Border surge brings unaccompanied minors to North Carolina

  In the desert, they stopped to ask for water. Instead, they got detained.

The 17-year-old Honduran girl and her 10-month-old daughter are two of 68,000 children who have crossed the border into the United States alone, fleeing a region rife with violence.

The young mother and daughter were ushered into a crowded “cooler,” a shelter at the border, where they stayed for 15 days before being transported to a different shelter in Arizona.

“They treated us bad,” the Honduran teenager said. “We slept on the floor, and it was very cold. They kept telling us, ‘Why are we here? This is not our country.’”

Out of the 2,252 minors in North Carolina, these two are an anomaly in that they received legal counsel when they arrived in the United States. For the remainder who struggle through the system without representation, deportation is often an inevitability.

A 17-year-old unaccompanied minor from Honduras (right) crossed the border into the United States with her 1-year-old daughter. She seeks a Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa to be reunited with her mother (left) permanently.

The pair began their journey in December, when they boarded a bus in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. They drove for days, walked for miles and, a month and a half later, crossed the Rio Grande to reach the Texas border.’

Like most unaccompanied minors, they were escaping a neighborhood teeming with gang activity.

“They were assaulting a lot of people,” the mother said. “And sometimes, they killed people. Instead of a robbery, they killed them.”

Nearly 20 days following their detainment, they were reunited with the teenager’s mother, who was granted custody of both unaccompanied minors by a judge in Durham County.

The two children are on track to receive a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Status, a form of relief that provides green cards to immigrant minors who have been abandoned by one or more parents. For now, they’re in limbo, awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that will decide if their claim is valid.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Derrick Hensley, a family court attorney who represented the new custodian of the young immigrants in court, said SIJ Status is a viable option for many unaccompanied minors. With the influx of unaccompanied minors in the state, there are more cases than there are attorneys to present them. SIJ cases require a complicated mix of family law and immigration law that few attorneys are willing to undertake.

It’s even more difficult for unaccompanied minors to find legal representation at an affordable rate. Hensley takes on a combination of paid cases and pro bono cases.

“There aren’t immigration attorneys and family attorneys who are willing to take on these cases,” Hensley said. “They fly under the radar, the kids get deported and then, whether they live or die, nobody ever hears from them again.”

In his experience, children with valid claims for SIJ Status have a relatively high chance of receiving a green card. But recently, he’s noticed pushback from Customs and Immigration Services.

“They don’t like that there are so many of these cases now, and they want to find reasons to deny them,” Hensley said. “There’s some level of reviewability, but a lot of it comes down to how the officer was feeling that day, whether they get the Special Immigrant Juvenile visa or you just get a pile of trouble that doesn’t end.”

CIS officers can also reject cases in which they determine the judge does not know enough about the case.

A House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted March 4 to recommend the passage of a bill that would expedite the deportation of children who crossed the border on their own.

Though this bill would effectively speed up the deportation process, President Barack Obama instructed courts during the surge at the border last summer to rearrange their dockets, ensuring underage immigrants appeared before a judge within 21 days of Immigration and Customs Enforcement filing a case against them.

In the past year, Hensley has represented 22 unaccompanied minors, which he said was up from previous years. Attorneys across the state and nationwide saw an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors in their caseloads in the summer of 2014, when minors began crossing the border alone at unprecedented levels.

Hila Moss, the attorney for the Development, Empowerment, Action, Relief (D.E.A.R.) Foundation — a North Carolina immigration advocacy group — said her caseload skyrocketed in June, when around 1,200 juveniles had already arrived in the state.

Currently, 75 of Moss’s clients are unaccompanied minors, six of whom have been placed with sponsors in Alamance County. The D.E.A.R. Foundation offers legal counsel at a discounted rate based on what each client can afford and, in some circumstances, pro bono.

Moss said she saw a rapid shift in how juveniles were treated in the court systems over the course of a month. In May, when she represented two juvenile clients in Charlotte, judges opted to keep their cases closed unless the Department of Homeland Security requested they be reopened. A month later, when she had six children on the docket, each of them was denied closure.

“It was very dramatic in how quickly it happened and how quickly it changed their policy,” Moss said. “It went from being very kid-friendly, very kid-oriented, and then with the influx of the unaccompanied minors, they had, all of a sudden, huge targets on their backs.”

And judges don’t always understand the conditions surrounding the cases of unaccompanied minors, she said, noting she spends a significant amount of time educating judges who haven’t researched the cases or aren’t familiar with federal law.

