Safety officers share what it means to work at a college

Photo by Ary Hashim

By Emily Davis

What comes to mind when you think about Campus Safety officers? While your first thought might be running across campus in a full sprint at one in the morning, there is another side to these officers that students often overlook: they are people just like anyone else in the Lewis & Clark community. Officers Ernesto Mendez and Aidan Niven are Campus Safety officers who say they understand the balance of power between young adults and authority figures. They, along with their fellow officers, work hard to make the campus a safe place.

Many of the officers for Campus Safety have had previous experience working within the security sector and bring with them valuable knowledge and skills. Mendez has been working at LC for the past three years and has experience in both the public and private sectors of security. Before coming to LC, Mendez worked as a police officer for several years.

Niven, the second newest member of the Campus Safety team, has only been at LC for 18 months, having previously been a campus safety officer at Reed College.

“(Working at Reed) was like boot camp for this job,” Niven said. “Because Reed is very similar to LC but crazier. It’s a great school, but the way the culture is, there’s just a lot more intense partying. I appreciate the fact that it’s not like that here.”

Niven had several high-adrenaline jobs before joining the security sector. He worked as a zip-line tour guide, a high-rise window washer and, most intense of all, a preschool teacher.

Niven believes these previous experiences have prepared him to work in a variety of situations, particularly his work as a preschool teacher.

“What blew my mind was little kids are already such unique individual people and it just kind of hacked my brain,” Niven said. “It’s made me more empathetic to people. I thought it was really beneficial for me.”

Being a campus safety officer is not all glitz and glamor. Both officers agreed that the number one call they get is for helping students and staff who have been locked out of their rooms. Calls to Campus Safety are usually service calls, whether it be to escort somebody across campus or to help somebody with car trouble. They do get the occasional call for suspicious activity or inappropriate behavior, and Campus Safety officers are always prepared for these emergencies.

Niven explains that officers are trained to handle medical emergencies, whether they be for physical or emotional issues.

“We get a lot of medical calls,” Niven said. “We get calls from distressed students, students having panic attacks, things like that.”

Mendez notes that part of being a campus safety officer is being prepared for a disaster or significant emergency.

“We can have an earthquake here, we could have a fire in a building and we just have to be prepared for those types of things,” Mendez said. “Part of my job is being ready to act if something were to happen.

Both Mendez and Niven agree that their number one priority is to keep students safe and maintain a level of security on campus. That being said, another important aspect of their job is enforcing policies and dealing with rule violations.

“Unfortunately, for some of the students, the only interaction with us is going to be on the enforcement side, and that will tend to kind of wane their opinion of (Campus Safety officers) because they’ve had to deal with us in a situation that isn’t a positive one,” Mendez said.

Niven agrees that while rule enforcement is an aspect of an officer’s interaction with students, there should always be a level of respect extended to the student.

“It’s really important that we try to have a personal understanding between a student and try to show cooperation and respect because, especially when I’m enforcing something, I never want to leave a student with the impression that I’m looking down on them,” Niven said. “That’s really important to me.”

It is crucial to both officers that students realize that behind the uniform and the role of authority, they and their fellow Campus Safety officers are regular people who are understanding of what it means to be a student.

“Don’t let Campus Safety, just the name or the appearance, intimidate you, because we’re all friends,” Mendez said. “We’re all here to help, and we’re all personable. Most of us have been in that sort of situation or gone to college, so we’ve been in the same boat. We know what it’s like.”

Mendez and Niven share the same sentiment of wanting students to understand that they are there to create a safe environment for students, and also know that Campus Safety is a resource for everyone in the LC community.

“What I want people to understand is that we’re not ‘bad guys’ and we’re not here to rain on people’s parades,” Mendez said. “We’re here to provide them with a safe and positive environment for them to get an education.”

Officer Niven agrees with Mendez and stresses the importance of creating a calm and considerate dynamic between officers and students.

“It makes all the difference in the world, what kind of energy, what kind of demeanor you bring into the situation,” Niven said. “And I think that we’ve done a good job of hiring people that are respectful. We aim for understanding, cooperation and respect.”


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