Suspicious non-students make appearances around campus

Suspicious non-students make appearances around campus
A Campus Safety vehicle sits parked outside the Commons. Photo by Abbey Stegenga.

From Oct. 16 to Nov.9, the Campus Safety log recorded 12 occasions of suspicious or intoxicated non-students on campus and in-person harassment towards students, primarily directed towards those who identify as female.

Rick Tupper, associate vice president of Campus Safety and logistics, said Campus Safety has noticed increasing rates of non-students on campus in recent months.

“We have seen an increase in the number of subjects on campus for the wrong reasons. Some of them we have experienced have been mental health issues, some have been substance abuse-related and some are just here to steal stuff,” Tupper said.

Over October, one junior female-identifying student experienced several encounters with one of these subjects.

As she typed away on her laptop in the Mikkelsen Library, a man, who to her appeared to be about 30 years old, approached her. He asked for advice about connecting to the wifi.

“You’ll probably have to go to the help desk for that,” the student told him. 

She said although he was friendly enough, his lingering presence made her uncomfortable. Eventually, he turned and walked away.

The next day, again studying in the library, the student found herself being tapped on the shoulder by the same man. 

“Do we know each other?” he said. 

Though she really did not want to talk to the man, she answered shortly, attempting to be civil. 

Once again, he eventually left.

To hopefully avoid an interaction when she planned to return two-days later, the female student booked a study room.

While sitting in the room, the door behind her opened. The 30-something man, standing in her study room doorway, said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you all day.” 

Highly uncomfortable that he’d been looking for her, the student said she waited for the man to leave before she called Campus Safety.

The presence of the man was enough to spark feelings of extreme discomfort. 

“You can be friendly to someone and still respect boundaries, and I think I made it pretty clear I didn’t want to talk,” she said.

A senior female-identifying student had a similar experience while studying alone in one of the cubicles on the upper floor of the Mikkelsen Library. 

A man, who looked older than the average college age, sat down on the opposing side of the cubicle as her. 

Stretching his legs under the table, he kept kicking the female student’s legs and feet with his boots. Annoyed that he was disrupting her studying and unnerved that he didn’t choose any other seat on the otherwise empty third floor, she got up and left.

After the incident, she became more aware of the man on subsequent visits to the library. 

She said oftentimes, he would sit down for a few minutes, get up, walk around disruptively within the aisles of bookshelves and sit down in a different area. He would perform these steps repeatedly. 

“I just thought it was odd and totally not within typical library etiquette where you sit down and do your work,” she said.

The senior student said she often felt on edge while studying.

“After talking with my [female] roommates, similar things have happened to them,” the senior said.

In emails from Tupper, students have been urged to double check that they have locked their cars and report any suspicious activity or individuals on or around campus.

“[The Sioux Falls Police Department] is saying that as the city grows, the transient population also ebbs and flows. They’ve seen [homeless populations] shifting more to the southwest part of Sioux Falls,” Tupper said.

President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said there has perhaps also been an increase in community watchfulness and reporting.

“There are times when behavior raises questions about why [subjects] are on campus,” Herseth Sandlin said. “We’ve had incidents in the past. I think there has been an increase in the reporting of them. We want to do that in a way that is neighborly. We don’t want to be accusatory but rather to engage, to understand, to ask questions.”

Historically, women are often conflicted about reporting incidents of harassment, stalking or violence.

Spencier Ciaralli, professor of sociology and the coordinator of the gender, sexuality and women’s studies minor, said sociological research shows trends of harmful behavior on college campuses.

“Research shows that the rate of experiences of sexual assault, stalking, physical assault and other forms of abuse among women in college is alarmingly high — and this is despite these forms of violence being one of the most chronically underreported. Many women fear going to the police and not being believed or victim blamed,” Ciaralli said.

After getting back from a run, another senior female-identifying student and her sister reported a man who they had seen while running.

At the intersection of 28th Street and Grange Avenue, a man on a bicycle, staring at them, rode past, saying, “I’m not going to hurt you. Don’t be scared.”

She and her sister turned and ran home, calling Campus Safety as soon as they got there. After telling the officer on the other line how the incident played out, the senior student said the officer responded with “What do you want me to do about it?”

“I told [the officer,] ‘I know there is nothing you can do. I just wanted to report it,’” the senior student said.

Although the senior student said she knew she did the right thing, the officer made her question if what she and her sister experienced was as big a deal as they thought.

On a separate occasion, while driving with her sister past Norton Avenue, a man in a black truck was clearly staring at them and began to follow them around campus.

While driving, they called Campus Safety, who directed them to drive onto Commons Drive so they could get his vehicle information.

The senior said her experiences are not uncommon. She said she and her neighbors are afraid to walk around the campus neighborhood because of the suspicious people and activity they’ve witnessed.

Keeping campus safe, Tupper said, requires more than just Campus Safety — those living in the Augustana community must also be vigilant in order to prevent further attacks.

The Mikkelsen Library, where two incidents took place, “is tricky” safety wise, Tupper said. Although it is a private library to Augustana, it still allows members of the general public in.

The library’s mission statement includes the “encouragement of independent learning and research” for all in the Augustana community. But, if a situation arises in the library, Tupper said, between a student and a non-student, Campus Safety officers’ priority is always with the student.

Tupper and Herseth Sandlin said if something seems suspicious or makes someone uncomfortable, report it. It’s likely making someone else uncomfortable as well.

“You don’t want to feel badly that you’re making a wrong assumption. It’s just each of us has a responsibility for the broader environment of safety on our campus,” Herseth Sandlin said.

Oftentimes, however, abuse, violence, stalking and harassment come from individuals that the victim knows. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest Network, 78% of sexual abuse cases are committed by an acquaintance, sexual or romantic partner or a non-spouse relative.

Samantha Knudson, a junior biology major with a sociology minor and an interest in women’s studies, said reporting their peers can be difficult for victims.

“It is absolutely okay to speak out against your peers,” Knudson said. “[Augustana] does an okay job at promoting that, but it’s a lot easier to speak out against someone you don’t know than it is to speak out against someone in your classes or who interacts with the same people you interact with. I think that is a big issue as well.”

If you witness a situation or someone that seems out of place on or within a three-block radius of campus, report it to campus safety at (605) 274-4014. If you or someone you know is experiencing harassment, stalking, sexual or domestic abuse or violence, contact Campus Safety or the Sioux Falls Police Department at (605) 367-7212.