More Security, Not Vigilance

Iwas returning to my dormitory when I realized I had forgotten my key again. Reaching my entryway, I rattled the doorknob in frustration. I then noticed the door seemed rather loose, so I gave it a tug, and it came open. Just like that, without a key. Glad to be inside, but dispirited by Harvard's shoddy security system, I plodded up to my room and began to write.

After the rape last Wednesday of a Harvard employee in the Science Center, Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Steiner '54 said, "There has not been an increase in violent crime on the campus." What? Does he mean that he is content with a rape rate of about one every 1.5 years? Every rape is an increase in violent crime. Steiner went on to tell a reporter, "I don't think the Science Center is a place of unusual concern."

Steiner's attitude is common among the administration. Just about every other week, the Freshman Dean's Office reports an intrusion into a female freshman's room. In Hollis, a student woke up to find a man at the foot of her bed. Rather than realizing something is amiss, administrators are quite satisfied with the campus security system. It is we--the students--who ought to reform ourselves, they say. Our watchwords should be "vigilance" and "caution," according to administrators.

YET vigilance and caution will not help much. The administration should not wait for more intrusions and another rape before they reform the security system. We do not need further proof that Harvard's security system is too porous to be accepted.

Ironically, during Freshman Week proctors made much out of Harvard's vaunted security. There are 80-some "blue-light" telephones scattered across campus, they told us. Police officers and security guards patrol the campus in cruisers, or on foot, with two-way portable radios, they said.


Harvard's security force, combined with the Cambridge police, does make the Harvard area much safer in comparison with other schools. Some women at Brown University, for instance, walk home with lock-blades held under crossed arms. I do not think Harvard students need to react so rashly. But although a roving, ever-ready security system protects pedestrians, it does not deter intrusions into dormitories and common buildings, and hence possible sexual assault.

Intruders enter dormitories with ease, immediately behind students. The administration knows this, which is why they urge vigilance and caution. Granted, if a soiled vagrant, thoroughly soused and clenching a dripping dagger, sputtered, "Hold that door, will you?" some might simply prop the door open for an additional second or two without looking. To these disembodied few, vigilance and caution should of course be advised.

But what are the rest of us to do? Keep our eyes peeled for "suspicious-looking" strangers? That is impossible. Previously reported intruders have been better dressed than most of us. College administrators have to realize there is really nothing more students can do, because most of us already rely on our good sense when we let people into the dorms.

SECURITY for the Science Center, which is open to the public 24 hours a day, is all too lax. A guard is usually sitting at the first floor elevator after 5 p.m. But a student told me that even the night following Wednesday's rape, the guard did not even ask for identification. In fact, the guard did not even bother to look up from his book, and only muttered, "Sign in," according to the student. The student could have easily penned any name into the log. And during the evenings, the doors to the stairs are often left unlocked, allowing anyone access to the second floor elevators.

Before 5 p.m. there is no security at all. An intruder can freely make his way to the upper floors, where he can wait until the evening, or attack during the day, as the rapist did. The administration responded to the Science Center rape by recommending that office doors upstairs be locked at all times. Yet the administration should not place so much of the responsibility for security upon us. Implicit in its reluctance to improve the present security system is the judgement that further protection is outweighed by the additional cost--a callous analysis, by my measure. I can think of several proposals for reforming Harvard's security system.

One, students could be hired to sit inside entryways and check I.D.'s--the same system used at the University of Pennsylvania. After a few days, the student would know the faces of all the residents, so I.D.'s would not have to be shown, and entry would not be inconvenienced. Visitors would have to be accompanied by their hosts, or verified by a phone call.

Two, video cameras could be installed just inside the entryway doors. Stores do this to prevent shoplifting because they cannot afford to post guards at every aisle. A video system would be both a means of prevention and criminal identification. Just the presence of the cameras would discourage many intruders, and if an assailant does choose to enter, we would not need to rely upon a "reconstructed image" to identify him. The expense involved with this proposal would only be the start-up costs for the video equipment, which need not be of high quality.

Three, a round-the-clock security system must be installed in the Science Center. I suggest that a uniformed guard be posted within the Center throughout the day, in addition to the evening elevator guard. This uniformed guard could be summoned by a set of buttons positioned along the hallways and in the rooms, which would signal the guard as to the victim's whereabouts.

Four, student safety is a sufficient reason for opening either Cabot or Lamont Library 24 hours a day. Students study on the upper floors of the Science Center only because they wish to work beyond 1 a.m. A 24-hour library would draw them away from that isolated area.

Mere maintenance of the existing security system would be insufficient--it must be improved. With the above measures, we would not have to provide so much security for ourselves, as the administration would like us to. Apparently the administration fancies Winston Churchill's precept, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." But with vigilance comes fear, a sentiment with which Harvard students should not have to contend. Our security is worth far more than the administration seems to value it.

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