Columbia University Dorm Residents Vote for Video Surveillance after Recent Vandalism

NEW YORK -- After a rash of vandalism on Columbia University's Schapiro Hall's eighth floor, hall residents voted in favor of installing a surveillance camera, but housing officials say that's unlikely.

The television in the lounge of Schapiro's eighth floor still has tiny Parmesan cheese pieces stuck in the speakers from a few weeks ago, when it was doused with olive oil and laundry detergent, as well as the Parmesan. If anyone knows who did it, they're not talking, and after the floor residents were told they would foot the bill, some were mad enough to support the idea of installing a surveillance camera.

The eighth floor's resident advisor, Ashley Edwards, '05, said the idea of a video camera came up in a Schapiro RA meeting shortly after the Sept. 24 vandalism, which included the bathrooms being sprayed with fire extinguishers. Edwards said she and Latoya Ingram, the assistant director of west campus, both supported it.

Out of curiosity, Edwards said, she used an "old-school ballot box" to gauge resident support. The floor of about 35 residents voted 2 to 1 in favor of installing a camera.

Rachit Parikh, '07, lives on the eighth floor of Schapiro near the bathrooms where the fire extinguishers were expelled. He said he voted "yes" on his ballot because "If you live in New York, you have so many cameras spying over you as it is."

Director of Housing Herman Matte and Assistant Vice President of Student Services Scott Wright said neither has been asked to install a camera in Schapiro. "We don't have it (video surveillance); we don't recommend it," Wright said.

He said that installing cameras in dorms would have to be approved by Facilities Management, the Office of Student Affairs, and the General Council of the University. The cameras Columbia currently uses outside dorms and in dorm lobbies are for security purposes, not surveillance, Wright said.

"As imperfect as this observational system seems to be I'm still saying that's better than video surveillance," Wright said.

Edwards said her residents who were against the camera were very against it, adding that one resident even briefly stopped talking to her.

Vandalism isn't new at Columbia, according to Matte and Wright. Last year a student pushed a ventilator off West 113th Street and through the ceiling of an empty restaurant below. Deluxe restaurant patrons have been showered with water balloons -- and worse -- from McBain residents. And McBain's shaft is consistently littered with televisions and vacuum cleaners.

On four separate floors this school year, doors in McBain men's bathroom have been torn off their hinges and thrown out the window into the shaft, Matte said. "You're destroying your own home. Why would you want to do that?" he asked.

Still, Wright said he doesn't think cameras would help the situation. Cameras cannot be installed in bathrooms, for instance, where much of the vandalism occurs.

Though the residents of the eighth floor of Schapiro have not been officially notified when or how much they must pay, Matte said residents will be charged for damage on their floor. Edwards, who is "almost certain" that her residents didn't vandalize the floor, said some of them feel the fines are "ridiculously unfair." She said that she and Parikh were not even in Schapiro on the night the vandalism occurred.

According to the Office of Housing and Dining's Guide to Living brochure, the minimum cost for replacing a television is $400. A missing fire extinguisher costs $125, and a damaged one costs $65. Replacing a door is listed at $500.

As for the remnants of Parmesan cheese, "I guess the person who did it was too drunk to realize what he or she was doing. No sane person would do that," Parikh said.