Multiple on-campus incidents bring student safety into question

Zac VanderLey – Staff Writer

Hannah Vanderhooft- Staff Writer

Sam Landstra-Co-Chief Editor

Photo Credit: Gerrit Van Dyk

Editor’s Note: This article includes sources whose names have been kept anonymous at the request of the sources for the sake of their privacy. 

Over the past six weeks, a number of individuals—masked men, a window peeper, and a stalker—have infringed upon the safety of Dordt University students, specifically women. 

On the evening of Monday, Oct. 4, a freshman girl reported to her work study at the call center of the university’s Advancement Office. The freshman, who requested her identity remain anonymous, worked through a list of people to call. She requested donations, collected them, and answered questions. 

At 7:30 p.m., the freshman girl called Bradley Vande Griend, a former graduate. 

“You should hit up my friend on Facebook,” Vande Griend, 30, said to the freshman girl. 

He also complimented her laugh. 

“He was a chatty guy, and it seemed like a nice conversation at the time,” the freshman girl said. 

After fifteen minutes, the call ended. The freshman girl mentioned the conversation to her coworkers, who had noticed its longer duration, but didn’t think anything else of it. She continued calling other potential donors. Then, 30 minutes later, Vande Griend arrived at the call center. 

Vande Griend requested to see the freshman girl, but her coworkers told him she had left the building and to return the next morning. He then left the call center, and the work studies alerted their supervisor of the incident, who notified Student Services. The following day, Derek Buteyn, associate dean of students and director of student life, notified the Sioux Center Police Department of the incident. He also called Vande Griend and told him not to return to campus and instructed the university’s campus security to patrol the call center. 

“I was a little concerned about the odd situation,” the freshman girl said. 

The following Monday, Vande Griend returned to the call center, now locked, and knocked on the office’s doors. He requested to speak to the freshman girl, who, anticipating a visit from Vande Griend, had intentionally switched her schedule. The Sioux Center Police Department, campus security, and Buteyn were notified. 

The police escorted Vande Griend, who did not resist, from university property. Dordt University has since filed a restraining order against Vande Griend, who possesses a history of overstaying his welcome. In August 2020 and January 2021, The N’West Iowa REVIEW reported Vande Griend trespassing at the Hegg Health Center in Rock Valley and Purdue Premium Meat Co. in Sioux Center, respectively. 

The freshman girl said she has “felt safe” since the incident: “Dordt handled it properly.” 

Annika Brands, a senior, worked in the call center on the evenings following Vande Griend’s first appearance. 

“We were all on edge that night and I think I was the worst,” Brands said. “It was just creepy.” 

Though Vande Griend has not been seen on campus since the university’s filing of the restraining order, the incident isn’t the only student safety-related matter of the semester. 

On Sept. 19, a female resident of West Hall notified police of a window peeper. The student had seen the individual, later identified as Peter Jason Van Kley, hiding in the bushes of the former nursing building between West and North Hall. Then, eight days later, the 37-year-old was caught on camera peering into houses around Sioux Center. The Sioux Center Police Department arrested Van Kley on a charge of intentional trespassing. 

When the police arrived at Dordt University to address Van Kley’s presence on campus, Nic Hembrough noticed their patrol car from his living room. Hembrough, a senior, lives in theformer nursing building with nine other male students. 

The next day, the West Hall resident who had notified police spoke to Hembrough, alerting him of Van Kley’s presence near his house the night before. 

“I was taken aback because I didn’t think those sorts of things happened here,” Hembrough said. “I didn’t feel as safe anymore.” 

Since Sept. 19, Hembrough and his roommates have been “more vigilant with locking our doors” and closing the blinds of their house. They heard of Van Kley’s arrest through an article published by The N’West Iowa Review on Sept. 29. 

“I feel better knowing that he got picked up,” Hembrough said. 

Though Vande Griend and Van Kley have been identified, the university has received reports of unidentified individuals as well. In mid-October, Ella Veldkamp, a freshman, encountered a masked individual around midnight in the parking lot of Covenant Hall. 

That night,, Veldkamp looked for a parking space near Covenant Hall. There were no available spots in the lot, so she turned towards the All-Seasons Center parking lot. As she drove, she noticed an individual approaching her passenger side door from the nearby sidewalk. She slowed to a stop, thinking they needed help. Then the individual, dressed from head to toe in black clothing, slammed their fists into Veldkamp’s window. She screamed and pressed the gas. She met one of her male friends at the university clock tower, and he escorted Veldkamp to Covenant Hall. Later, the friend parked her car. 

