Vandalism, theft and property damage in residence halls on campus. Stoke hall remains a top concern.

Vandalism, theft and property damage in residence halls on campus. Stoke hall remains a top concern.

Emily Jastrem, Contributing Writer

Admitted students are gathering at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) to get a feel for what it means to be a Wildcat– but one thing tour guides may be leaving out is that there is a large amount of property damage at UNH.

UNH has 25 different residence halls on campus with various hall themes and activities. Incoming freshmen sometimes opt for the all-freshmen dorms, including Christensen and Williamson Hall, but lots end up in bigger, mixed residence halls such as Stoke.

The university’s website says that the eight-floored hall is very diverse and has various floor themes. According to some students, the one thing the website does not mention is how Stoke is allegedly the “biggest party hall,” making it the biggest target of vandalism, theft and property damage.

A google form survey was sent out to freshmen on the official Class of 2026 Snapchat story and received 39 responses. The survey investigated freshmen’s thoughts about property damage and opinions on their residence halls. All the Stoke residents who responded chose to remain anonymous.

One student wrote, “Stoke has a reputation as a party building… that being said, there are a few people who heavily abuse substances or are destructive, and the building is a dump as a result.”

“Stoke is really the only serious problem,” Director of Residential Life Ruth Abelmann said. “Part of it is the design of the building. It’s different from any other building on campus. It’s a place that attracts a lot of students who are looking for something to do and meet people… its location is close to a lot of fraternities and sororities, so I think that may have something to do with it.”

Almost all Stoke residents who responded to the survey said that people break sinks, exit signs  and elevators.

Broken sinks in Stoke hall posted to the Class of 2026 Snapchat story earlier this fall.

Abelmann confirmed that there has been damage to exit signs and elevators this year, but the main problem is the sinks.

“Now that is a new phenomenon. It’s really disturbing that people are ripping a sink off of a wall. It’s not something that I cannot even comprehend,” she said. 

Assistant Director of Residential Life Stephen Rivard said that there have been 20 to 30 damaged sinks in Stoke this year. Abelmann said that they have put in new sinks, but even some of those are getting damaged.

Abelmann said Rivard began setting up weekly meetings last semester with the police, housekeepers, facilities staff and residential life staff to discuss problems in Stoke and to come up with creative solutions. One change to Stoke this year has been the increase from one residential hall director (RHD) to two due to the large population.

One Stoke resident said that they have had clothing stolen out of the laundry room several times and cannot afford to keep buying new clothes. Abelmann urges students to report any stolen property to the police so they can investigate the situation. Christensen Hall RHD Calvin Mahony said he has received two reports of stolen clothes in his hall this year.

In the survey, 22 out of 38 students said that they have experienced some sort of vandalism, theft or property damage in their halls. Scott Hall resident Meredith Beers said that almost all of the bulletin boards decorated by resident assistants (RAs) in her hall have experienced some sort of vandalism. Six other students from various halls reported the same issues.

“It’s really discouraging when an RA puts effort into a bulletin board and someone damages it,” Abelmann said.

Mahony said that RAs are required to put new boards up monthly. He said that the repercussions and follow-up actions all depend on the board theme and how long the board was up for. If the board theme has to do with some sort of diversity, inclusion and equity topic, then it may be reported as a bias incident.

All bias incidents are reported to the Civil Rights & Equity Office in addition to the UNH police. RAs will also take pictures of any bias incidents including racial slur vandalism to document it. In the survey, many students wrote about having offensive slurs and terms written on their whiteboards outside of their dorm room doors. Mahony said that they are usually never targeted at any residents, but it is still a very serious matter. Depending on the severity of the situation, Mahony may be in contact with the residents of the dorm, the residents of the floor or the whole hall community.

But the obscene messages do not stop at whiteboards. An anonymous freshman living in Christensen Hall said they found a swastika drawn in the elevator. Mahony hadn’t heard anything about this, but confirmed that there was another bias incident in the elevator this year. Students have carved pictures and messages into the walls and buttons of the elevators.

A Jessie Doe Hall resident said they found human feces smeared across bathroom walls. 

Abelmann did not recall hearing about this particular situation, but said it is very possible as similar things have happened in the past.  She said students may not be thinking at the time of their actions that the housekeepers and other staff members have to deal with these issues.

“The cleaners do a good job, but I feel bad for them,”said a Stoke resident. “The friends I made are the only reason I stay. Stoke is not livable. They should remodel it completely.”

“A day prior to Admitted Students Day, someone took the fire extinguisher and vandalized the boys bathroom on the second floor,” said Julia Picone, a resident of Scott Hall. “[The Resident Hall Director] sent out an email to all residents… I just felt bad for the staff.”

Mahoney explained the process of how the housekeepers and residential life staff get placed in certain halls. The housekeepers fill out a preference sheet and are placed by the housing department. Mahoney said that most housekeepers like to return to the same halls every year. RAs also fill out a preference sheet but are placed by RHDs based on where RHDs think RAs will thrive. Some RAs do better in larger halls and some do better in smaller halls. RHDs fill out a preference sheet every year and may move to a larger hall to be challenged or a smaller hall based on their needs. These placements are made by the residential life leadership team.

When asked how the staff deals with vandalism, theft and property damage Abelmann said there are many factors that go into deciding repercussions. Because there are no cameras where students typically cause problems, it can be hard to pin down one person. When there is evidence, the student goes through the conduct system through the Office of Community Standards which addresses student behavior violations. Abelmann said these students will face serious sanctions and risk being suspended from housing and paying for any damages.

Abelmann is very passionate about her community and believes that these issues come from a handful of students. She believes because Stoke attracts so many outside visitors, the people causing these issues are most likely not Stoke residents.

“It doesn’t take a lot of people to do a lot of damage,” she said.

According to Abelmann, in a November 2022 housing and residential life survey with an 84% response rate, 88% of Stoke residents said they enjoy living in their hall compared to the 96% of UNH on-campus students in general who enjoy living in their hall. 91% of Stoke residents said they like living on their floor.

In response to the problems Stoke is having and the size of the hall, the second, third and fourth floors will be for upper division students and the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth floors will be for first-year students starting in the fall of 2023. More details can be found on their website.

Abelmann said that overall, UNH has a very safe and respectful community. She said that students should still lock their doors because you never know who is coming in and out of halls, but for the most part UNH has a great community. 

“We’re a campus where kids walk into the dining hall and put their phone on a table, so there is a lot of trust,” she said.