Cameras in the Dorms: Rent Increase in Exchange for Security?

By Thea Bladt Hansen

Collage by Mari

— The recent “condom incidents,” where used condoms have been found in common spaces of the AUC dorms, sparked a public debate within the AUC community about the possibility of installing security cameras in the dorms.  However, new information shows that this would cause a rent increase and require the support of 70 percent of the dorm residents, which begs the question: Would cameras in the dorms create surveillance or security?

On November 10, second-year Humanities major Selin Diaz Erkin found a used condom hanging from the ceiling of the elevator in the dorm building furthest away from AUC and posted a picture of this in the “The Excellent and Diverse People of AUC” Facebook group. The post, which quickly received more than a hundred reactions and 19 comments, states “Please go pick up your disgusting mess. The cleaner should not have to clean shit like this and we should be able to go in the elevator without feeling violated and repulsed.”

Erkin’s post instantly generated a broader debate about littering in the dorms. A discussion about installing security cameras in the dorms began to unfold in the comment section of the post, with some students proposing cameras as a solution to littering problems in the dorms and others responding to this proposition by deeming it a call for “dystopian surveillance”. 

As a result of this debate, the AUC Campus Commission, an initiative founded this year to communicate the interests of dorm residents to DUWO, posted a poll to get a sense of AUC students’ general opinions about cameras in the dorms. “We have seen a lot of comments in favour of cameras in the dorms. We also foresaw that there would be some pushback… but we had hoped that people would understand that it was a general yes/no question for now,” says Renato Stopic, third-year Science major and chair of AUC Campus Commission. 

However, the poll stirred debate in itself, as several students pointed out the many unknown factors about potentially agreeing to install cameras in the dorms. This prompted Lisa Dondaines, third-year Science major, to argue that the discussion had to be more nuanced than a simple yes/no: “I don’t agree with the placement of cameras everywhere in the dorms, the idea that anyone could retrace my movements on the footage is scary. But just in the main entrances could be useful, to prevent disrespectful behaviour.” 

Dondaines emphasises the importance of moving the discussion away from Facebook and making it more formal, that is: providing detailed information about where the cameras would be put up, when they would be turned on and who can access the footage, before asking the dorm residents to decide whether they are in favour of security cameras or not. 

Since posting the poll, AUC Campus Commission has met up with representatives from DUWO in order to discuss the specificities of installing cameras in the dorms. The meeting provided new crucial information for the discussion, as it revealed that security cameras would result in a rent increase and that 70 percent of the dorm residents –  equivalent to around 600 AUC students – would have to sign an official document declaring their support. According to Stopic, the decision is fully up to the inhabitants of the dorms: “DUWO does not care either way, they told us that if we want cameras we can get them, but the opposite is also completely fine by them.”

The meeting also revealed that several DUWO student housing buildings, among them the green building between AUC’s dorms and the academic building, already have security cameras. However, this seems to have a limited effect on decreasing the amount of vandalism and theft, as vandals will just cover their faces before entering the buildings, which makes the security footage rather useless.

Another important point to consider is the fact that security footage from the cameras would not be easily available due to EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law. While this might calm those fearing that DUWO would be able to assume a ‘Big Brotherly’ role in the dorms after the instalment of security cameras, it does make the process of finding vandals or thieves quite comprehensive. “If there are cameras in the dorms, we can’t access the video footage, DUWO and AUC can’t access it either. Only the company which runs as the contractor has the footage, but cannot look at it unless the police get a warrant,” Stopic explains.

Despite the lack of clarity about whether cameras in the dorms would actually cause vandalism, theft and littering to decrease, Stopic also attributes a certain value to cameras as a way to increase student’s feelings of safety within the dorms: “It definitely seems like people ‘feel’ like there has been an increase [in littering, theft and vandalism], but we don’t know how accurate this is. Of course, this feeling is also important to us, we want the dorm residents to feel safe.”

But according to Dondaines and Erkin, the problem is not exclusively people from outside the AUC bubble coming to the dorms: Students themselves contribute to making common spaces gross and inhospitable. “People think if we trash the place Friday it will be clean by Monday, this repeats every week,” says Dondaines, as she explains how some students appear to have no respect for the people whose job it is to keep the dorms clean. Erkin adds that “we [Science Park residents] can’t even cycle on a clean road and there are literal children and families that walk in our street.”

Stopic finds it unlikely that 70 percent of the dorm residents will sign an official declaration in favour of cameras in the dorms, but also sees exploring the option of cameras as one of the only ways in which AUC Campus Commission can act on the dissatisfaction expressed by students: “We are a bit limited as for what we can do about this.” 

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