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Locking Students Out

By Matthew J. Glazer

Over the past academic year, there has been a surprising spike in criminal activity throughout our campus. A dozen sexual assaults have been reported on our streets and near our homes. While the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) has increased its efforts significantly, it is imperative that the University take an active role in helping to avoid future attacks. Instituting all-night shuttle service is not nearly enough. The Freshman Dean’s Office (FDO) and House Masters must finally unlock the doors to students who are threatened in the dead of night.

Harvard’s current keycard policy allows all College students access to the Houses, except between the hours of 2:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. During these five hours, first-years can only swipe into the first-year dorms, and an upper-class student can only swipe into his or her own House, with one exception—Quincy House alone offers 24-hour access to all students.

It seems like only a matter of time before the College’s keycard restrictions will lead to a preventable sexual assault. How many times will a Quad student walk alone down a deserted street by the river Houses, or a lone upperclassman walk home from the Science Center through the Yard at 4 a.m., before a more serious incident occurs?

Twenty-four-hour universal keycard access (UKA) would be a costless and efficient way to improve safety on campus, yet the administration has resisted it for half of a decade. The fight for keycard access has been a long and protracted one, with bureaucratic and administrative obstacles hindering its progress. But the House Masters’ previously-voiced concerns with UKA —including the lack of House guards at late hours, a feared loss of House spirit and the threat of so-called piggybacking of unwanted guests—have been repeatedly disproved. Quincy House and the first-year dorms are always open—though the first-year dorms are only open to first-years—and crime has not increased in these residences. And according to HUPD Chief Francis L. “Bud” Riley, the switch to 24-hour keycard access in Quincy did not result in any increase in crime or vandalism. (Indeed, a recent analysis of keycard access in Quincy by Harvard Yard Operations has shown that, on average, a meager 14 non-Quincy students entered between 2:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. each night.) As for the House life charge, I am curious to know what, if any, House community exists between the hours of 2:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. If the Masters are worried about House spirit, the answer is surely not to lock threatened students out late at night. And if all students had UKA, then there would be no reason for anyone to piggyback, since no one would be restricted anywhere. When it did occur, students would be much more suspicious of the piggybacker, since that person would have no excuse for needing assistance to gain access. These are not new points—and yet the administration continues to delay on UKA.

Relatively little attention, meanwhile, has been paid to the first-year dorms, and it would be irresponsible of the University to ignore the issues of safety within the Yard and near the Union dorms. The FDO is concerned that UKA will mean the end of first-year dorm life, but simple administrative rules can take care of regulating the use of first-year common space. Unfortunately, the FDO does not have the same influence over Cambridge criminals. And frankly, the FDO should be more concerned with the possibility of a student getting raped in Thayer’s backyard than with the chance of finding an upper-class student studying in its basement. With two indecent assaults taking place within the gates of the Yard in the past two months, the FDO can no longer pretend that Harvard Yard is a safe haven for students.

It also seems the FDO ignores the fact that the students who walk through the Yard are not just first-years, and that they are equally at peril. We should not forget that a sophomore making the long walk back to the river is no less vulnerable than a first-year walking home from the Carpenter Center at 3 a.m. Just because we get a little bit older and move out of the Yard, it does not mean that we should be banned from relying on our former homes as areas of safety.

Furthermore, it is mildly offensive for the administration to imply that upperclass students are a danger to first-years. All first-years have 24-hour access to other first-year dorms. Yet as sophomores, students have no access to first-year dorms at any level. Does the FDO really believe that students become dangers to society in the negligible few months between their first and second years?

In the last five years, too much time has been spent arguing over this seemingly simple issue of student safety. So let’s cut right to the chase: The University’s policy toward 24-hour UKA is inconsistent and illogical at best. At worst, it illustrates a lack of confidence in the students the administration is responsible for protecting and dangerously ignores the potential attacks to students who are unable to gain immediate access to a safe space.

Twenty-four-hour keycard access to all Harvard residences will not completely solve the problem of sexual assault on our campus. It must be part of a more comprehensive safety plan, which should include the recent additions of the Harvard University Campus Escort Program and 24-hour shuttles, as well as increased lighting and call boxes in Cambridge Common. But now is the time to eliminate these arbitrary, irresponsible UKA restrictions. The past several months have shown us all that we live in a potentially dangerous urban setting. It is the responsibility of House Masters, the FDO and administrators to protect Harvard students from the violence that pervades the city in which we live, work and play, and to ensure all of us a safe Harvard community.

Matthew J. Glazer ’06 is a government concentrator in Winthrop House. He is the chair of the Undergraduate Council’s Student Affairs Committee.

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