Campus / News / May 28, 2008

Students arrested for changing SMC bathroom signs

A pair of students were arrested by the police in SMC for theft, vandalism and destruction of property last Thursday.

The students in question had unscrewed and removed bathroom signs in Old Main and SMC when a Campus Safety officer found them and demanded to search their bag. When the students refused, the Campus Safety officer threatened to call the police. They still refused the search, and officers from the Galesburg police Department (GPD) arrived soon after.

“It’s stressed during orientation that the police have jurisdiction, even while on campus, for a reason,” said Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf. “A lot of students seem to think that they don’t, but they do. On scene the police can choose to let the campus process handle it, but they can also choose to go through the court system and make arrests.”

The students were attempting to raise awareness of the gender roles society places on individuals by removing sex-oriented signs. They replaced them with signs that read “Pee where you want” and were not gender-specific.

“It should be recognized that another student had previously attempted to push this initiative through the college process,” said sophomore Vicky Daza, one of the students arrested. When that failed, students sought to replace the signs themselves.

Junior Maddie Ettlin, a friend of the two students who were arrested explained what the students were trying to accomplish.

“The restroom signs are a daily reminder of the gender roles that exist for no real reason,” said Ettlin. “We didn’t think it would be a big deal. I figured administration would say ‘Oh, interesting display of protest,’ and move on like usual. We’ve tried doing something like this before, but every time we do, whatever we accomplish is destroyed within an hour. It’s odd to find that on a campus constantly inundated with ideas. You’d think our opinions would survive longer.”

“We weren’t trying to vandalize the signs just for the sake of tearing up Knox property,” said Senior Graham Troyer-Joy, one of the two students arrested. “If that were the case we would have thrown them away. We carefully unscrewed them and kept them in our bag because we were planning on replacing them the next day. If we’d thrown them out we wouldn’t have been caught. Nice guys finish last.”

“If you look at SMC, the men’s bathrooms are in the physics and chemistry departments, the ‘hard science,’ while the women’s are in biology and psychology. The magnitude of the gender role reinforcement is always a surprise, and we figured we would try and change it just a little,” Ettlin said.

When the Campus Safety officer found Troyer-Joy and Daza, they were in D-Wing.

“He said, ‘Stop, you’ve been taking signs down,’ to which I politely replied, ‘No I haven’t,’” said Troyer-Joy. The students were escorted out to the SMC loading dock where they were met by police.

“There were two of them, in separate squad cars. One of them was Officer Chris Dunn, badge number 141. I remembered to ask. The other one, I’m not sure,” said Troyer-Joy.

Officer Dunn said ‘We can do this the hard way, or the easy way,’” said Daza.

A faculty member, who did not wish to be named, stopped and witnessed the events.

“We definitely felt like they were trying to intimidate us into incriminating ourselves,” said Troyer-Joy. “We told them ‘I do not consent to this search.”

The police proceeded to search the students’ bag and found the signs. Then they body-searched both Troyer-Joy and Daza. Both officers were men. The two students were cuffed and led into the squad car.

The students were taken to the police station and kept in separate holding cells for about 15 minutes. The cuffs stayed on. Then they were approached individually and told they had three options. One, they could go to court for theft; two, they could go to court for disorderly conduct; or three, they could pay a $50 fine that would not go on their permanent record. Both students chose option three, and after another 20 minutes were driven home.

The campus administration is continuing to talk to the students about this.

The same students apparently had trouble later in the week, too. A Campus Safety Officer searched Troyer-Joy’s room Monday while he was away. The officer was confronted by one of his housemates and told her there had been a complaint of a covered smoke detector.

Daza left her bag in Founders Saturday night at 4 a.m. when the computers shut down. She had been studying and decided to take a nap while the system rebooted. She left her bag amid a pile of books and open notebooks and when she returned it was gone. She was informed that it had been taken by Campus Safety. When she went to retrieve it, Daza was told that it was taken because it had a dollar sticking out of it.

“I feel like students are being targeted more now than in the past,” Daza said. “It was obvious that my things were left in a state that indicated I’d be coming back. They had no right to take and search my stuff.”

When asked about the right to search through students’ belongings, John Schlaf compared Campus Security to being “like a security guard in a store. They have the right to detain and search you if they have a good reason to suspect you’ve perpetrated a crime.”

David Nolan

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