“They don’t know what’s going on, and they don’t care what’s going on, which I think is the worst part,” Moss said. “As far as they see it, that’s not their purview. And I hear that from a lot of other attorneys.”

Courtroom struggles

Martin Rosenbluth, a clinical practitioner in residence for the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic at Elon School of Law, said judges have placed the cases of unaccompanied minors at the tops of their dockets in the past year.

“They’ve put their cases on what’s called the ‘rocket docket,’ so they’re moving those cases much more quickly than other removal proceedings in the immigration court,” Rosenbluth said. “So you’ll get deported more quickly if you came as a recent arrival, including if you’re a minor.”

In court proceedings, juvenile immigrants aren’t limited to applying for SIJ Status, though it is the most common route and the easiest way to avoid deportation. If a minor can prove he or she has a fear of future persecution upon returning home based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, there’s a chance of being granted asylum.

This can be difficult to prove because it requires proof of persecution on specific grounds, and juveniles more often flee to escape violence or because they’ve been abused. In asylum cases, minors must also prove that no place in their home country is safe for return. The fact that gang violence is endemic in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador isn’t enough to warrant an individual grant of asylum in the eyes of the immigration court.

“It’s just like you live in a bad neighborhood,” Rosenbluth said. “Even if you can show that you have a well-founded fear of gang violence or of the types of violence in the community, that just isn’t sufficient to have your request for asylum approved.”

Acquiring Counsel

But achieving SIJ Status or asylum in court is nearly impossible without a lawyer, which is not appointed if a minor cannot afford one, Rosenbluth said, noting an asylum case can cost anywhere from $5,000-$10,000.

The going rate for counsel in a SIJ Status case runs from $2,500-$4,000 for the portion that takes place in family court, with an additional $2,000-$3,000 for immigration proceedings, he said.

“Without an attorney, it’s basically hopeless,” Rosenbluth said. “I don’t think getting Special Immigrant Juvenile Status without an attorney is remotely possible.”

Even with an attorney, there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

Rosenbluth, who formerly practiced immigration law at Alamance Law Office in Alamance County, said he took on three or four new cases for unaccompanied minors each week during the summer of 2014.

Often, he said, attorneys and their underage clients are not given enough notice to plan for the hearings because the dates get changed.

“Let’s just say the procedures are not that organized,” Rosenbluth said. “We’re seeing a lot of cases where these kids or their sponsors just never get notice of the court dates because they just move them so fast.”

This affects the outcome of the case by limiting preparation time and compromising the ability of the minor to make it to Charlotte for the hearing.

Children who appear in court face additional complications. Interpreters help them overcome the language barrier, but a comprehension barrier poses more of an obstacle, particularly if the minor has experienced trauma.

“How do you expect a two-year-old or a four-year-old to answer any of the questions about their case?” Rosenbluth said.

Assisting unaccompanied minors

Nonprofit agencies have been helping unaccompanied minors settle into a new environment in North Carolina.

Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC), an organization that assists with refugee resettlement in North Carolina, has helped juveniles navigate the legal system by linking them with attorneys who will take their cases pro bono. LSC services also extend outside the courtroom and into the homes of children and their sponsors.

“Obviously, when the children arrive there are usually a lot of problems,” said Mary Ann Johnson, director of community relations for LSC. “We need to make sure we do home studies, much like you would for foster children, to make sure they’re being cared for.”

Johnson said they have assisted 84 unaccompanied minors this year, which is up 68 percent from 2014. She mentioned that the majority of them have been placed with sponsors in Wake County.

Unaccompanied minors, particularly those who have been victims of human trafficking, require additional aid on top of the usual background check performed on sponsors, home evaluations and legal help.

“Most of them are fleeing some kind of violent situation,” she said. “Obviously those children need special attention and counseling.”

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), an advocacy group in Raleigh, provides a similar service, assisting minors and their families in finding affordable legal help.

“A priority for us is that they need legal counsel for their immigration hearing,” said Stacie Blake, director of government and community relations for USCRI. “That’s been an ongoing problem.”

Federal data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, a research center that compiles federal data under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that 32 percent of unaccompanied children had legal representation in immigration court in 2014. The data also showed that, in 73 percent of cases where a minor was represented by an attorney in the past two years, he or she was allowed to remain in the United States. Of those who weren’t represented, 15 percent were allowed to stay.

“I think anyone can agree it’s ridiculous for children to represent themselves,” Blake said.

