A Question of Safety

After alleged assault, House masters must grant univeral keycard access

Before this weekend, those in favor of universal keycard access emphasized convenience. The seven hours excluded under the current keycard system, 1 a.m. to 8 a.m., make getting in and around the Houses difficult for many college students who study and socialize during the early hours of the morning. After this weekend, however, universal keycard access finds another persuasive argument—safety.

An anonymous email, circulated on House lists this past Saturday details the alleged sexual assault of a female student who was unable to enter several Houses while being followed by three men shortly after 1 a.m. According to the account, the student was unable to find refuge in Adams, Lowell or Kirkland Houses because of interhouse restrictions on keycard access. As the student’s story powerfully illustrates, universal key card access would increase campus safety by allowing students to escape suspicious individuals as they travel through campus at night.

The greatest fear of those who oppose universal keycard access is that access will, ironically, reduce students’ safety on campus. Opponents believe that Houses should be a refuge for their residents, and that access to them by all Harvard students would compromise [their safety]. This weekend’s alleged incident makes a compelling argument that safety is more compromised by interhouse restrictions than it would be by universal key card access. Harvard students fear the incursions of outside criminals more than the criminality of their fellow students. Furthermore, universal keycard access would prevent those not in the College community from entering the Houses, since students would no longer feel obliged to swipe in strangers, a further protection against unwanted intruders.

In a potentially dangerous situation, students do have other resources besides the safety of a House. The emergency phones around campus ensure rapid response by HUPD. But whether or not the alleged assault is factual, the student’s description of her reaction to danger was scarily realistic. We can easily forget only too late that it is 1:05 a.m. and we can no longer swipe to safety.

Opponents of universal keycard access also argue that its implementation will lower Houses’ sense of community and contribute to increased theft. In the light of a potential serious assault, their fears seem trivial. Houses are effective in establishing House community through House-sponsored social events and already accommodate outsiders who often convene for various extracurricular activities. Moreover, limited universal keycard access during the day, first granted over a year ago, has not been correlated with any increase in crime in Houses between those hours. These other arguments, however, are mere sideshows to the safety issue.

While unfortunate if true, the alleged events of this weekend will hopefully convince House masters to reconsider their stance on universal keycard access. This policy is not just a matter of convenience, it is a necessity for students’ safety.