An individual thought to have no affiliation with Rutgers entered the University Center at Easton Avenue Apartments on Sept. 10 late at night, said students living in the building.
Maeve Young, a School of Nursing junior, said she and her roommates were entering the apartments when a man caught the door behind them and followed them into the elevator.
She said the man was tall and dressed in all black. He also had a bandage on his arm that appeared to be from an intravenous fluid drip and carried a plastic bag filled with cups.
“He didn’t seem malicious, but it was obvious that he wasn’t a resident in the building,” Young said. “I’m not sure how long he stayed in the apartments, but when we asked him what floor he wanted to go to, he said a number that doesn’t even exist in our building.”
He rode with them to their floor, but they were able to exit the elevator safely and contact the resident assistant on duty, who made additional rounds but could not find the intruder, Young said.
This situation has been described as “tailgating” and is one of two common ways unauthorized people can enter buildings, said Tom Gilbert, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and one of the apartments’ residents.
Tailgating occurs when individuals sneak into buildings by catching doors before they lock, Gilbert said. The other common method for unauthorized entry is “piggybacking,” where a person lets someone else enter a building without knowing they are not supposed to be there.
Gilbert and Young said the University needs to implement more security measures to ensure the safety of students living in the apartments. Gilbert said the University Center at Easton Avenue Apartments should have a designated security officer at all times, similar to the Sojourner Truth Apartments.
“I don’t think New Brunswick is a bad city. The overwhelming majority of residents I’ve met have been nothing but welcoming and gracious to the Rutgers community. But, it’s still a city,” he said. “You can never let your guard down, especially at night. This is especially true here at University Center, where we are practically located off-campus in the heart of the city.”
Young said someone should be in the apartments’ lobby to check for proof of residence, especially since the building already has designated spaces for such security measures.
“The fact that they aren’t using these offices for their purpose is very frustrating, especially when four 20-year-olds are trapped late at night in an elevator with a man who is obviously not a resident,” she said.
Gilbert said he would also like to see the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) expand its presence beyond the College Avenue campus, as they tend to patrol that area. He said doing so could help them build strong ties with the community.
“I think having a greater presence both here and throughout our other off-campus resident hubs will go a long way in cultivating a community where students not only feel safe but feel at home,” he said.
Matthew Gulsby, captain of the RUPD, said he received an email mid-September about a person following a group of female residents into an elevator, but it lacked details such as whether they were a resident and how they got into the building.
He said much of preventing security issues comes down to students being aware of who is entering the building with them and taking steps to stop them when necessary, such as by asking them if they are a resident and telling them to wait for their host to come down if they say no.
“If you're unsure, you could either contact Public Safety — the non-emergency number,” Gulsby said. “Or, I know some of the buildings do have Residence Life staff who maintain the front desk for several hours in the evening, so they would probably also be a good source to know who's supposed to be in the building.”
But Gilbert said he would not want to confront an individual with unknown intentions or put that risk on a Residence Life staff member.
“This is, both metaphorically and literally, our house,” he said. “Each of us do have a responsibility in keeping our house safe, but that shouldn’t come with a risk of injury or harm.”
Ultimately, Gilbert said he hopes this incident will serve as a catalyst for actions that make the campus safer and prevent such events from happening in the future. He said strengthening the campus’s security would benefit members of all stations, whether they are students, parents or faculty — but only if everyone collaborates to do so.
“My worst fear is that this incident results in zero change,” Gilbert said. “It’s not the first time something like this has happened, and it won’t be the last unless we actually work as a university community toward building a better future here on campus.”