Some North Carolina residents are less receptive to welcoming unaccompanied minors into the state, arguing they negatively impact communities.

“They are a direct threat to the well being of our state,” said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration. “Many Americans have lost their jobs and lost their homes. Thousands of Americans are losing their lives each year due to the breach of our public.”

Gheen advocated for the minors to be detained at the border and sent back to their home countries.

Trickling into schools

Federal law dictates all children in the United States have a right to public education regardless of citizenship status, and this includes unaccompanied minors, many of whom have been enrolled in North Carolina school systems.

The Obama administration issued a set of guidelines in 2014 outlining the documentation that students must provide to enroll in public schools, reiterating that school districts may not inquire about immigration status.

Because of this, public school officials have no way of tracking if the students are documented. But some have seen a slight increase in the sizes of their English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.

“Whether they’re unaccompanied or not unaccompanied, we don’t keep those statistics,” said Carlos Oliveira, Director of ESL for the Alamance Burlington School System. “Are some of those kids possibly? I guess so.”

The Alamance Burlington School System has not yet implemented new policies or services for this demographic specifically, but administrators have purchased more supplies for all students who enroll midyear.

“Probably last year in March we did see more late arrivals into our intake center,” said Oliveira. “We did see some more students start a little bit later than in past years. We have seen a little bit of an increase in students starting in March and April.”

Sashi Rayasam, director of ESL services for Durham County Schools, said their program has around 300 students total, but she does not know how many of them are unaccompanied minors.

Durham County, with 215, has the third-highest number of unaccompanied minors in the state. She said the district has been working to add the resources this group of students require, including new instructional services and strategic group meetings.

The one-and-a-half-year-old unaccompanied minor enjoys new toys now that she’s been reunited with her grandmother in Durham. Photo submitted by her mother.

“It’s more than ESL, it is a school system and city,” Rayasam said. “[It takes the] entire Durham to raise these students. We embrace every child that walks through our doors.”

But this doesn’t really matter for the teenage migrant from Honduras, who is in educational limbo because she finished high school back in her home country and could not enroll in Durham.

For now, she’s attending English classes at a church in Durham, awaiting her 18th birthday, when she plans to begin community college.

“The first thing I have to do is learn English,” she said. “And after that I don’t know. It’s hard to study being an immigrant and not knowing English. It’s hard to know what to do.”


Students who come out as LGBTQIA within Greek system face additional challenges

Greek life regulations don’t discriminate, pressure to hide sexuality originates from within organizations

When Samantha Jones came out as a lesbian, she found comfort in her close friends but a letdown in a Greek system that was less than welcoming.

A sister of the Eta Zeta chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha at Elon University, Jones, ’13, said some of her sisters offered a supportive environment when she came out in 2012, but others did just the opposite.

“I had some people who were really uncomfortable with me afterwards,” she said. “I don’t think I necessarily lost friends, but I think some people certainly distanced themselves from me. I had a lot of people move away from spending time with me.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 12.11.44 PMInclusivity takes priority in Elon’s mission and policies, but the Greek system hasn’t necessarily kept up. Students in Greek organizations who have come out as members of the LGBTQIA community are often treated as anomalies within the system.

But advocates say it’s better now than it once was.

Matthew Antonio Bosch, director of the Gender and LGBTQIA Center (GLC), said as the general conversation around sexual orientation and identity has become more common over the years, he’s seen an increase in the number of people who are out in Greek organizations at Elon, though there’s no concrete way to determine how many.

From 1990 through the early 2000s, Bosch said more people were openly gay in fraternities than in sororities. Then, for about 10 years the number of women out in sororities grew. Now, he said, there are more males who openly identify as LGBTQIA in Elon’s fraternities than females in sororities.

Allies emerge in Greek life

Shana Plasters, Elon’s director of Greek life, said the university has no way of tracking how many LGBTQIA students are involved in sororities and fraternities, noting some members may be out in certain circles but not in others.

There are no policies in the Greek system that restrict LGBTQIA people from rushing or participating in Greek-sponsored activities. But Plasters said some organizations have rules requiring guests at Greek functions to be approved by a committee or a standards board. Though this rule exists so dates who might have had problematic behavior in the past can be barred from events, a standards board could potentially shut out dates of the same sex.

“Although these policies were not designed to be discriminatory towards LGBTQIA students, there could always be the Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.34.04 PMchance that student members could use this veto power over dates to discriminate based on sexual identity,” Plasters said in a statement.

