The Daily Gamecock

USC housing to begin Housing Watch Program, community billing in response to residence hall vandalism

<p>The Capstone dormitory on the University of South Carolina campus.</p>
The Capstone dormitory on the University of South Carolina campus.

University housing announced a new Housing Watch Program in response to increased vandalism in USC residential communities in an email sent to students and parents in late February. 

According to Josh Wise, director of communications marketing for university housing, USC has seen an uptick in residential vandalism in recent years. USC Police Department crime logs show at least 10 instances of vandalism this semester.

Students have damaged ceiling tiles, destroyed walls and damaged elevator lights in residence halls across campus. 

In response to recent trends, the university's Housing Watch Program will allow students to report vandalism in residential buildings through an online submission form. 

Olivia Kulig, a first-year finance student and resident of Capstone Housing, said she is compelled to reduce vandalism in her residence hall. 

“No one wants to live in a place where the ceiling is being banged out,” Kulig said. 

Students caught vandalizing a residence hall will face a conduct hearing and be held responsible for the cost of damages, according to an email sent out by university housing. A list of repair fees can be found on the USC Housing website. 

The email also said that as part of the housing agreement, university housing will begin community billings if those responsible for vandalism are not identified in a timely manner. 

Wise said a recent increase in unresolved vandalism cases on campus prompted the email about community billing.

Tori Grenier, a first-year English student and resident of the Honors Residence Hall, said she would be annoyed if her community was billed for something that she did not do. 

“It would make me want to live off-campus, where I have more control over that situation,” Grenier said. 

Kulig likewise said that she would be less likely to choose university housing in future years if community billing remained part of the Housing Agreement.

"There are so many people that do stupid things that I do not want to be responsible for," Kulig said.

However, according to Wise, the impacts of vandalism go beyond the cost of repairs. Vandalism can also strain understaffed university employees.

"It also hurts the people that work daily," Wise said. "It's affecting those folks as well because they're already stressed." 

Wise's statement is consistent with the message from university housing, which said that supply-chain issues and staff shortages could cause major delays in repairs and replacements. 

Wise also said that vandalism is a crime, and that some cases might result in the notification of law enforcement in addition to school conduct hearings and payment for damage.

"You're damaging property that doesn't belong to you, and ultimately, it can result in authorities being notified. We don't want to go there," Wise said. 

According to university housing, if a residence hall is damaged, staff will coordinate to identify the responsible party and only those persons will be billed. Billing notifications will be received through email.  

In addition to the Housing Watch Program, university housing plans to add cameras to residence halls that do not have them. They will also inform incoming students about the harms and consequences of vandalism.

“We’re hoping by bringing light to the subject, that students will start to really take some ownership and pride in their building,”Wise said. “Our facilities are a direct reflection of all of us, and we all have to take pride in it and not damage them and cause vandalism.”