Q&A: New Director of Public Safety Mike Hill

If one thing is clear about Mike Hill, Swarthmore’s new director of Public Safety, it’s that he’s not one to let himself get cooped up in an office pushing paper. Since joining the community in April, he’s already formed two new campus-wide committees, hosted an open house, and brought back a self-defense course, during which he’ll suit up to let participants practice their newly learned tactics on him. Noting his own maxim, that safety is a shared responsibility, he’s committed to community and teaching. He can wax on about safety tips for hours, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Max Nesterak: You were previously the Bi-College Director of Public Safety, having worked your way up from patrol officer during your more than 20 years at Bryn Mawr College. Your wife is also the the director of Web and Media Communications. I wanted to ask you how you’re settling in, but it seems like you’ve been apart of the community for a long time now. 

Mike Hill: I certainly knew Swarthmore long before I got here. Having my wife work here was pretty useful. I knew Owen, the former director of Public Safety, for years before he decided to retire, so I’d come here occasionally. I was always impressed with the students when I came here. The campus is beautiful. Having been at all three of the tri-colleges, I have to say Swarthmore is probably the best campus of the three. And I’ll deny that on each campus, but Swarthmore is a great place.

MN: The social life, the campus size, the type of students are fairly similar across the Tri-Co. Are there different safety issues that are more prevalent at Swat? Or else, what are the biggest concerns for you at Swat right now? 

MH: I think the issues are not so different than what I dealt with at Bryn Mawr. The only thing I think is unique is the involvement with the town. I didn’t have as much as that when I was working at Bryn Mawr, but I think the issues are relatively the same. We’re so fortunate that are crime rates are so low, relative to Penn and Drexel and Temple, that students feel comfortable leaving their possessions around. However, we just had a theft of a laptop from the library. So complacency is the biggest challenge.

MN: You brought the Rape Aggression Defense Program to Bryn Mawr. This is an internationally recognized self-defense course that’s offered at hundreds of colleges across the country but not Swarthmore.

MH: It is now.

MN: When is that starting? 

MH: Joanna, the new associate director of Public Safety, and I are both instructors, and I think the first class we have scheduled is December for the study abroad program. The program started this semester, and it’s a self-defense program for women and it’s a great program. I’ve been teaching it since the ’90s, and I think every woman should take this course or a course that’s similar to it because it teaches some things that will be useful for the rest of your life, beyond college. Mostly it’s about awareness, and we do teach a little self-defense. The whole program talks about things that aren’t fun – rape, sexual assault – but I’d rather, and I think Joanna agrees, I’d rather talk about it in that setting where we can kind of be light about it, than have to sit down with someone who’s a survivor, which is probably one of the most traumatic things that could happen to anybody.

MN: And that’s just for women? 

MH: It is. There is a men’s course, but neither of us are certified in that. Being here, since we’re a co-ed campus, at some point I’ll send one of my folks or I’ll go get certified. Being at Bryn Mawr I didn’t need it, but being here it’d be nice to have both, so that will be on the project list.

MN: Can you talk more about how the program works and what successes you had with it at Bryn Mawr? 

MH: It’s a 10-12 hour course that has a bit of lecture. The way I used to teach it is the first 3 to 4 hours is lecture and then towards the end of that we get into some self-defense techniques and all that stuff. But it’s a chunk of lecture that talks mostly about awareness and making good choices. If we do a good job of teaching [students] this course, when they go out into the world or they go study abroad, which is why our first class is for the study abroad program, they’ll be a lot more aware of the decisions that they’re making. I’m not going to tell students not to wear high heels anymore, but I will say if you wear high heels you should think about how fast you can run in those heels, or you should think about if you can take that high heel off and whack someone in the eye. Maybe you get lucky and the heel goes in the eye. I think they’ll leave you alone at that point.

MN: What other kinds of initiatives are you looking to bring to Swat? I heard you’re looking at bystander training programs. 

MH: The bystander training is run through the Dean’s Office although we’re going to participate in the training. The other initiatives that I’d say are high on the list are the two committees that we’ve started this semester. One of them is a monthly committee, the Public Saftey Advisory Committee (PSAC), and that’s a new appointment through Student Council and so there are two folks through them. My intent is to have a good representation of our community and use that group as a sounding board for our technology tools that I’d like to bring to campus, or a place to talk about legal issues that have come up in our world, or a place just for students to come and tell us about things we should know or should address, whether it’s lighting or safety areas. These are issues I want to address but I don’t want to do it in a vacuum. The other committee is a bi-weekly meeting with all the key players of the College and also representation from Student Council, I think the Res Life representatives from Student Council. Essentially my hope for that is to bring all those players together, and to kick around either upcoming events or past events that we want to change to make them safer, smarter, or better. It seems to me in the short time I’ve been here is that if you wanted to do an event on campus you would have to go to my office and a bunch of other places to coordinate that, and then we might coordinate amongst ourselves how to make that event safe. This is campus is full of smart, energetic, and caring people. If you put us all together there’s no way we can’t come up with a solution about something.

MN: I read you’re an avid photographer. I’m assuming that means more than just crime scenes. 

MH: Yes. All these photos are mine, for good or bad, they’re mine. I like to do it; it’s a good hobby. On our website now we have our bios. I encourage anybody to go read them. While I’m Mike, I like to take photos, as a department, we are full of multifaceted people. We have Jimmy, who’s also an avid photographer, who when I start talking about photography ,he starts talking about apertures and exposures and put your setting this way, and we have other folks like Cathy who’s a painter and a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. So I encourage folks to find out more about us.

– photo courtesy of Swarthmore College 


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