“The fact that [the masked individual] was doing it to girls outside of Covey, is a different story and makes it more scary.” Veldkamp said. “Because that stuff does happen in real life.” 

This same masked individual, who appeared to be a man, was seen chasing other Covenant Hall residents that same night. In addition, also that night, a Covenant Hall resident recorded a separate man hiding amongst the building’s dumpsters and chasing other girls. 

“I don’t want to be involved in that,” the freshman work study at the call center said. “It sounds a little too real.” . 

The university, according to Student Services, had received two reports related to campus security from that night: one from Veldkamp and another from a parent. 

But after Veldkamp’s incident, a screenshotted Snapchat message shared amongst students claimed Student Services had received eight separate reports of masked men chasing Covenant Hall residents

“[The rumored eight reports] unduly set the alarm level, and it is hard to come back from that,” said Robert Taylor, dean of students. “It is hard for people to re-shift back to reality.” 

These types of occurrences, according to Taylor, have happened “for the last eight to ten years” around Halloween. On Oct. 16 of this year, a campus security work study caught four high school boys dressed up in all black on campus. 

“In years past, we took care of it and moved forward, and no one got extra freaked out,” Taylor said. “Then, all of a sudden, it blew up and people were like ‘Student Services isn’t doing anything, and they received eight reports.’ It’s like, ‘Holy smokes, we got to switch it up here.’” 

These rumors prompted a campus-wide email sent out three days after Veldkamp’s encounter with the masked man. The email informed the student body of “incidents involving unwelcome individuals on campus” and “incidents involving individuals wearing masks.” Also, it claimed the university “work[s] diligently to create a safe campus community.” 

“I feel like they should have sent out an email right away,” Veldkamp said. “Because people who hadn’t heard the story were just parking their cars normally. There were just kind of rumors going around on campus about it.” 

Georgia Lodewyk, a Covenant Hall resident assistant, agreed. 

“We all want to get to a point where everyone feels safe enough to where they don’t need to be escorted back to their dorm,” Lodewyk said. “Girls don’t want to have to rely on that. We shouldn’t have to.” 

Taylor said Student Services worked as “quickly as they could” to get credible information on the incidents. 

“It’s important to know that no crimes were committed,” Taylor said. “If a crime were committed, we would have issued an email immediately if those who committed the crime were still at large.” 

In addition, Student Services has reached out to those related to the incidents individually. 

“I want [students] to know that we care so much. We just need people to come and tell us what is happening, so we know how to help them,” Ally Veldhuisen, a Student Services employee who has contacted these Covenant  Hall residents, said. “I have a really deep desire that girls feel at home on campus because part of feeling at home is feeling safe. It breaks my heart when that’s not how girls feel.” 

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) reports that 92 percent of public colleges and 38 percent of private college utilize “sworn and armed campus officers.”  

At Dordt University, full-time campus officers are not employed. They instead utilize a rotation of six work studies. Every night from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m., one of these students is on call for campus security. 

Additionally, resident assistants and community development assistants are on call for these same hours of the night for their respective buildings, and a staff member from Student Services is on call 24/7. The institution also relies on the Sioux Center Police Department, whom they have a longstanding relationship with, according to Taylor. 

“I don’t know all of the details that go into hiring students for campus security,” the freshman girl from the call center said. “I think the system could be improved by hiring trained security, but I could see issues that arise.” 

The addition of full-time, professional security workers on campus would be “hard positions to fill” because of the operating cost: “Since we have such a low crime rate, it’s hard to make those choices,” Taylor said. “We do feel well equipped—we do training sessions with local response people.” 

Over the past few years, the university has simulated active shooter and fire drills with local police and fire departments. These simulations have included university faculty and staff. 

“We feel like we are on top of things, but you never know,” Taylor said. “You have to expect the unexpected.” 

The campus-security related incidents from September and October prompted an increased police presence on campus in the following weeks, especially in parking lots at night. 

If students should encounter a situation where they feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to call 911 and campus security. They ought to contact Student Services about the incident when they are safe. 

The university is investigating the possibility of increased lighting around campus, particularly in parking lots, and locking residence buildings at different times. 

“The biggest problem is what happened.” Lodewyk said about the campus safety-related incidents. “The other big problem along with that was the communication—not totally knowing what’s going on—[because] girls should feel safe.”

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