Morgan State University sophomore class president Tamera Trimuel was “absolutely shocked” when she arrived to campus and found metal detectors in the dormitories, she said.
And not only because she is a leader in the student government association and had no idea that the university spent $260,000 to purchase and install the detectors in time for the start of the spring semester on Jan. 18.
But to her dismay, she’s also a resident assistant in the Cummings House dormitory who was unprepared to answer questions from students and parents moving in last month.
“When they arrived to move back in, they saw the metal detectors and realized they had to move all of their stuff through these metal detectors and checks and all this other stuff, and we didn’t have the time to prepare our answer because we were just as shocked as they were,” Trimuel said. “I was kind of annoyed. I won’t lie.”
“And at an HBCU, it sends the wrong message by having metal detectors in residence halls where this is essentially is our home away from home,” she added.
School officials said the detectors will help screen for “potential weapons” being brought into residence halls. The presence of the detectors can be attributed, in part, “to the rise in off-campus crime in Northeast Baltimore as well as the shooting incidents that occurred during Morgan Homecomings in consecutive years,” according to campus leaders, adding that they are “part of a larger, overall University safety strategy.”
Several students questioned the effectiveness of the metal detectors and said the devices made them feel criminalized at the place where they are gaining an education.
“I’m here to learn, honestly, so the fact that they have these measures already in place, it’s just like, are you expecting something to happen?” asked freshman Marley Smith.
The Spokesman, Morgan State’s student-run news outlet, first reported on the metal detectors.
Morgan’s Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Banks told The Banner that since coming out of the pandemic, university leaders have witnessed “behaviors that are very concerning” as students returned to campus.
“It was a hard decision,” he said. “I don’t want students to not feel safe on the campus. I don’t want them to feel that we don’t trust them. But the reality of this, what we’ve seen over the last two years, is very concerning. And we’re going to continue to message to our students about making good decisions, and understanding the company that they keep.”
The university previously considered using metal detectors in 2018, Banks said, after shots were fired at an off-campus apartment complex. Although they opted not to install them at the time after the complex enhanced some security measures, school officials have continued evaluating metal detectors.
The school placed metal detectors in its nine on-campus housing facilities but not two university-owned off-campus apartment complexes, the Marble Hall Gardens Apartment Complex and HH Midtown.
Morgan is an open campus, which means the general public as well as the campus community can come and go as they please.
The campus is adjacent to the communities of Morgan Park, Hillen, Lauraville, Stonewood-Pentwood-Winston, Perring Loch and Montebello. A Banner analysis shows that shootings have returned to pre-pandemic levels in the Northeastern District while they have mostly declined elsewhere in the city.
Homecoming festivities have been spoiled by shootings in back-to-back years. Last fall, a 20-year-old, who was not a Morgan student, was shot during a party. The previous year, an 18-year-old student was shot in the chest during an event on campus, according to university officials.
There were two other shootings on or near campus during the fall semester, according to The Spokesman, including one incident where a student was charged in the death of a 19-year-old security guard at an apartment complex.
Additionally, the student news outlet reported in December that a Baltimore man threatened to “shoot up” the school’s Office of Human Resources after he was rejected for a job with the university’s food vendor, SodexoMagic.
Leon McClinton, president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International and director of housing and residential life at Oklahoma State University, wrote in a statement to The Banner that “it is rare to see metal detectors in residence halls.”
“Student safety is vital, but few would argue that it should come at the sacrifice of students’ standard of living,” McClinton said. “Prison-like settings are hardly conducive to community building, life skill development and other goals of residence hall life.”
McClinton said the most useful way to enhance school safety is by de-escalating fear and reinforcing a sense of community.
Some students at Morgan also noted there are buildings on campus, such as the student center, that anyone can walk through without being screened.
“If they had it at more places around campus, not just where we live, it would feel different,” said sophomore history major Ian Tucker.
Tucker said he hadn’t felt unsafe at Morgan before the metal detectors were implemented.
Students also said the security measures are enforced inconsistently.
In some dorms, freshman biology major Azhani Hollins said, security is strict. “It’s basically like TSA,” she said. If a machine beeps, a security guard will always ask to look inside her bag, she said. But in other dorms, Hollins said, the security guard is “just on their phone or something, or they’re just watching you beep through the metal detector. They don’t ask you anything.”
Hollins, and many other students, said the machines beep almost every time they walk through — because of their laptop or keys. That day, Hollins said she’d twice set off a metal detector because of her computer. Each time she walked away without anyone stopping her or asking her what she was carrying.
Other students echoed her concerns and said the detectors felt pointless because of what they see as a lack of enforcement in some dorms. Two students told The Banner they’ve seen people just walk around metal detectors with no one stopping them.
The school declined to elaborate on specific training or evaluation protocols, “to protect the integrity of the University’s operational processes and security enhancements,” it said in a statement.
School officials said the process is similar to that of entering sporting events or airport checkpoints, but said a major difference is that the university devices “do not require individuals to empty pockets and bags and remove metal objects.”
The process is meant to be “unobtrusive and unobstructive,” the statement said, adding that “our overriding goal is to increase the level, and sense, of security without inconveniencing the routine egress and ingress of our students.”
The school, Banks said, is also considering bringing in a security consultant to provide guidance on “how we think about security for the entire campus, beyond the residential halls,” including for academic buildings.
Trimuel said she wants to see the university’s student regent and Student Government Association made aware of any future changes.
“I hope that they actually consult us moving forward so that they are not institutionalizing Black students at an institution that was made for them,” she said.