Thursday, May 24, 2007

Closed Door

When I am in my office during the day, I almost always keep my door open. I like that my students and colleagues can stop by any time and chat or ask questions. I'm sure I'd get more done without the interruptions, but I'd much rather have the interactions. I close my door when I have something urgent to accomplish by a deadline and need to minimize interruptions.

Today my door is closed, but not because of a looming deadline. My door is closed because I am being harassed by a random person who walked into the department one day last week, saw my door open, came in, and has made a habit of doing so every day since. His visits have been annoying and it is difficult to get him to leave my office. He's clearly a deeply strange person, but only yesterday did he really disturb me when he asked me for money and became upset when I didn't give him any. Mostly he has been stopping by in the afternoons, but today he was in the department early, asking people where I was, and asking for my contact information because he said he was going to work for me. Everyone who met him was disturbed by their encounter with him and told me to call the police.

I have been very reluctant to call the police. Asking for money is not a crime, and this is a public building. I called the campus police today because my department chair asked me to, but the police were not helpful. The person I talked to said "What do you want us to DO?" I guess I just wanted to see if other people on campus have reported disturbing encounters with this person, and I wanted to make a record of his 'suspicious activities'. The police said to call them if this man comes to my office again.

Yesterday during my disturbing encounter with the strange man, I considered reaching for the phone to call a colleague, but the way I have my office set up is not convenient for such things. I would have had to turn my back on the guy. Also, my crazy visitor was between the office door and me, so I was backed into a corner.

This is my third encounter with a scary crazy person in my office in the past 10 years, and each time I have considered changing the organization of my office, and then I don't. I suppose it is human nature to try to forget about a bad, random experience and hope it won't happen again, but another part of it for me is that I don't want to arrange my office in a really inconvenient way because of anxiety. I have been trying to figure out if there's a way I can arrange my office so that I'm not constantly reminded that it's arranged that way to give me an escape route, but there are some serious architectural limitations to this. But then I think maybe I am being foolish not to rearrange things, since I've had these anxious encounters several times now and perhaps I should learn from experiences.

16 comments:

lost academic said...

It may seem like it's unfair to call the police, but there also seem precious little other authorities to handle people who behave in ways that make people question their motives or connection with reality. After reading your post again, I have to wonder if it's possible this person has some sort of psychiatric issues that perhaps someone else DOES need to be made aware of. It might be a public university and thus a seemingly public building but that doesn't give people with no business the right to be disruptive within it, and it does give the workers there the right to a nonthreatening environment.

Anonymous said...

As a woman who has had experience with strange & harrassing men and who did not make any formal reports - because the incidents were weeks or sometimes months apart, because it seemed inconvenient to take the time to document these incidents, and because I thought no one would really understand or care (and for the most part the people whom I spoke with did not and infact were uncomfortable with the subject) - I urge you to move your office telephone to a more accessible location and then go over to the campus police department and file a *written* report (a phone call is not enough).
Please stop hiding. It's time to open your office door again.

Anonymous said...

Your office is not a public place, even if the building is. You can certainly have anyone unwanted removed by police as a trespasser.

To do this, you have to be clear to the visitor that he isn't welcome. Obviously, this requires a mixture of assertion and lack of hostility. A campus security officer should be more than willing to do this for you. You should tell the officer/police you need them to help you deal with a *trespasser.* Don't soft-pedal it; police respond only to clearly defined, even exaggerated reports.

If he reappears, you (or the security officer) should politely explain that visitors aren't welcome. This will probably work by itself. Also, it will constitute a no-trespass warning.

After that, the visitor can be arrested for criminal trespassing if necessary just for setting foot in the building, or even the entire campus.

Anonymous said...

That really sucks!

My office is also not setup to allow me easy escape or even a barrier between myself and any unwanted guests. If I were at 1 scary visitor every three years (I am at 1 in 5 at the moment) I wouldn't change my layout but some of colleagues have. My office is set up to be collaborative, others prefer the big professorial desk across the middle of the room as a physical and psychological barrier.

