Pomona College has suspended the controversial ‘Gotcha’ program for at least one academic year, acknowledging that a procedure meant to promote safety awareness last semester had come to be widely associated with invasions of student privacy.
Under the Gotcha program, a campaign to encourage the locking of residence hall doors, Pomona resident advisors (RAs) were periodically required to look inside the rooms of students who had left their doors unlocked. The program was shrouded in controversy early last semester, after a Pomona sponsor lost his position when an RA conducting a Gotcha check found alcohol in his room.
Ric Townes, Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life, said that he had decided to suspend Gotcha because negative associations with the program had rendered it counterproductive.
“I think that the way that some people have looked at Gotcha, the message about safety is lost,” Townes said. “So if you just use that word, then people are not focusing on the message.”
Nate Brown PO’12, President of the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), approached Townes about discontinuing Gotcha late last semester after he was elected to the ASPC position.
“To Dean Townes’s credit, I think even before I came in he realized that the Gotcha program had created a lot of divisions within the student body,” Brown said. “I didn’t have to push hard on the issue or anything like that. It was a very natural conversation.”
Divisions over the Gotcha program, which became more apparent than ever last semester, are still apparent at Pomona. Brown is among the group that sees the program as an inappropriate breach of student privacy.
“I thought it was incredibly invasive,” Brown said. “I thought that it broke a certain level of trust that has, in the past, been in place between students and administrators.”
Leslie Appleton PO’12, who serves both as ASPC Vice President for Finance and as an RA, said that she disagrees with the argument that Gotcha violated student privacy.
“I feel like if you leave your door unlocked, whether it’s open or not, you are essentially inviting anyone to come in,” she said.
Appleton added that working as an RA has made her especially attuned to the problem of students leaving doors unlocked.
“I feel like people on Senate don’t think about [unlocked doors] as frequently as I might, because I do have that RA role,” she said.
Townes expressed his view that unlocked doors in residence halls pose a serious security threat.
“We have a concern that people prop doors, that people are getting into our buildings through open windows,” he said. “They’re stealing iPads, they’re stealing computers, and we’ve got to do something about it.”
Townes said that he and his colleagues have just begun discussing possible new programs to promote dorm security. Brown added that such programs are likely to be created, but not without the approval of an ASPC student committee.
“I got a guarantee from [Townes] that the Residence Hall Committee will be instrumental in helping to shape whatever security awareness program arises,” Brown said.
Townes added that the Gotcha program might come back in the future, but the process would have to involve notifying students in advance of room checks. He added that it was a mistake to conduct Gotcha checks last semester without advance notice, which had always been provided in previous years.
Brown said that he was not surprised to hear that Gotcha could one day make a comeback.
“I don’t think any administrator is going to make a promise of something never happening again,” he said. “The battle for students’ privacy isn’t necessarily over.”