facility. There have also been reports of bikes being stolen on campus grounds.
“It didn’t help my stress and overall sense of nervousness whenever I stay late at the school now.”
In response to these incidents, Cogswell CFO and Senior VP of Operations Kenneth Banks issued the following statement to the Chronicle: “Given the increase of reported car break-ins and bike thefts on and around the Cogswell campus, the administration has revisited the idea of hiring a professional security company. We are contacting security firms to determine scope and timeline. Our goal is to have additional security, which will patrol the campus and parking lots, in place by March 1, 2018.”
Banks also shares that these plans will be enacted in hopes that they will serve as a deterrent and minimize the frequency of such incidents. In addition to the school seeking increased measures to promote security, he also encourages students to remove all valuables from their vehicles when parking on campus. “One thing that all break-ins had in common was that personal items were visible from the exterior of the vehicle,” Banks says. “We [also] encourage all students to move their cars off campus when the college closes at 1am. The Safety and Emergency Response Committee will provide students with additional resources and tips, via poster and email campaigns, that support personal safety. While we hope that no acts of theft or property damage take place, we do ask that students take reasonable measures to minimize the risk of this occurring.”
Weeks after the incident, Weis reflects on her experience that evening: “I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last person this will happen to… It was scary to walk out and actually see it happen and be powerless to [stop] it, but I can only grow from this.” Though the recent break-ins have made many students feel unsafe, Weis believes that they have also made Cogswell students more aware and cautious. Most of all, she believes that they have brought students together against the threat, seeing how her fellow students responded immediately after the incident: “Everyone who helped me after [the incident] was great. Even people I didn’t know helped me call the police and went out looking for the car. I learned that people at Cogswell are awesome when it comes down to a bad situation.”