Student-faculty dynamics show the politics of college campuses. When one group makes a decision it can lead to tension from the other. These interactions fuel the learning environments we live in by creating small-scale examples of large-scale problems. Eckerd’s recent dealings with lawsuits, presidential searches and outside threats are all great examples, but one overlooked on-campus event deserves attention: surveillance.
During the fall semester, Eckerd began running a 100% ID check at our campus’s front gate, as of Nov. 6. The strict check began after Adam Colby, assistant vice president of operations, tipped local officers about a possible threat, according to a police report. But after coupling ID checks with full-time police officers on-campus, students began spreading rumors. This is the nature of increased surveillance. First, people get paranoid, then we start acting differently.
Students immediately thought campus safety employees were raiding dorms and looking for drugs. They went into a frenzy hiding anything they thought could be used against them. Even I hid a coffee pot that I wasn't sure fit Eckerd regulations.
The Current contacted Tonya Womack, the director of campus safety, as these rumors spread, and she said there were no raids.
Seeing police cars on campus after receiving a vague email from Eckerd Alerts created a firestorm of conspiracies. This is the first consequence of increased surveillance. No matter the protection it grants, people get paranoid when they are under a microscope. The same happened on a wider scale in 2001.
After 9/11, the Bush administration passed the PATRIOT ACT, which granted the National Security Administration (NSA) access to people’s bank statements, phone calls and emails. The next month, Bush also signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created airport checks and other now-routine travel regulations. All of this was in response to a national tragedy, but increased surveillance caused paranoia throughout the U.S. and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire.
Most notably, people thought the Bush Administration played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Groups like 9/11 Truth formed to expose government lies surrounding the attacks, and people still seek to spread alternate theories of that day.
Surveillance creates paranoia, and after feeling paranoid, people act differently. This is the second consequence of surveillance.
Driving into campus one day, before students knew any details about the police, I asked a campus safety officer why the ID checks were so strict. The officer became viscerally nervous and asked his coworker if he was allowed to tell me. They decided not to, and I didn’t mind, but I became more skeptical.
Skepticism follows surveillance, and this causes a distrust of authority, which has led to significant conflicts in society.
Edward Snowden, 21st Century whistleblower, risked his status and safety to leak information about the U.S. government. The former NSA agent fed information to journalists that revealed a number of things. Most famously, Snowden told the world that the NSA can spy on every American, even normal people, and they do.
Shortly after leaking this information, Snowden fled the country. He was so paranoid about the government’s response to the leaks, that he was sure he would not get a fair legal trial in the U.S. The conversation surrounding NSA practices is ongoing, but Snowden himself must remain elusive because he thinks he would be silenced before having the chance to engage with people in his home country.
Campus Safety was mostly transparent with the student body as it began 100% ID checks. According to an email sent to students on Nov. 11, heightened security measures were “to ensure the safety and comfort of a member of the College community and—despite rumors—are not related to any other safety or security issue.”
But this message was lost in translation, and when I asked a campus safety officer about it one-on-one, he declined to talk. Like Edward Snowden exiled from the U.S., my dialogue with Campus Safety was restricted by paranoia.
I do not want to critique any of Eckerd’s policies. I think our school is taking every action to keep us safe while a threat deescalates. But the threat, and the surveillance that followed it, should not be dismissed by students, faculty or the administration. We come to college to learn, and learning does not stop outside the classroom. Surveillance is not a distant issue for us. It is happening here, and we can use our immediate surroundings and experiences to think about it, while we prepare to enter the national debate after walking the graduation stage.