By Georgia Taylor, Second Year, Politics and Spanish
It is safe to say that this year has not been plain sailing for students in halls of residence. Stories of students being penned up in flats for weeks on end, with limited outside contact have been circulating everywhere from Bristruths to national newspapers.
However, the allegations of inappropriate conduct by security staff are among the most alarming anecdotes. The allegations, found in an unofficial survey, spanned across multiple halls of residence (both University-owned and private), and included some flats being baselessly threatened with fines, staff bursting into flats without observing social distancing, being overly aggressive, and even one Hiatt Baker student’s allegation that they were ‘hit in the head by a security guard who refused to give me his name’.
The role of the security staff outlined on the university website unsurprisingly paints a different picture than the one alleged by the survey. It states that security services have ‘the power to impose fines for breaches of the local rules or disciplinary regulations in relation to COVID law’ and ‘disperse social gatherings which do not comply with COVID-19 regulations’.
However, it also promises an agreement of mutual respect between staff and students, that staff will ‘communicate appropriately’, the observing of social distancing and use of face coverings. It is important to make clear that these guidelines apply only to University-owned accommodation; privately owned halls have their own guidelines for their security staff.
It can’t be denied that the debate brought to light by this survey is contentious. Halls are the place where the somewhat difficult and awkward transition between being a teenager living with parents and becoming a fully-fledged adult occurs. I distinctly remember the frustrations of having to comply with rules of my halls as a first year (I remember once being threatened with a self-funded ‘safety compliance course’ because security staff spotted that I had left my bedroom door on the latch).
The situation with COVID-19 has inevitably led to an expansion of the powers of security staff
On one hand, you are a paying tenant of your room and flat and are entitled to some privacy. On the other hand, security can still burst into your flat on a Sunday morning to investigate a health and safety breach while you’re hungover and eating breakfast in your dressing gown.
But let me be clear: it is, and should be, within the powers of the security services to do this. Security guards are enforcing measures that protect the safety and wellbeing of you and other students in the building, and the reducing of these powers could lead to serious consequences.
The situation with COVID-19 has inevitably led to an expansion of the powers of security staff, a necessary annoyance to ensure that students are observing the national guidelines and, let’s be honest, not being stupid enough to host a 50-person super-spreader rave in their kitchen. The security services need to have considerable jurisdiction to be able to protect and support students as well as policing them.
That being said, the recent survey should be cause for concern for halls of residence. It is obvious that what needs to be made clear is how they are ensuring that staff don’t abuse their powers and that staff don’t have a prerogative to abuse those powers on any grounds.
Unfortunately, the current environment is one in which some students feel blamed, chastised and patronised by older generations for the increased spread of COVID-19. It adds further fuel to the fire when security staff are accused of not being respectful to students and their personal space.
Choosing to ignore these complaints, even if they have not been brought directly to the university, would be a misstep that would alienate residents from the halls support system, which is more crucial than ever in these difficult times.
Featured Image: Epigram / Filiz Gurer
Do you think security staff need to be help more accountable for their actions?