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An Issue of Safety

By Peter M. Bozzo

Over the long weekend, I visited a friend at a university in New York. When entering this friend’s dorm for the first time, I was immediately stopped by a security guard who took my driver’s license, recorded my name, informed me that I had to be out of the building by 10pm, and kept the license until I left later that night. At first I was shocked and somewhat offended by the seemingly unnecessary security measures, but as I thought about the experience more, I realized that my surprise was a result of my ignorance: I had never seen anything like this at Harvard.

Fewer than three years ago, there was a fatal shooting in the basement of one of Harvard’s dorms, committed by a non-student who had been living with his girlfriend in Lowell House for the entire year. Clearer policies and more stringent enforcement of those policies could have prevented this living situation and thus prevented a murder that occurred in a Harvard building. Harvard would be wise to adopt some of the security measures employed at other schools—or at least begin enforcing the security measures that are already in place regarding guests and overnight stays.

Page 137 of the Harvard Student Handbook, for example, reads that “A person not regularly assigned to a particular dormitory or House may not be lodged in that dormitory or House for more than a brief stay without the permission of the Proctor, Resident Dean, or House Master.” This rule is frequently violated with few—if any—consequences for the offender. Harvard’s rules are already more lenient than those at many of its peer institutions; guests whose stay is less than “brief” need not be registered at all, although the handbook does stipulate that one’s roommates must always approve of any overnight guests.

Harvard should begin by clarifying its rules on overnight guests by defining the term “brief stay” more specifically—three to five days might be a good time frame. In addition, a “brief stay” shouldn’t be defined as a “continuous stay,” as the current rules imply; someone who has a guest every other night may be inconveniencing his or her roommates just as much as one whose guest stays for a week without interruption. Without more clarity in the guidelines, individuals don’t know whether they have a right to complain about a roommate’s overnight guests—or even whether they’re violating the rules themselves.

After specifying the rules in the student handbook, administrators should enforce these rules more stringently. Because the rules are so laxly enforced at present, roommates inconvenienced by having an additional guest in their rooms on a regular basis don’t feel that they have a right to complain; instead, they feel ostracized for unnecessarily causing a problem that is not viewed as important by other administrators or students. The current lax enforcement creates the impression that a student’s right to have overnight guests automatically overrides his or her roommates’ right to have a positive experience in the room.

Enforcement of the overnight guest rules would obviously require checking the identification of all students who enter dorms on Harvard’s campus. Although it might be a mild inconvenience, it’s also a relatively simple way to ensure that the university’s rules are being followed. It doesn’t take much effort: Simply flash your Harvard ID when you’re walking in and out of your dorm. If you’re with someone from another house, it will be noted that they’re entering a friend’s dorm, and if you’re with someone from another school, they’ll have to provide another form of identification. The university will know who’s entering and exiting each of its houses without imposing much of an inconvenience on students.  Perhaps distinct ID cards could be created for each house, so that security guards can more easily tell whether entrants into the building are residents of the dorm or guests.

This tactic isn’t foolproof: The college still won’t be able to regulate guests who stay with a friend living in the same dorm. Undoubtedly, some will say that these regulations impose too much of an inconvenience on students who aren’t doing anything wrong, but are simply having an overnight guest. However, monitoring who enters and exits each dorm isn’t merely an issue of convenience—it’s an issue of safety. If the Kirkland shooting incident wasn’t enough to wake us up to the need for more stringent overnight guest policies, then we haven’t learned from a tragic security failure in our past.

Peter M. Bozzo ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Eliot House.

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