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Students concerned over security cameras installed in first-year dorms

New technology aims to increase safety and reduce property damage, raises questions over privacy

<p>Although the vast majority of students are vaccinated, COVID-19 daily case averages in Albemarle County <u>remain</u> at a similar level to fall of last academic year.&nbsp;</p>

Although the vast majority of students are vaccinated, COVID-19 daily case averages in Albemarle County remain at a similar level to fall of last academic year. 

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When first years moved in this year, they were met with a surprising new addition — security cameras in the hallways of their residence halls. Installed over the summer in response to a surge in property damage seen in residence halls, the cameras will be used by the University to monitor dorms to protect both residents and property. The decision has elicited concerns from some students.

Residents moving into residential halls with cameras were not notified of their presence ahead of move in, leaving it to the resident advisors to explain the new technology. 

Kayleigh Childress, third-year College student and RA in Kellogg House, said this was the case for many of her residents.

“I think the main thing for the residents is that they were a bit confused as to why they didn’t know about it beforehand, and why they’re moving in and just finding out about the cameras,” Childress said. “And then they were curious about whether or not they were being watched 24/7.”

Childress said the cameras have made it more difficult for RAs to create the feeling of home under surveillance. 

“It can be harder to build trust and have those vulnerable conversations when they know that their actions are being recorded,” Childress said.

Citing an estimated $100,000 in billable damages for the 2021-22 school year, Housing and Residence Life said there is a need for heightened security in dorms. An Aug. 18 HRL infographic says the cameras will be used in a limited manner in private areas including entrances, lobbies, study rooms, lounges, stairwells and hallways to protect students and property from theft and non-resident entry. 

Cameras are positioned to avoid recording into students’ rooms or bathrooms, and footage will be stored by the University for 30 days before being wiped. 

First-year College student Maya Gearin-Virga moved into Lefevere House last month and said she was not informed of the cameras by the University but heard about the installation from an upperclassman friend.

“I think it's a little creepy, like an invasion of privacy,” Gearin-Virga said. “I feel like it would make more sense to have cameras on the bottom floor, but not the hallways that lead to our bathrooms where we walk in our towels.” 

When asked whether HRL plans to expand the cameras into other areas such as Gooch-Dillard dorms, residential colleges or on-Grounds upperclassmen housing, deputy University spokesperson Bethany Glover said the University remains in the planning and review phase.

“We also consulted peer institutions and found that camera installations in residence hall common areas were prevalent,” Glover said. “Combined with the feedback we received from students and parents, this project was initiated to heighten security in common areas.”

Per SEC-034, University cameras are not monitored continuously under normal operating conditions, but may be monitored by the University Police Department or other authorized personnel for “legitimate safety, security or operational purposes.”

The addition of the cameras was approved by Robyn Hadley, vice president of student affairs, Augie Maurelli, former associate vice president of business operations and Timothy Longo, associate vice president for safety and security and chief of police. 

Footage is integrated into the University's Grounds-wide camera system, which can only be accessed by authorized personnel.


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