Surge in dorm thefts rocks campus

Lily Mae Lazarus, Managing Editor

Sharp Hall reports the most thefts, with at least 44 missing their personal belongings. (Ava Rose)

After evacuating from Hurricane Ida, Tulane University students face another hurdle during their fall semester. Hoping to be reunited with their personal belongings, many on-campus students returned to find their valuables stolen. Dorm thefts skyrocketed with 196 reported on-campus thefts occurring since Sept. 15. 

Tulane first acknowledged the thefts on Sept. 24 in an email sent by Dusty Porter, vice president of Student Affairs. According to the email, Tulane received reports of missing items as students returned to their residence halls. “This is distressing news to hear, and we are very sorry for anyone who has experienced such loss,” Porter said. 

The vast majority of on-campus students returned to New Orleans between Sept. 24 and Sept. 26. Prior to these dates, only eight thefts were reported to the Tulane University Police Department. By Sept. 28, students reported 187 thefts over four days.

All of these thefts share a pattern. In the aftermath of Ida, Tulane’s Damage Assessment and Recovery Team assessed the campus and the university hired contractors to complete necessary repairs in all on-campus spaces. Upon returning to campus, students found personal items missing from their dorm rooms. A cleanup and construction crew of approximately one hundred contracted employees had access to these areas.

Patrick Norton, senior vice president and chief operating office, explained why contractors and Campus Services had access to all of the dorm rooms during a webinar on Sept. 10. Norton stated that the contractors worked to ensure all spaces on campus were free of water, smell and environmental concerns and that they would be “in the same form and function” as they were prior to the storm.

According to Tulane, the contractors specialize in disaster recovery. Tulane permitted contractors to remove trash, empty and clean refrigerators, check for damage and collect items that required professional cleaning such as damp clothing and bed linens. However, medications, valuables and other personal items that could not be cleaned were to be left in rooms for students to inspect.

Despite reassurances by the administration, thefts occurred in all Tulane dormitories with the exception of Josephine Louise Residence Hall. Many of the freshman dorms experienced the most reported thefts with Sharp Hall having at least 44 thefts, Monroe Hall reporting at least 26 thefts and Butler Hall witnessing at least 27 thefts since Sept. 15.

According to Mike Strecker, assistant vice president of communications, residence halls were left open after the storm to complete remediation work. “It appears that during this process a person, or persons, took advantage of the emergency situation,” Strecker said.

In Mayer Hall, TUPD reports 13 dorm room thefts. (Ava Rose)

Mayer Hall resident Ella Jongebruer reported a theft of $200, Ray-Ban sunglasses and a Versace necklace. According to Jongebruer, after informing TUPD of her missing items, officers relayed that the housing office may have taken valuables for security reasons. “Why would they take it if they didn’t think that anything would be stolen in the first place?” Jongebruer said.

Jongebruer’s report is one of many. “A lot of GroupMe messages that I’m in have people saying that there’s random things missing. One girl said she had underwear missing, which was really scary,” Jongebruer said.

A similar story appeared on a Tulane Reddit page where the user dinosauce131313 wrote “I just got back today and realized that a bunch of stuff has been stolen from my dorm room. All my money, my Nintendo switch and games, and my iPad are all gone.” 

The user mentioned that, after speaking with their Resident Advisor, Resident Director and some of their floormates in Wall Residence Hall, others had valuables stolen from their rooms. Wall has at least 16 reported thefts.

Sophomore Lindsay Axelrod reported three pairs of shoes and an “expensive belt” as stolen from her Weatherhead Hall dorm room. Axelrod’s brother is a Tulane freshman whose shoes were also stolen. 

“I stayed here during the hurricane and evacuated to Houston with the school so it was definitely upsetting to know that there was no damage in my room and people still came in here and stole my belongings,” Axelrod said.

Wyatt Turner, an Aron resident, shared Axelrod’s frustrations. “I feel very let down by the university. It seems as though there would have been some sort of supervision of these inspection and clean up crews so that all of this could have been avoided in the first place,” Turner said. “Now I feel as if there is a sense of fear of something like this happening again and a distrust to the university for letting this happen.”

Additional damage from Hurricane Ida and Tropical Storm Nicholas forced residents of Décou-Labat Residences to relocate to the Hyatt Regency downtown. Tulane contracted University Student Services to pack up belongings in all Décou-Labat rooms and relocate them to the Hyatt. Since returning to campus, at least 18 Décou-Labat residents report having items stolen from them in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Décou-Labat resident Jack DiLorenzo had an array of items stolen from his room including a PlayStation 5, his playstation remotes, a hard drive, headphones and a tailored blazer. “All of the pockets of my bags were opened and rummaged through. It was [a] very clear that thing that they were looking for stuff to take,” DiLorenzo said.

DiLorenzo received a message from Case Management and Victim Support Services a few days after reporting the theft which read “Currently, the university is still working on a response and will be in touch in a few weeks, but we will let you know if there is any additional action you need to take.” 

At least 20 students in the Aron Residences are victims of post-hurricane theft. (Ava Rose)

Turner relayed a similar lack of communication after reporting the theft of over $3,000 worth of his belongings to TUPD. “All I was told was to wait a few days for the investigation to occur, but since then I have heard nothing concerning reimbursement or stolen item replacement,” Turner said.

Four days after students returned to campus, Tulane issued a message regarding next steps. According to Strecker, students who believe that items were removed from their room must file a report with TUPD no later than Oct. 6, with the exception of Décou-Labat students at the Hyatt, who will have longer to report thefts. Beginning Oct. 4, students will be asked to upload documentation of their missing items. 

Once TUPD completes its investigations and documentation is received, victims will sign a statement with the Office of Insurance and Risk Management releasing all future claims related to these incidents. The university expects payouts to begin on Oct. 18.  

“Beyond financial loss, Tulane recognizes that these thefts represent a deep violation of personal space, comfort and trust,” Strecker said. “To assist with processing and navigating this matter, each student who files a police report will also be assigned a case manager to ensure that they receive emotional support as they process their response to this event.”