“It was just kind of eerie … The worst part of it is we don’t even know how long he was standing there [looking in the window] before he knocked on the door.”
That was senior Natalie Schiano’s reaction to an incident that occurred at the sorority cottages in the beginning of January.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, around 11 p.m., six members of the Delta Delta Delta Sorority, including Schiano and former president Louise Howorth, were in their cottage working on decorations for the upcoming week of recruitment. It was then that a man knocked on the door insisting he needed help.
Schiano said Howorth had acted quickly and calmly, as she moved everybody into a back room of the cottage and called the University Police Department.
Schiano and Howorth both said they did not believe the man had been a student, or that he had genuinely needed help. Howorth said URPD arrived within five minutes, but the man had already vanished.
The encounter was a reminder to her and others that campus is not as isolated from the outside world as it can feel, Howorth said.
“Nothing like that has ever happened to me on the Richmond campus,” she said. “I think you’re lulled into this sense of security, and then you realize that actually, that gravel car park [next to the cottages and Westhampton Hall] goes back, and then that’s not campus anymore — anyone can walk through it.”
Howorth and Schiano both expressed that they were thankful nothing bad had happened that night. However, other students have not been so lucky.
Since the beginning of the spring semester, there have been 130 crimes reported on campus, according to the University of Richmond crime log. Although some of these are incidents such as liquor-law violations, or knocked-down exit signs in Marsh Hall, others are more serious.
This semester three cars have been broken into, according to the crime log. From one car, a firearm and ammunition were taken; from another, a purse, wallet and identification.
Multiple people in apartments and dorm rooms have been victims of theft as well. From one apartment, jewelry, purses, money, wallets, makeup and clothes were all stolen.
Although many of these cases are still open investigations, URPD does its best to catch the perpetrators. One successful case was that of a male senior whose apartment was broken into last semester, who asked to not be named.
Before the beginning of the fall semester, a group of students had moved their belongings into their apartment, then left for a few days for an event. They did not realize that their back door had been unlocked when they left, and when they returned, a large piece of wall decor was missing, the senior said.
The crime was committed by a student who had been intoxicated, and had been checking every door on the block to see whether any were open, the unnamed source said. Eventually, the students who lived in the apartment discovered who had committed the crime, and reported it to the detective assigned to their case.
Although he said he still felt safe on campus after the incident, the senior said it bothered him that a stranger had been in his home.
“I know the girls I live with felt a little more unsafe after that,” he said. “Understandably, just to think that someone we didn’t know was walking around in our home.”
Because the crime was committed by another senior with a clean record, the victims decided to reduce the charges from felonies to misdemeanors.
“With him being a student, a senior trying to get a job, and he’s never done anything bad before, it just felt like kind of a dick move," the first senior said. "We could’ve essentially prevented him from getting a job, and I did not want to do that. That felt really mean."
He said he would not have been so understanding, however, if the crime had been committed by someone outside of the university. He thinks people react differently to crimes committed by students versus crimes committed by people outside of the UR community, he said.
The senior added that, although the people in his apartment consistently lock their door, he did not believe that students on campus practiced adequate safety measures or could be convinced to lock their doors more consistently.
Despite timely warnings that raise awareness of campus crimes, some students still do not feel the need to lock their doors.
A different senior who lives in UFA and asked not to be named said the people in his apartment never locked their door. He explained that it was partly because they felt safe on campus, and partly because it was inconvenient to have to constantly remember to carry their keys with them when leaving the apartment.
“I’m the type of person to leave my stuff in the library, go to D-hall, go to 8:15 or whatever and not be worried about that,” he said. “Same thing with my apartment as well. I never feel unsafe.”
URPD is always trying to find new ways to ensure that students both are safe and feel safe on campus.
For the past few years, URPD has been using and encouraging students to use the LiveSafe app. The app is a collaborative effort between URPD and the Office of Student Development.
Assistant Chief of Police Beth Simonds said the app allowed students to track their friends, submit anonymous tips to the police and request help in emergency situations.
“We try to be as transparent as we can be,” Simonds said. “We want people to have information. We want them to know what’s going on on campus so they can take steps for their own safety.”
One thing that some students can agree upon is that URPD members are helpful and comforting when responding to calls.
The student whose apartment was robbed said the officers who had responded to his case had been receptive and helpful.
Schiano agreed, saying: “It would’ve been really easy for them to play into a bunch of stereotypes, and be like, ‘Oh these sorority girls are calling and probably nothing happened.’ But they made us feel really safe, and took it really seriously, which was really helpful.”
Contact contributor Rebecca Rohn at email@example.com.