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Published:August 21st, 2006 09:42 EST
Columbia's Gatekeepers

Columbia's Gatekeepers

By Lena Scarver

Students flood the doors of Columbia College Chicago every day.  Their main concerns are whether their homework is proofread and completed to the professor’s satisfaction, their plans for the weekend, and why they waited until the last minute to do their homework.

Many students do not notice the small desk five feet away from the entrance doors.  It never occurs to them that the two people that sit behind those desks are there to help Columbia students as best they can.

The Department of Security and Campus Safety has been established since Columbia College has been in existence.  The entire operation is run from Room 803 in the 600 S. Michigan Avenue building.  Ron Dorsey, 55, head of security sits at his desk filing paperwork and talking on the telephone, making sure that the security guards perform their tasks efficiently.

Dorsey, who has been in charge of the Department of Security and Campus Safety since the early 1990s, began his career as a security officer 23 years ago.  During his career, Dorsey has been promoted from first sergeant at the 731 S. Plymouth Court residence hall, to lieutenant under the director of security, Jose Gallegos.  “It has been a blast working for Campus Security,” said Dorsey.

Thirty four security guards are placed throughout Columbia’s South Loop campus.  There are usually two guards to a desk.  African-American females dominate its demographics, although the department is trying to amend that.  In order to become a security guard, one must be licensed by the state, undergo a 20-hour training course, be trained in CPR, and have a clean legal record.

The security officers work diligently in order to ensure the safety of the students.  With the low crime rates on campus, it seems as if the security officers are pointless to have on campus grounds. 

Nicole McCormick, 19, a sophomore film/video editing student and a work-aide in the Science and Mathematics department located in the fifth floor of the 623 S. Wabash Avenue building, believes the security guards really don’t do anything.  McCormick recalls an incident where security did not do its jobs.

“My friend’s ex-boyfriend was stalking her,” she explained.  “He would stand outside of the Science and Mathematics office just staring at her.  We called the security desk.  He came upstairs, by that time he was gone.  We told the security guard what he looked like and he said he would look out for him. “

McCormick does agree that the security guards try their best to help the students with what they need.  “They’ll talk to you and when I first got here, they gave me directions when I needed them,” she said.  McCormick also said that security cannot protect everything.  Although McCormick has never been victimized on campus, she said that students need to look out for their own safety first.

As the security guards sit behind their desks conversing with students, guiding a lost student to his place of destination, or breaking up disputes between students on campus, an observant student would notice that some security desks are better equipped than others.

Rolando Stewart, 34, a former soldier in the United States Army and the National Guard, has worked as a security officer in the 33 E. Congress building since July 2004.  Stewart enjoys his job because he likes the college atmosphere.  Stewart, in his younger days, aspired to be a police officer, but he has changed his mind.  Stewart is now in school studying to be a paralegal at Northwestern Business College in Chicago.  He may even plan to attend law school.  Stewart was hired at Columbia College Chicago through Wackenhut Security.

Stewart said that campus security could be better if the guards were able to check students’ identification and backpacks.  The school does not want to enact that policy because they fear that they will offend the students and gain a lawsuit. 

Because of that policy, the school was burglarized on a few occasions.  In July 2004, a man came into the building and stole a laptop computer.  Since the security guards cannot check the students, there was no way of knowing if the gentleman was a student. 

Stewart feels that security could drastically improve, but the school would have to put more money into the department.  Stewart believes that there should be video surveillance cameras where crimes are likely to occur, such as any building with computers, vending areas, or any locations where there is audio and musical equipment.

Stewart said he was glad that not much criminal activity occurs on the campus of Columbia College.  “There have been a few incidents in which a couple of homeless people wandered into the building and disturbed the students,” said Stewart.  “I had to explain to him the school policy and I threatened to call the police.  He left.  I’m sure he did not want to go to jail.”

Stewart recommends that security would improve if there were two security guards at every desk at the school.  “If an incident were to occur, one guard could remain at the desk while the other officer went to check the incident,” said Stewart.  Regardless of that, Stewart feels that the students of Columbia do feel safer with the presence of the security guards. 

Despite the opinions of the people who walk through the doors of Columbia College, the guards arrive every day with one purpose: to protect the students, faculty and staff of Columbia College Chicago.  They are the eyes and ears of the people who assume that their lives are guaranteed to them.  Their jobs are important to them and they take it very seriously.