The Big Kitty – Quentin Cohan

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Seated at a large wooden desk in his motorcycle paraphernalia-­lined office and sporting a neatly trimmed silver goatee, Dave Boyer, commander­-in-­chief of Williams College Safety and Security, spends most of his time similarly to other College inhabitants–reading through hefty packets of information about Williams. Boyer spends most mornings sorting through the previous day’s “incident reports,” the lengthy compilations of all the security officers’ reports over the previous 24 hours. “That’s a big portion of the mornings,” Boyer says, “to review the previous incidents, to pass that information on to the departments that require it.” Though his job is to go after bad guys (i.e, misbehaving students) he is much more IRS than CIA. At this point in his career, Boyer says he is in meetings or doing administrative work about 90-­95% of the time–though he would prefer a different percentage.

Boyer, who is from Williamstown, has worked for CSS since August of 1989, when he joined on as third shift (midnight to 8 AM) security officer. As a youth, he hung around the Williams College campus, recalling, “I’m sure I ran away from security a time or two as a kid.” Boyer graduated from Westfield State College in 1982 with a degree in physical education and a minor in business with the intention of working in corporate health. After college he managed a Nautilus Fitness Center as well as some retail stores. Boyer then decided to come to the College mainly because “of the encouragement of another person to actually look, and see what I thought, and I liked what I saw… I kept thinking of it in the eyes of that teenager, you know, that was here in the early seventies, the late sixties, and seeing how it was part of a process–that it was actually an important department and an important part of the equation that is Williams.”

Though Boyer’s job is mostly administrative, he would prefer more contact with students and actively seeks it out. He explains that “one of the fun parts of this job is to get to know students.” Soon after starting work at Williams, he met a Chinese student who he invited over to dinner, who upon meeting Boyer’s young daughter presented her with the nickname xiao mao–or little kitty. Generally speaking, Boyer’s initial interactions with students are disciplinary, but that has not prevented friendships from flourishing. For example, a group of alumni who returned for the football game against Trinity this past September called Boyer in advance of their visit to make sure they could see him. Interestingly, though, according to Boyer “collectively as a group they probably got fined more for illegal parties, received more parking tickets than any group of students I’ve ever worked with.”

Boyer’s relationship to the student body is, of course, sometimes not as outwardly cheery as these anecdotes make clear. Befitting the head of CSS, students at Williams often see Boyer antagonistically. Overall he thinks that his and the department’s relationship with students “is good; it definitely depends on who you ask–there’s no doubt about that. Those that don’t have a positive image of the department–I would think that the majority of them it’s been through some type of enforcement action where they have been on the receiving end.” Some disgruntled students have taken to Yik Yak to air their grievances with the head of security. Though these posts are not as common as they once were, two recent posts claimed “DB [Dave Boyer] still has a hotmail account” and “DB uses Bing instead of Google”; in the past, others have claimed he wears jean shorts, or “jorts”. One student, a junior who would only speak anonymously, argued that “the entire security apparatus is so confusing and tilted in security’s advantage that you can get a strike for doing pretty much anything. And I think Dave Boyer knows this and maintains an unfair status quo because it allows him to do what he wants more or less.”

The school’s alcohol policy is easily the greatest source of tension between the students and security. The College’s official policy, per the Dean of the College’s webpage, states “Williams prohibits the abuse of alcohol and expects members of the College community to abide by federal, state, and local regulations concerning the possession and use, purchase, and distribution of alcohol. The College prohibits the unlawful manufacture, sale, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of illegal drugs, or the unauthorized use of prescription drugs.” Those two sentences, of course, have not comprehensively prevented enterprising Williams students from attaining those substances. As such, the College’s administration as well as most administrations of institutions of higher learning, face a paradox in which they cannot turn a blind eye to illegal activities, but it also cannot punish a sizable percentage of its students. This results in a situation in which security extends its long arm inconsistently.

Security’s problem is essentially one of prevention. “We know we have an inability to stop everything,” Boyer explains about underage drinking, “we just try and work with it as effectively as we can.” One student, at least, thinks that this work is fairly ineffective. A senior who preferred to speak anonymously said, “I think there are two Dave Boyers. Dave Boyer: Williamstown resident, who is a nice guy and means well, and Dave Boyer: head of security. I think the latter is patently incompetent at his job and deeply out of touch with the student body.” The senior based his argument on the fact that he has “a dear friend who was called in and given the whole nine yards about discipline and getting forced to take time off for something he didn’t do,” among other similar experiences. Boyer, however, has a different view of the situation: “We know historically that Prospect basement is a scene of parties. We know historically Spencer basement was a scene for parties. Right now we’re not getting complaints from custodians, we’re not getting complaints for vandalism, we’re not getting complaints from house residents of illegal parties, so we don’t really feel the need to have to go looking for problems.” He also noted that CSS is taking a new approach this year when dealing with noise complaints in which they encourage students to resolve the situation themselves rather than by calling Security to shut down the festivities. This reflects a more pro­-student stance by security than the version portrayed by the senior. Regardless of whose description is more accurate, the real problem is that there are two such radically different notions of the relationship between the students and security.

Ultimately, Boyer’s view of his job and security’s role at Williams is one of benevolence, not vengeance. “What I found out when I got here,” he recalls, “is it wasn’t about rules and regulations and enforcement, it was more about caring for the students and making sure they were okay… Five years out of Williams you’re not going to remember many formulas that you learned in chemistry, you’re not going to remember a lot of specific things you learned in the classroom, but hopefully what you’ll remember was how you resolved problems in the residential spaces, or how you interacted on athletic teams. Those are really the life­long skills we’re concerned about teaching.”

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