How do more than 50 vehicles get broken into and looted in the course of a few hours, while University of Saskatchewan students and staff sleep just steps away from the scene of the crime?
This is only one of the questions graduate students are asking after waking to find their campus parking lot had been the target of vandalism sometime between the night of Friday, May 8 and the morning of Saturday, May 9.
After a delay to secure the presence of some campus protection or security, students and staff say that they were left to pick up the pieces while also questioning their safety. This is not the first time U of S students were left troubled from the effects of vandalism and they are worried it will not be the last.
Among those affected by the vandalism is Jebunnessa Chapola, a concerned community leader, resident and U of S doctoral student. Chapola has lived in the university residence for the past four years with her husband and two children.
“Last year our car was vandalized and our friend’s car was vandalized several times during the last four years — actually, this isn’t new,” Chapola said. “This year it has been accelerated up to 54 [vehicles]. I did not see angry students like this before. Students also were not sure where to go and how to protest against this kind of vandalism.”
In an official statement released by the U of S regarding the incident, the university acknowledges that this is the same lot that was targeted this past January and is also the same area where an arrest was made mere weeks ago.
The statement released by the university credits the recent capture to the prompt reporting of a resident who noticed suspicious activity and encourages the community to continue to make such reports in order to lessen the impact of crime in the area. Despite this call to action, the university is taking its own steps toward increasing campus security and surveillance.
Gordon Barnhart, U of S interim president and vice-chancellor, sympathizes with the victims of the vandalism.
“I am shocked and very disappointed that someone would do that, first off on our campus, and would do that to our students,” Barnhart said. “I am not sure we can prevent it totally, but I am hopeful that we send a message out to the types of people that are doing this that they are not welcome on campus.”
Due to underground wiring requirements, Barnhart acknowledged that winter conditions delayed the installation of more cameras and lights in the targeted area. While those installations are happening now, there is no clear date for their completion. Moreover, technological upgrades are not the only preventative measures being taken by the university.
“The second thing that we are doing is increasing the human surveillance on that part of our campus with protective services, and obviously city police have jurisdiction so they will be involved as well,” Barnhart said.
Chapola, along with the incoming Graduate Students’ Association and fellow residents, met with Barnhart on Monday morning to discuss the incident and address the issues of vandalism and campus security.
“I think the university is very concerned this time and when I spoke to the president I had hope that he will work better this time, and also he [said] that he will try to provide new cameras and more light, so let’s hope for the best,” Chapola said.
Barnhart received the student group’s petition and gave them a commitment to reply by Wednesday, May 13.
“I am not saying that the lights or the cameras will be in by Wednesday but at least we will have a full response on what we can do to help them in their situation.”
Although Chapola appreciates Barnhart’s efforts, she insists that this is only one of several issues within the residency, listing unacceptable parking lot conditions, lack of appropriate familial facilities and lack of on-site maintenance, particularly in the winter, as some of the other problems facing students living in residence.
“There are a lot of questions within the community about where our parking fees go,” Chapola said.
After meeting with Barnhart and witnessing the combined efforts of the incoming GSA and fellow residents, Chapola remains hopeful for positive progress moving forward.
Nevertheless, she could not help but notice a lack of response from the larger student body.
“One thing that I want to mention is that only those who are the victims in the residences showed up yesterday and today, but I want to see more solidarity on behalf of students, which is really absent. I didn’t see other students from campus. They didn’t send us any message. It is like they are not concerned. I expected at least that we would hear from our other community friends, and my question is ‘why?’”