FEATURE: Just don’t mess with the fire equipment

Features by

A foremost concern among many first-year students in Rez is, besides getting used to the awkwardness of peeing in co-ed bathrooms, the safety of their living facility. Freshmen at McGill, many of whom are away from home for the first time in their lives, often need an extra hand at keeping threats to their safety at bay.

For the administrative staff that handles campus residence security, the students’ experience in rez is the main concern. “Good security means that you’re concerned about the students,” says James Guthrie, New Residence Hall Rez Life Supervisor. New Rez, which has two 24-hour security guards patrolling the building and handling visitation issues, offers a different security system from the other McGill residences. “Security here [in New Rez] has a contract with the McGill Security Department,” informs Guthrie.

Upper Rez, RVC and the other McGill residences, however, have their own personal security staff that is unaffiliated with contracted security. Is this a disadvantage for those students who don’t live in a hotel with a uniformed security guard? Pierre Barbarie, Assistant Manager of McGill Security Services, asserts that while “there is a distinct difference between New Rez and Upper Rez security administration,” all of the residences are perfectly safe. “I wouldn’t say that any residence is more vulnerable than another,” adds Janice Johnson, Student Housing Office Manager.

The students agree. “Everywhere you go, you see a security guard,” says Iwan Davies, U0, Mechanical Engineering student and proud Molson resident. “We’re satisfied [with the security] here,” adds his neighbour Gabrielle Chaillat, U0 Management. “The atmosphere is relaxed, but safe.” The balance between safety and comfort is definitely a concern that residence staff encounters, a balance that is particularly difficult to come by at an urban university such as McGill. “We live in downtown Montreal. There’s always stuff [to worry about],” notes Johnson. “We have had problems with random strangers in the buildings. … I’m sure we’ve had unsavory people sleeping in lobbies, the same thing as any downtown residence would experience.” Yet while safety is the main concern, Johnson insists that the residence staff does not want to “hermetically seal” the students. “We want the students to feel comfortable,” says Johnson.

The students’ level of security is judged best by, well, the students. “I haven’t heard any complaints from students. That’s the most important part,” says Barbarie. “If the students aren’t happy with how it [the security] works, then obviously changes can be done, and they are. Their voices are definitely heard.” That theory translates into action. “A few years ago we changed the lighting in Douglas Hall because we found that there were some dark corners that were making people uneasy,” recounts Johnson. When it comes to residence safety, the students have the final word.

While McGill security staff works to provide a great deal of assistance, students ultimately play the most important role in residence safety. “We spend a lot of time educating students on making their own homes secure… [and] challenging strangers when they walk into buildings,” says Johnson. “We’re concerned with sensible stuff that students are going to need to take out to take into the real world,” adds Johson. “Our floor fellow talked to us about fire safety and theft,” says New Rez tenant Rachel Hartman, U0, Electrical Engineering. “I definitely feel secure here.”