College Installs 145 New Security Cameras


Bryan Rubin

A security camera surveys campus from its perch above a Noah Hall entrance. The administration installed 145 new cameras on the entrances of dorms over the summer.

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

Students moving into dorms last weekend were greeted by a surprising sight: security cameras staring back in every residence hall entrance.

To administrators such as Vice President and Dean of Students Eric Estes, the new security cameras represent a continuation of the existing practice of installing cameras into entranceways as the College renovates different residence halls. Over the summer, the College put 145 cameras in dorms that had not been renovated recently.

To many students, however, the installation of the cameras without student consultation represents more than what Estes described as a “basic upgrade” in an email to the student body.

“I really think that the only thing that can make anyone pass off putting security cameras in front of a living home as a minor upgrade, or just in line with basic procedure, is the fact that they don’t live there,” said College junior and Student Senator Jordan Ecker. “It’s disturbing to me that administrators who don’t live there make a decision for the people who do live there without engaging meaningfully about whether those cameras should be there, and how they should be used.”

Safety and Security does not monitor cameras in real time “as a typical, day-to-day practice,” Estes wrote in an email to the Review. He also stressed that the cameras surveil dorm entrances but not indoor or outdoor spaces. The cameras are intended to help the College “during an incident and post-incident in terms of deterrence as well as response,” he said.

According to Marjorie Burton, director of Safety and Security, footage from security cameras can only be viewed by the director and the assistant director of Safety and Security. The footage is archived for about 30 days before being deleted.

For Ecker and other students, one of the most important unanswered question regards the conditions under which Safety and Security will access the footage.

“They should have strict triggering criteria for when they review security tapes, and that criteria should not include nonviolent crimes,” Ecker said.

While it’s not clear if the Oberlin administration has compiled the kind of detailed criteria that Ecker describes, Estes made it clear that the introduction of the cameras was about student safety, not enforcing rules or punishing students who might be using illicit substances in the footage.

“To be honest — and speaking for myself — my greatest priority is the safety of students,” Estes said. “Our approach to substance abuse has not changed and has always had a strong focus on individual responsibility and an emphasis on education and outreach.”

Deacon of Oberlin’s House of the Lord Fellowship and longtime WOBC host Meeko Israel said the influx of cameras caused “surprise and disappointment” among Oberlin residents.

“It doesn’t help the town and gown relationship at all,” Israel said. “The College has a great reputation and it has traditionally [had] a feeling of openness and not like you’re at a run of the mill campus where everything is highly controlled and policed. … It begs the question, why?”

Israel also expressed concern that increased surveillance could lead to overly vigorous policing.

“It will have the potential of having the ability of the police and/ or [Safety and Security] being able to now really micro-watch people and follow people on the campus with these cameras, which I think could open the door to arrests for petty things,” Israel said.