Crimson Simplifies Key Card Access

Letters

I have followed the debate about universal key card access with interest for some time now. I appreciate both sides of this debate, and personally have not come to any firmly held conclusion. I continue to listen closely to the arguments, to try to understand how the proponents and opponents of this proposal have come to their positions.

My failure so far to come to a clear position is due in part to the difficulty I have in following some of the arguments, both pro and con, to the conclusions at which they are directed. When the logic seems dubious but the conclusion is forcefully held, one can only wonder if the real basis for the conclusion is something other than the stated argument.

The Crimson's Nov. 13 staff editorial ("Universal Key Card Access Is a Safety Must") is a good example of confusing logic. The piece opens by citing three incidents of intruders discovered in College residences, and concludes that universal access is essential to safety, because students would be more likely to challenge others trying to gain entrance if they knew that any student could gain entrance without assistance.

But two of the three intruders mentioned had gained entrance to first-year dormitories, and universal key card access to those dormitories is already a fact of life first-years. As upperclass students have no need for very easy access to the first-year dormitories, it seems that the dormitories already constitute a microcosm of what we might expect to happen if universal key card access were instituted for the whole College. On that basis, these incidents actually lead one to the opposite conclusion, that universal access will not make students more likely to challenge persons trying to gain entrance.

I also wonder about the assumptions behind the statement, "If students walking back to Kirkland from Mather sense that they are being followed, a universal key card would allow them to take refuge in any house along the way." This sentence suggests that the world is divided into two populations: Harvard students who are not dangerous, and non-Harvard folks, who may not be. Sadly, we know that this is an oversimplification, and in particular that sexual harrassment and assaults occur between peers. So the person following a woman back to Kirkland, or back to the Yard, after a party for example, may well be a fellow student; in that case, it seems universal access would become a threat, not a protection.

The issues here are subtle and complex, and dubious reasoning has also been used in arguments against universal access. Sensible considerations other than safety, such as students' convenience, also need to be taken into account. I and others continue to listen to all the arguments with interest, and hope that they will be well-reasoned and that all rationales will be put forward in full. In the meantime, several cautions cannot be repeated too often:

* Keep your door locked, wherever your room is located.

* Do not let in anyone you do not know personally.

* Be suspicious, and call HUPD if you are worried about an intruder.

* No worker, whether a Harvard employee or an outside contractor, needs a student to open the door. If someone claims that he or she is a worker needing to gain entrance to a residence, tell him or her to speak to a supervisor about how to get in. Harry R. Lewis '68, Dean of Harvard College