You will usually recognise them by their yellow fluorescent jackets, or their red and black outfit, or they might approach you in a case of misconduct. But regardless of your encounters with security guards on campus, they are an essential part of safekeeping UNSW.
The Story of Oliver
We spoke with Oliver, 49, born in Reading, Southern England. The town of Reading, he explains, is known as being the birthplace of Kate Middleton. He and his family moved to Sydney when he was 4 years old. Oliver says that becoming a roving guard was unplanned, and explains
“Becoming a roving guard was just a job that I fell into. I worked at a hospital and I lost my job just before the pandemic. And then no one was hiring and I thought, okay, well I have to do something. I did this course on my own and then got a job working on the Sydney Harbor Bridge straight away and I have not been out of work since because everyone needs security guards.”
The job as a roving guard here at UNSW is more complicated than it seems, Oliver's shifts consist of walking around Zone 2 for twelve hours and keeping a watch over students, as well as ensuring no vandalism is inflicted upon the grounds of UNSW.
What Is It Like Being a Roving Guard?
For the most part: he walks over to students to introduce himself and then reminds people that UNSW is an open campus and leaving your laptop, wallet, or phone unattended might not be the best idea. Oliver jokes,
“By far the most entertaining aspect of the job is being a party pooper”.
While he understands the desire to go wild on campus— saying “there's nothing they're doing that I haven't done myself”—often he has to tell students to take it easy and “calm down.”
He tells the story of a time there was a student who he could tell straight away was drunk, “she was trying so desperately hard [to not appear so], I was just like come on!”
“Another time I walked up to a group of male and female students who had just come back from drinking, and they were all being loud and obnoxious. I walked up to them and asked, ‘Are you guys serious?’”
As they tried to pretend that they were sober, Oliver couldn’t help but laugh. They turned back and asked, “Why are you laughing?” to which Oliver said ”You are talking to someone who has got a little more experience about this than you do. And you want to try it on with me. Nothing will work in this situation. Go back to bed.”
What Are Some Parts About Your Job That Students Don’t Know About?
Part of the job is protecting the sleep of those living on campus. But surprisingly, it is not just the students that are walking around drunk. He says,
“in the main library, there is actually a bar… The Lounge where staff get drunk, and some lock themselves out of their office.”
Other security issues may involve medical attention, which is why he has a first aid kit attached to his waist. And other times might involve a mental health talk to comfort students undergoing stressful situations, which Oliver is trained for. Oliver explains:
“the university actually asked us to do a mental health first aid course. This is especially necessary around exam time for when things start to really ramp up. We get told, at certain times of the year, that with exams happening, students might be under a lot more pressure. Because their coursework is getting harder.”
Oliver is also trained in knowing when to seek extra help, such as from a medical professional or when the police are needed, which “starts on approach”. He says, “If I can see that someone is about to inflict harm on other students, I'm on the phone straight away. Whereas if they're just in distress and they start crying, then I talk to them and have to then ask them certain questions. If they don't want an ambulance, well I can't force them. But if I can see they are not going to get better, then I have to make the call on whether or not to ring an ambulance. One safety thing that we have is this (points towards his microphone in his ear). Because we don't want everyone else hearing what's going on. That's a safety thing for both us and students. Especially if you have to relay sensitive information. We use the phone or the radio, especially if it’s sexual violence”.
Is Your Job Stressful?
Oliver tells us that as “[roving guards] only have a certain authority” police may need to be called. While this depends on the guard and their perception of the situation, Oliver likes to warn the person twice before calling in reinforcements. Luckily, this does not happen very often, and “not every situation is going to be the same. I can joke around with some people, but with others, I can't. You can always spot it.” For instance, “a few months ago I was speaking with a potential student, and he had his mother and grandmother there, and I instantly knew that I could joke around with him. But on the same day, three hours later, I encountered a very stern-looking student and I was unable to joke around, and just had to be very formal and business-like.”
For Oliver, this is “just a skill you have to learn. I've been working since I was 18, working in customer service and believe me, it is a skill you have to start on from 18 and you can work on it throughout the years. I am still learning. It is just one of those skills that you have to work on.”
Because of this,
"the University provides security guards a resting place for if you do witness something distressing, then you can take some time off work to rest because the managers here actually realize that you are here and that you have to deal with stressful stuff which can take a toll on your mental health.”
Not only that, but because of the stressfulness of the job, security guards become good friends with each other and find comfort with each other. Oliver says that in his “first three weeks here, I did not know what was happening, but everyone sort of pitched in and helped out.”
Aside from the support from his workplace, “some students actually make a beeline for me. When I'm here, or when they see me, they just go bang straight; like, they run after me.” Oliver explains that
"answering all the questions students have makes me feel happy about the fact that I've helped them”.
When asked whether he sees himself working as a roving guard in the near future, Oliver responded “If I am still able to walk, then yes”.
Oliver shows us that as long as you don’t cause a riot, roving guards are friendly gatekeepers who might remind you to not leave your bags unattended, check up on you, or might walk with you from one end of the campus to the other should you ask, kind of like Hagrid walking Harry Potter through the forbidden forest.