But as Jones found with her sisters in Zeta Tau Alpha, subtle attitudes within individual organizations are more often the source of discrimination. She suspected some people were disturbed when she brought her girlfriend as a date to a sorority function.

“A huge part of being in a sorority and fraternity is the social aspect,” she said. “Most of that social part is tied to straight interactions. You get invited to those things because guys want to have sex with you. When you’re out, it kind of limits you a little bit.”

Plasters said regardless of the sexual orientation of their members, all organizations have an expectation of brotherhood and sisterhood.

“Certainly we expect our fraternities and sororities to be supportive environments,” Plasters wrote. “If a student doesn’t feel supported by their peers, that can be concerning.”

The Office of Greek Life has partnered with the GLC to provide LGBTQIA Ally Training for organizations who have requested it. Bosch guided all of the sorority Pi Chis — students from all nine of Elon’s sororities who counsel potential new members through the recruitment process — through the Ally Training sessions. The Pi Chis come
from all nine of Elon’s sororities.

Bosch has also provided training sessions for individual sororities and the National PanHellenic Council.

Challenging Greek norms

Many of those who are out in Greek organizations are challenged by certain conventions of Greek Life — stereotypes Jones said hold true at Elon.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.34.40 PM“People that are different aren’t always celebrated,” she said. “They kind of hold a standard of white, straight, pretty, skinny, blonde, brunette. I wouldn’t say that it’s really a conducive
environment to being out or alternative in any way.”

Other social challenges LGBTQIA brothers and sisters encounter stem from the historically heteronormative activities sponsored by fraternities and sororities. Jones found that aspects of the Greek system, like date parties and formals, are traditionally geared toward straight couples.

“When people ask what the typical Elon girl looks like or acts like, people describe things that are aligned with sorority culture,” Bosch said. “It’s in the way people dress, the way their hair is presented and the way they see the world — both external and internal.”

He said people generally know which sororities and fraternities are more affirming and progressive, and students interested in joining those specific organizations lean toward them during the recruitment process. 

Jones said her sorority did not fall into that category.

“I think there are some very open, kind sororities that are known for being more accepting,” Jones said. “I don’t know if the one I was in was necessarily. Zeta and Phi Mu are where most of my friends were, and in general, I think they’re more of an exclusive club.”

Gay visibility in Greek Life

Greek life accounts for about 40 percent of Elon’s student body, but gay visibility within the system is little more than a whisper.

When she came out, Jones didn’t know of any other openly gay women in her sorority, and she only knew of a handful in other Greek organizations. This lack of representation was obvious in the curiosity of her peers, which at times bordered on insensitivity.

“It made my social life a little bit more awkward,” she said. “People would ask me all types of incredibly inappropriate questions.”

Senior Brittany Wenner, a sister of Sigma Sigma Sigma, encountered similar questions when she came out to her sorority her sophomore year. Wenner said she welcomed some of the curiosity, but not when it was clearly rude.

One night, when she was out with friends at West End, a fraternity member she knew asked her if it was “gay night at West End.”

“I don’t really understand why you think you can speak to anybody like that,” Wenner said. “And it was a person I was friends with.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident. When she came out, Wenner said she received nothing but support from her sisters. But she experienced more negativity from men in the Greek system.

“It was just people who wouldn’t normally talk to me about my sex life or who wouldn’t normally approach me at a party,” she said. “The conversation would quickly go in that direction, just asking me questions that you wouldn’t ask someone who was straight.”

Wenner partially attributes this treatment to ignorance, acknowledging that not everyone has interacted with LGBTQIA people before entering college, and they might not be as accepting.

She said these are the members who keep negative stereotypes of Greek life alive.

“I think some of the preconceived notions about Greek life can be correct in situational ways,” Wenner said. “Open-mindedness needs to be embraced through the university.”

And for the most part, she found, it has been embraced by the other women in her sorority. When it came to taking that first step out of the closet, Wenner said she was no more apprehensive about giving her sorority sisters the news than she was anyone else. It was more important for her to be true to herself in her sorority than it was to hide her sexuality.

“I think that when anybody who comes out faces that fear, not just within the Greek system but at Elon in general,” she said. “I do believe that, especially within my organization, it was OK to be myself. I felt like my sisters were very welcoming and supporters.”

