Security theatre comes to Scripps. (And it ain't pretty.)

Oct 10, 2007 • Karen

So, as you may already know, yesterday there was a bomb threat at Malott Commons. The dining hall was closed for breakfast and lunch, Motley Coffeehouse and the Scripps Store were closed, cops were on campus all day, and at dinner there were mandatory bag searches. So it goes.

Well, the first odd thing about the event was the description they got of the suspect: "white male, tall, dirty blonde, unkept hair almost like dreadlocks, somewhere between 20 and 40, with blisters on his hands." I have no idea how they got a description of the guy within hours, given that the threat was made via a phone call. Furthermore, how can they have specific details like his hairstyle or blistered hands--yet have an age range from 20 to 40? If this were fiction it'd be unbelievable.

Anyway. That evening, the Store held its weekly manager meeting and we found out that Scripps College was expecting us to search everyone's bags as they entered the Store. More specifically, the email said that the Motley would be doing this too, so we should send two managers to bag-search training at 7:30 AM Wednesday. Funny enough, the Motley got a very similar email, implying to them that the Store had already agreed to do this. Funny thing, playing two student businesses off each other. Surely the Motley managers would never come over to the store meeting and actually COMMUNICATE with their peers about this issue!

Well, they did. The Store had been willing to roll over this issue (my stalwart opposition to security theatre notwithstanding) because bag searches were somewhat more feasible for us. We only have one door and we get far fewer customers than the Motley does. However, as we talked with them our serious discomfort with being put in the position of searching our peers' bags for bombs gained voice. The Motley had much more to lose (besides the higher volume of traffic, they have more baristas needing hours and they have perishable items) but as an activist-oriented establishment they also had a more vocal conscience. Since Dean Wood had apparently dismissed all of the Motley head manager's emails out of hand, we decided to write a joint missive:

Dear Dean Wood,

Tonight representatives from the Scripps Store and the Motley Manager teams met to discuss the planned bag searches. We have the following concerns:

* We feel strongly that our businesses should be open tomorrow to promote a sense of normalcy on campus. We believe students are looking for this.
* Beyond this, we have financial concerns including perishable items, lost wages, and lost income.
* However, we feel that if it necessary that bags be searched for hazardous items then this is a situation serious enough for professional security staff to handle.
* Many of our employees have only been on the job a few weeks. Never are our employees trained for this type of customer interaction.
* We do not feel comfortable with other students searching our items. As students we feel this is probably representative of our peers.
* We do not feel students should be made into security guards, both in terms of infringing on our peers' privacy and in being in a position which could possibly compromise our personal security.
* We feel that taking on security responsibilities will impinge on our already-busy schedules and impede our academic lives.

We want to be flexible and accommodating in this stressful time, and to work together to ensure the security of our community.

If the bag searches are truly "overkill" then perhaps they are not necessary. If you do feel this is a necessary measure to ensure our security then we believe professional staff should lead these measures.

Managers from both organizations will meet with you tomorrow morning in DOS to further discuss these issues. Please feel free to email us any thoughts or responses tonight as well.

Thank you for your time.


The Motley and Scripps Store Manager Teams

There were other concerns besides those listed. Practically speaking, only one or two managers from each business would be attending this 7:30 "training" session. Everyone else--the other managers, the baristas, the cashiers--would have to learn by word-of-mouth, each shift training its successor. TSA training via an all-day game of "telephone" is a terrible idea!

Furthermore, what if we did find a bomb? What the hell are we supposed to do? If Scripps College is going to turn students into security guards, it MUST do so with the understanding that our discovering and handling a bomb is a possibility. (Otherwise, why are we doing the searches?) If that is the case, if any of us were to get blown up while performing this duty, beside the base moral negligence involved the college is setting itself up for the MOTHER of all liability lawsuits--not only were we blown up on their watch, the college actively put students in harm's way by being too cheap to hire professionals. What do you think parents would think about that?

So. 7:30 AM.

The Motley had already decided to close. They begin opening at 7:15 and had to make a decision before then. They already get lines out the door on a regular basis--what employees are they supposed to spare to search all of those people? Furthermore, you can't expect the Mot to just roll over when it comes to civil liberties and the sense of community on campus.

As for me personally, I had already determined to be a conscientious objector on this issue. I would still perform my shift as faux-security guard--we would have enough schedule issues meeting this mandate *without* me flaking on my fellow managers--but I would refuse to touch anyone's bags.

Still we met with Dean Wood, in order to try and have our concerns addressed--or at least respected. Didn't happen.

Dean Wood compared attending a half-hour bag-searching training session and being drafted into security guards on-the-cheap to students volunteering for the Scripps search-and-rescue team. "During certain times, you have to do things you don't want to do." Well, we want to save lives. We want to save our peers from fires and floods and earthquakes. (That's why we volunteer to do such things!) I don't want to rummage through my classmates' purses. If I did, I'd work for the TSA. They pay a helluva lot better than $8.25 an hour (and I wouldn't have to pay $40,000/year to come to the airport!).

Dean Wood said that she didn't expect anyone to bomb Malott Commons. The bag searches were purely a deterrent. "Because they do bag searches at the airport, people know they can't get guns or knives through." (Except that you can, 90% of the time...) She's right--if the guy was actually serious about attacking Scripps, and wasn't a suicide bomber, perhaps us 20-year-old faux-security guards might possibly maybe make him bomb Garrison instead. Yay?

Regardless, every security measure--including purely theatrical ones--must have its benefits outweigh the costs. We've mentioned plenty of costs of this policy. Don't they matter?

Nope. Dean Wood said our concerns about students searching students "are not valid." That was it. That's precisely all the time she gave to the bulk of our concerns. It doesn't matter if actual students aren't comfortable with this policy, the imaginary "students" that the administration apparently works for clearly want their anti-terrorism protections and private belongings placed in our hands.

We could have compromised. They aren't doing bag searches for the mailroom--they're just requiring you to have your keycard to get in. If that's the standard, we could easily just require a 5C (or even just Scripps) ID for entrance into the Motley and the Scripps Store. I'm pretty sure no Scripps student is going to fit the profile of a 20-to-40-year-old dreadlocked male. That would be far more practical than searching all of our customers. But I guess there's no interest in reaching a reasonable middle ground.

Anyway. Dean Wood told us that both the Store and the Motley would be closed again today. She said that things would "probably" go back to normal tomorrow; I guess we'll see.

I'd like to think that our concerns had some sort of impact on this administration--before this they were talking as if these extra security measures would last the week. Perhaps the prospect of shutting down two major campus organizations for that long motivated some people to come within shouting distance of their senses.

But fundamentally, Dean Wood doesn't give a crap about students as "strong women" (read: adults, not children). This refrain has been affirmed time and time again with virtually any (non-passive) interaction with the administration. Try and change a policy, any policy, on this campus. See how it goes. It went this way with the anti-styrofoam campaign, it went this way with Killer Coke, it went this way with movements to promote the unionization of dining hall workers, it continually goes this way with organizations such as the Motley that have to work with the Scripps administration on a regular basis. At Scripps College, students might be encouraged to radically question the authorities outside the bubble, but we are expected to cheerily follow the whims of the authorities within it.

The Motley and the Scripps Store management teams' problems with violating your privacy and dealing with potential BOMBS with only a half-hour's worth of training? "Those concerns are not valid."