Conservatory Thefts Prompt Security Concerns


Patrick McBride

Conservatory students retrieve personal belongings from conservatory lockers.

After at least six thefts inside Conservatory practice rooms and lockers, Campus Safety will be increasing its security presence in the Conservatory complex with more rounds and potential additional security measures.

Over the past few weeks, at least four students returned to their practice spaces after brief intervals to find money taken from their wallets. Students also reported that their lockers, which often house personal belongings and instruments costing up to tens of thousands of dollars, had been broken into.

Campus Safety is not yet aware of who has been committing the thefts, though they will be taking additional security measures to dissuade the thieves, according to Conservatory Dean Andrea Kalyn.

“The safety and well-being of our students is a primary and fundamental concern — nothing is more important,” Kalyn wrote in an email to the Review. “Unfortunately, there have been six reported thefts of personal items (cash, keys, and backpacks) within the Conservatory complex since the beginning of the semester. While in each instance the stolen items had been left unattended, this activity is both disappointing and concerning. We are working with Campus Safety to ensure that we continue to have adequate security coverage in our Conservatory spaces, most especially in the evening hours and on weekends. In the hopes of [theft] prevention, we are also increasing our communication with students to remind them to keep their instruments and belongings close at hand and to not leave them unattended.”

Conservatory first-year Jihoon Chun stated that his locker was robbed Sept. 24 between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. Although most of its contents were untouched, about $200 in cash was stolen.

“I had been there an hour before,” Chun said. “I came back and checked my bag. Everything was there, but all my money was gone.”

Chun began storing valuables in his locker when he heard about robberies in student dorms.

Other students echoed Chun’s concerns regarding security in the Conservatory.

“I’m at a point in my life at which my instrument is my foreseeable future,” said Conservatory junior and cello performance major Andrew Johnson. “I cannot afford another one, and I think most of us in the Conservatory are in the same situation. The thought that somebody could take my instrument away from me if I left my practice room for a few minutes to get a snack or some music from my locker is incredibly scary. We pay enough in tuition for the Conservatory to find a way to keep our belongings safe if we have to leave our rooms for a short amount of time to do something as simple as go to the bathroom.”

Senior piano performance major Shaoming Yang shared a particularly frightening account.

“I believe I left for [15–20 minutes],” they said. “On my way back to the room, I saw my door [was] open, and a man was standing in the hallway and looking into my room … He said he is just looking for the restroom … I saw another man is in my room at this time. I said, ‘Hold on, I want to check my bag first.’ I opened my wallet and found all my cash was gone. The man who I saw later gave my money back and [apologized]. Then they left. [I notified Campus Safety].”

Conservatory juniors John Jihong Son and Wanwan Yang had all of their money stolen as well. Unlike other reported Conservatory thefts, Yang’s money was taken from Stull Recital Hall, a performance venue, in full view of a class. A man reportedly walked into the hall and claimed to be cleaning Yang’s belongings, all of which he put in the lost and found except for $300 cash. Campus Safety retrieved the empty wallet, which Yang received Oct. 4, two weeks after the theft.

These incidents are the latest in a string of campus thefts. Last week the Review reported the arrest of community member Que Freeman, 20, an Oberlin High School alum who was arrested after he was found in possession of numerous stolen goods, including two laptops, a credit card, a pair of Beats headphones, and various other electronic devices. Freeman, who was on the College’s no-trespass list, was caught on camera entering Harkness House, Langston Hall, and other buildings on campus.

The recent developments have left some students questioning how to best engage with community members.

“According to the policy, leaving the practice room is all my fault,” Jihong Son said. “But [the] school should have installed [closed-circuit television systems] somewhere, not just on the middle of each hallway, you know, maybe put more, like, each corner of the building. Now I’m kind of skeptical about if it’s really OK that school is open for any town people.”

Oberlin’s no-trespass list has caused controversy in the past, particularly in 2013 and 2014 when debate around the list was picked up by local and national press. In 2013, a series of protests launched under the One Town Campaign, a group formed to combat the College’s no-trespass list.

Around two or three Campus Safety officers patrol campus at a time; however, most of their time is spent responding to student calls and lockouts.

“We do our very best to patrol areas and maintain a presence across campus, and especially in the Conservatory, but we can’t restrict access to our facilities to just students,” said Mike Martinsen, director of Campus Safety. “We can’t be in every building all the time.”

Martinsen advised students to take preemptive precautions against thefts by locking their practice rooms and lockers and being mindful of their belongings.

“Oberlin students are very mature, hardworking, and dedicated to their work,” Martinsen said. “We rarely have any problems from our Conservatory students. We understand that it’s difficult, but we ask that you just take the time to lock your space and take the necessary precautions against people who do choose to prey on our students.”

Kalyn added that students should report their concerns to Campus Safety.

“I would encourage students to contact Campus Safety if they witness concerning behavior, to consult the bulletin board next to the SkyBar elevator for Clery security notices and a list of student support resources, and of course to be in touch with any of the [Conservatory] deans if they have questions or concerns relative to safety,” Kalyn said.