Conforming to Greek life

Junior Evan Candler, said he joined Zeta Beta Tau because he saw an opportunity to be part of a fraternity that distinguished itself from other organizations on campus by redefining traditional values of masculinity and brotherhood.

As an openly gay brother, he chose to take another man to a date party because he thinks it’s important to challenge norms within his fraternity. No one openly condemned their Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.35.07 PMattendance, but not everyone was enthused.

Candler said his experience falls in line with a larger attitude in Greek Life that fraternity brothers should conform to the standards of their organizations despite their sexual orientation.

“There’s a level of discomfort, and I feel like I have to be as hetero as possible,” he said. “You can be gay, but just don’t talk about it.”

Through conversations about inclusivity with Zeta Beta Tau’s leadership, Candler has seen gradual progress in this area. But, he said, the closeted population in Greek life still outnumbers those who feel comfortable opening up about their sexuality.

For closeted freshmen and other students thinking about rushing, Greek life has a specific appeal — Candler said joining a fraternity can serve as a way to hide being gay.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.35.17 PM“I think there are people who might want to join Greek life because they think joining a fraternity might make them more straight or something,” he said. “Maybe if they do go through rush, they just know that they can never come out.”

The need to conceal their sexuality is something some LGBTQIA brothers and sisters have in common, but they agree the need to do so shouldn’t exist.

“In terms of a sorority, you’re supposed to look at those people like they’re your family,” Jones, the Zeta alumna, said. “You’re supposed to love them and care about them no matter what.”

The original version of this story, included a graphic that did not accurately represent Greek Life at Elon University. The original graphic omitted the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which is one of the three main branches of Greek life on campus. The current version of the story includes the corrected graphic. 

Cutting master’s pay spells trouble for graduate programs, teachers

For Jessica Mahon, getting a master’s degree went hand in hand with becoming a teacher. But Mahon is from New York, where a master’s degree is required for public school teachers to become fully certified.  Now, in her sixth year at Newland Elementary School in Burlington, her master’s degree is considered extraneous.

Mahon is lucky. She graduated from Elon University’s Master’s of Education program before the North Carolina legislature instituted a series of cuts and adjustments to the state’s public education system. Others have felt the effects more, and Mahon has seen this firsthand.

“I know probably half a dozen or a dozen people who are looking to leave,” she said. “Some are looking to go back north. Some have gone to Virginia and Michigan.” 

Sweeping changes to the North Carolina education system passed by the General Assembly in July 2013 dealt another blow to teacher salaries by eliminating pay raises for teachers with advanced degrees.


Before the new legislation took effect in December 2013, teachers with master’s degrees could earn about 10 percent more than teachers with only a bachelor’s degree. 

North Carolina’s stingy salary for teachers has been discouraging even with her master’s pay raise, Mahon said.

“As a teacher here, it feels like they don’t value what we’re doing,” she said. “It sends the wrong message to everyone who’s been here working hard.”

New York’s teaching climate differs exponentially from North Carolina’s. New York teachers have the highest salaries in the nation.  North Carolina ranks 46th in teacher salary and 48th in new teacher salary. 

The average salary for North Carolina teachers in 2013 was $45,737 — 20.8 percent less than the national average of $56,383. 

Elimination of pay raises for teachers with master’s degrees took effect when more people than ever were pursuing advanced degrees. According to the United States Census Bureau, in the field of education, the number of people who have sought out master’s degrees has increased by 75.3 percent from 1990 to 2009.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicated that, as a whole, Millennials with advanced degrees earn more than those with bachelor’s degrees. The average earnings of those with master’s degrees are on the rise across most professions. The average monthly income of 25-to 34-year-olds with master’s degrees rose 23 percent from 1984 to 2009.

These data are reflected in Elon University’s graduate school admission rates. From 2004 to 2013, the number of students who applied for a graduate program at Elon increased by 1,724 students. 

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Cost of Elon fire alarms: over-budget, underfunded by university

The Elon Fire Department responded to 216 calls from Elon University in 2013, and each one of them came at a price. Each time the fire department is dispatched, it costs the department $400 to $500, according to Elon Fire Chief Eddie King.

The trend shows no signs of stopping. In January 2014 alone, the department responded to 21 false alarms.

Each time the fire department reacts to a triggered alarm, multiple fire trucks from around Alamance County are required to report to the site of the incident. Fuel, manpower and maintenance of the department’s vehicles are expenses the department takes into account.

“It’s coming out of our budget,” King said. “The university gives us a contribution each year, but that’s just for normal fire and medical protection. What we’re seeing with these false alarms is that it’s going over a normal expected amount.”

