Give All Students The Green Light

House masters must grant true UKA to all Harvard students

Only at Harvard could a simple visit to a friend in Lowell House turn into a massive odyssey involving the Undergraduate Council, housemasters, broken promises and the chimera of Universal Keycard Access (UKA).

I, a non-Lowell resident (read: criminal) try to swipe into the gate to gain entry. Denied.

Again I try. Again only the red blink of rejection.

Perhaps I could have laughed at the situation’s silliness had I not been in a hurry. After all, if Harvard students can’t be trusted in Harvard’s buildings, who can? But all I could think of then was how the council’s crowning achievement of the past two years—24-hour access to every upperclass House for all undergraduates—is being silently undone entry by entry.

Last year’s UKA agreement between Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and the Masters’ Council allowed housemasters to selectively “opt-out” if they desired. To varying degrees Lowell, Dunster and Pforzheimer Houses have chosen this option.

Students in Houses with restrictions must convince their masters to change the current policy. So far, the cause has been taken up only by a few eager council members who need more backing to argue what is obvious to students. Concerns prompting access restriction are trumped by the improved convenience, safety and sanity that true UKA brings to students.

None has been more vocal in the access effort so far than Leverett council representative Neeraj “Richie” Banerji ’06. Under the guidance of president-elect Matthew J. Glazer ’06, he embarked on a late-night swiping mission to identify every house entryway that restricted keycard access to its residents only. He found that along with the total lockout at the Lowell main gate, Dunster allows nonresident access only to its courtyard and dining hall during later hours—strange since the latter connects to all entries through the basement. Also, Pfoho restricts universal access during certain hours to only the first of its two main doors. Thus nonresidents who swipe into Pfoho at these times are left sandwiched in a narrow foyer that lacks an emergency telephone.

Resident or not, any restrictions on access are clearly inconvenient to students. Whether or not is good for our health, we study and socialize at all hours of the day and are irked by barriers to study groups, parties, friends, friends with benefits, etc.

Contrary to the claims of some Houses, this convenience doesn’t have to come at the cost of diminished security and safety. According to Zachary Gingo of Harvard Yard Operations, Dunster has chosen restrictions to “ensure the safety and general security of Dunster residents.” But those who worry that more access breeds more theft and greater admission of non-Harvard students into Houses should recognize how much “piggybacking” occurs.

Because of the holes in UKA, House residents are often reticent to shut the door on someone who may be a resident of another House. With unrestricted access, students could more confidently insist that questionable people brandish their IDs, or remain outside. Banerji rightly notes, “You trust everyone with a Harvard College ID.”

House courtyards should also provide a refuge for students concerned about their surroundings no matter which House they inhabit. Additionally, further access to internal entries and hallways provides yet another level of protection for those in distress. True UKA helps, not hinders safety.

Another problem with restricting access is that it might deflect attention away from more reasonable measures to improve house security. Instead of policies that leave students out in the cold, more security guards could be hired or allocated to watch over houses during the night. All too often security offices are dark and no one is watching out for undesirables, thieves or worse. Too little supervision, not too much student access is the greater house security risk.

It will be up to students to make true UKA a reality. Banerji is confident that the issue can be resolved calling it “a bug” that can be ridden from campus. But will this bug irritate us enough to take action?

After a long delay I finally caught the Lowell gate just before it closed behind an exiting resident. How long is the next student going to have to wait?

John W. Hastrup ’06, a Crimson editorial comper, is a concentrator in Dunster House.