You could leave your office as is but maybe get a cordless phone so that you can have that to hand just in case.

working said...

Honestly, I really think that you need to both rearrange your office AND file a formal report....just to be safe.

Zuska said...

You've gotten some really good advice here, I hope you will take it. Please don't brush this off. Maybe this guy won't injure you but it could be someone in the future would, and the skills you develop for coping proactively with this unstable man will help you in any future encounters as well. It sucks to have to burn energy on stuff like this, but you have to do it. You might also call someone in campus psychological services to get advice on how to deal effectively with people like this.

Twice said...

I agree with the previous poster regarding filing a written report. This is not something that can easily be ignored. Additionally, this will provide documentation should the situation escalate. I would do this prior to a formal warning, so that the documentation exists in the event that a complaint against you is filed (Crazy, I know, but I've been an observer where this sort of thing has happened: Creepy behavior, followed by warning leads to accusations of unfair treatment)

Just a thought - if you are working on the computer when he comes in, send an IM code to co-workers on the same floor (some set up required in advance) who could come and help shoo him out.

Female Science Professor said...

This is good advice, and I've taken some of it already. Thanks to all -

Mr. B. said...

Please, you really have to take care of yourself...

I have had two offices since '92 and there have been serious "violations" of both of them to the point where I keep my door shut and locked, even while I am there. Both offices have been in unsecured buildings where evildoers (Bushian, I know) could just walk in and go on a shopping tour.

Just ask your students and colleagues to KNOCK. This really isn't a problem. Most of the time the whackos won't even knock, especially if the door is locked.

It is then pretty simple to answer the knock, and if it isn't someone you recognize or want to talk to, simply say that you are busy and close the door. (Scream like bloody hell if they don't cooperate.)

Hating to be paranoid.

Mr. B.

Dr. Shellie said...

Unfortunately, I have some experience with this kind of thing too. I second the comments of anonymous. At first it is difficult, because you do not want to be rude. But when someone does not respond to normal cues, you need to be very direct. First say, "I do not want you to talk to you again. Please leave now." Refuse to be drawn into any further conversation. If the person does not leave, call the police. Request that they escort the visitor out of your office and off campus. The laws vary state by state, but at least in the state I used to live in, if someone tries to contact you in person or by phone 3 times after you explicitly ask them not to, it is considered criminal harassment and is a prosecutable offense. If you are not getting a satisfactory response from the police, ask specifically for the officer assigned to stalking and harassment cases. (Believe me, there usually is one! Campuses see plenty of these cases each year. My former campus had 4-6/yr.) Make sure there is a police report in case it is needed later. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

"I have been very reluctant to call the police. Asking for money is not a crime, and this is a public building. "

With respect: there is a time to consider the other person's side, to 'let it go' and to play devil's advocate, but this kind of situation is emphatically NOT it. Take action, and take action now. Before something awful happens.

lost clown said...

That's really good advice. Please be safe and protect yourself.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already, and the guy bothers you again, ask him what his name is and where he lives.
If you don't feel safe doing that, this is a pretty good sign that you should call the police.
In my opinion, this is a fine time to be nosy.

Mc said...

Hi FemaleScienceProfessor....
I am a (female and french-speaking) graduate student in a canadian university and I just wanted to stop and say hi... and to thank you for those anecdotes you share with us... The five minutes I take every morning to take a look at your blog is always a moment I appreciate!!

anon said...

Okay, I know the first crazy person was a former grad student from old entries, but who was the second? The loyal blog readers demand to know the juicy details of encounters with the insane!

Personally, I laughed when I read, "Asking for money is not a crime" bit. It's good to have empathy with others and to be able to put yourself in their position, but... Good thing others already gave you advice.

Female Science Professor said...

In fact, I was excluding insane postdocs and grad students from my tally! I was referring only to random people who wander into the department and find their way to my office, which is one of the first offices encountered from one of the main doors. A few years ago, a very drunk man wandered into my office and wouldn't leave, so I called the police. And so on.