Donations from the university, along with the Twin Lakes community, the Town of Elon and Alamance Rural, comprise the budget for the Elon Fire Department. The department was promised $560,391 for the 2013-2014 year. Elon University’s contribution made up only 8.9 percent of the total budget.

In 2013, the Elon Fire Department responded to a total of 466 fire alarms in Alamance County, 46 percent of which were set off on Elon’s campus. The department spent anywhere from $86,400 to $113,000 responding to calls from the university alone. This exceeds the university’s $50,000 contribution by as much as $63,000.

Each piece of equipment dispatched to the scene of a fire alarm has its own price. A single fire truck can cost as much as $124 for one hour of use, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Captain David Wright, who has served at the Elon Fire Department for 22 years, said the department has done its best to grow with the campus. But as Elon has expanded, the number of false fire alarms has proliferated.

“I know the student population has increased,” Wright said. “But the number of alarms going off has increased disproportionately to how much the student population has grown.”

Elon encapsulates only 620 acres of the 11 square miles covered by the fire department, and the small force of 12 firefighters, along with the department’s volunteers, has noticed a few trends when it comes to fire alarms on campus.

Nearly half of the false alarms on campus are cooking related, and almost as many are caused by steam.  Steam related fire alarms generally occur in the early afternoon, while fire alarms set off by cooking-related incidents typically happen in the morning and in the middle of the night.

“When the calls come at two in the morning, people are usually coming back from parties,” Wright said. “They’ve been drinking and now they’re hungry.

The Elon Fire Department said it treats all alarms like real fires, which makes the false ones frustrating for the volunteer staff. Photo by Caroline Olney, photo editor.

So they try to cook Easy Mac, and they forget to put the water in.”

With only two firefighters — usually volunteers — on duty at this time of night, the sources of fire alarms from the university have become predictable and, at times, annoying for the fire department staff.

“We’re noticing that it’s creating burnout with our volunteers, and we’re getting less response from them,” Wright said.  “You get complacent because it’s just another call from the Danieley Center.”

Of the fire alarms from 2013, 15 percent were set off in the Danieley Center, and 10 percent occurred in the Greek Courts. The Colonnades are another “problem area” for the fire department.

“We’re skating by, and one of these days, it’s not going to be a false alarm,” Wright said.

A fire destroyed most of Elon’s main campus in 1923. University historian George Troxler said the cause of the fire was never nailed down, but fire officials suspected it resulted from an electrical spark. Since then, the university has increased its fire safety precautions substantially, drastically increasing the number of alarms on campus. Troxler said that when the university rebuilt after the fire, the new buildings were considered “fire-proof,” erecting structures with slate rooves and other nonflammable materials.

The Elon Fire Department now responds to every alarm at the university, without fail, following an initial notification from campus security. Chief of Security Scott Jean said campus security, like the fire department, responds to each fire alarm.

“Most of them are burnt food or shower steam — so they aren’t truly false — but we still have to respond and write up a report,” Jean said.

Sophomore Catherine Van Eyck has lived in the Danieley Center for two years and, having experienced a number of fire alarms, isn’t surprised cooking errors cause the majority.

“I know that a lot of people burn their food, but I’ve never seen any actual fires. It’s mainly just really annoying,” she said.

The false fire alarms Van Eyck finds annoying come at a price nationwide. According to the United States Fire Administration, cooking incidents were the leading causes of fires in 2011 and resulted in a loss of more than $6 million in property nationwide. Between 2007 and 2011, cooking equipment was involved in 84 percent of the nation’s reported dormitory fires.

But most of the kitchen-based fire alarms are triggered by excess smoke. All of the apartments in the Danieley Center, Crest, the Station at Mill Point and the Oaks have kitchens or kitchenettes. In Colonnades, each hall contains a full kitchen, and each Greek house in the Loy Center comes equipped with a kitchen — all potential fire sources.

King said the monetary costs of responding to false fire alarms are matched by the potential dangers.  While dealing with false alarms at Elon, the department cannot respond to other legitimate fire alarms.

“Every time I put a fireman out there responding to an emergency, I’m putting their lives in the hands of the people who are creating these problems,” he said.

The problem is a human one, King said, and it shouldn’t be so prevalent.

“It’s the human problem that’s growing,” he said. “It’s affecting the safety of all the firefighters responding because they’re putting their lives on the line to come do something that’s preventable.”