The job of student guard has traditionally been coveted by students seeking to make money and finish homework at the same time. But a change in policy by the Department of Public Safety this summer has made the position less appealing for these multi-taskers: Guards are no longer allowed to use laptops while on duty.
Student guard Michael Ferm (COL ’15), who started working as a student guard last year, summed up the difference between this year’s shifts and last year’s shifts in one word: “bored.”
“Now I have to plan beforehand,” Ferm said. “Before, if I had articles, I could read on the computer. I now need all the printouts before I start my shift.”
While the change is irksome to many returning employees, DPS Chief of Police Jay Gruber said it stemmed from safety concerns, particularly a string of burglaries in dorms that were perpetrated by non-Georgetown students last spring. Gruber hopes the change in policy, which allows smartphones but bans e-readers and tablets in addition to laptops, will lead student guards to pay greater attention to their surroundings.
“The bottom line is the safety and security of our students,” Gruber said. “While student guards don’t have the power to make arrests, we expect them to constantly check their surroundings for people who are in the buildings unauthorized and report that to the appropriate authorities. … They are the first line of defense in all Georgetown dormitories.”
Student guard Jennifer Tubbs (SFS ’15) said that the ban has interfered with student guards’ ability to accomplish work in an efficient way while idly on the job.
“If the only thing you have to do is write a paper, you’re not going to handwrite it to type it up later,”Tubbs said.
The policy change was an unwelcome surprise to students who chose the guard job because of its conduciveness to accomplishing other work.
“I started as a guard because it was the summer, I was taking classes, it was what was available at the time and I wanted something that allowed me to do homework,” student guard Carlson Teboh(COL ’14) said.
Gruber’s message was not lost on all student employees.
“We’re not being paid to just sit here on our computers,” student guard Brittney Blakely (COL ’14) said.
The policy, however, has not been enforced universally. Currently, DPS utilizes rovers, or former student guards assigned to check on guards during their shifts and ensure that they are following DPSpolicy. Rovers, who provide guards with one 15-minute break for every four-hour shift, are generally student guards with exemplary behavior who have worked with DPS for multiple semesters.
According to Ferm, however, not all rovers enforce policies with the same strictness.
“If your rover doesn’t care about you being on your computer, then you’re fine,” Ferm said.
Some student guards also postulated that the new policy led to a decrease in the number of applicants, as well as a decrease in the number of hours that each applicant was willing to work.
“I think students are less willing to work more shifts, so I think they over-hired,” Teboh said. “I think they hired so many people to make up for loss of workers due to the new computer policy.”
Gruber refuted that point.
“I believe we have hired the normal complement of student guards this year,” Gruber wrote in an email.
Some students doubt that the laptop ban will have any real effect on the number of burglaries.
“My theory is that things get stolen by people that actually live in the dorms,” Teboh said.
These discrepancies, however, mirror some longstanding differences in the student guard experience dependent on the dorm in which the guard works. Shifts in dorms like LXR and New South, in which residents swipe their own GOCards, are coveted among guards because they do not require a constant stream of swiping, like shifts in Village C and Harbin Hall do.
The laptop ban is only one of the challenges student guards face on the job. Working the Saturday night shift in Lauinger Library, Katherine McIntire (COL ’16) has encountered a particular sort of struggle.
“There was one time where a guy kept coming in and out of the building,” McIntire said. “He was pretty drunk, and at one point told me I was too ‘librarian’ for him, whatever that means.”