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So far this fall, Harvard Yard has not been a public space — not after 5 p.m., anyway. In what’s been described as an effort to protect the “safety and health” of the student population, the University has kept 21 of the Yard’s 25 gates closed from the late afternoon until 3 a.m. and will continue to do so through mid-October. Only Harvard affiliates with a University ID card are able to access the remaining four entrances.
The initiative has some undeniable benefits, particularly when it comes to student safety. Our peers, particularly female undergraduates, stand to gain from having a closed, safe space where they don’t have to keep their guard up after the dark. Crucially, the policy achieves this increase in student comfort without actually augmenting the police presence on campus — a frequently touted alternative that presents its own threat to student safety and perpetuates systemic racism.
The psychological comfort afforded by the reduced accessibility, the ability to take a lonesome stroll around the Yard at night, cannot be understated. This impact alone outweighs all other concerns and pushes us to support a permanent extension of the gate restrictions, albeit with some substantial changes to its current implementation.
First, the nighttime gate schedule must actually be during the nighttime. Its current span, from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m., is both too long and too early. We are skeptical that anyone feels unsafe in the Yard before dinner, and the early evening lack of entrances proves a hindrance to both students moving between classes and local residents seeking cut through Harvard property. A new, more limited schedule would be a better fit for all. Locking the gates from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., for example, would hopefully reduce the impact on non-Harvard ID holders, and make our campus welcoming during the day.
The lock-down is also too restrictive in its current form, particularly when it comes to guests. Freshmen should be allowed to bring non-Harvard affiliates into the Yard at any time— it is, after all, meant to be their home. In the long run, that could be accomplished by digitizing specific entrance gates — local ordinances allowing — to facilitate unlimited, swipe-validated access for affiliates and their company.
We recognize that our newly locked gates and identification requirements add an extra layer of unforced elitism to our institution, distancing us from our neighbors and rendering our ivory tower even more inaccessible. The policy could risk exacerbating our local divide, splitting us into Cambridge residents who can cross through Widener’s gates, ID in hand, and those who cannot. To mitigate this regrettable risk as best as possible, our university should be open to and perhaps actively seek residents’ input on the matter.
The temporary closure of the gates has inspired an overdue conversation over who belongs at the Yard and when. The current model, set to expire within weeks, is imperfect, both excessively exclusive to guests and poorly scheduled. Yet its core tenet — that freshmen should have a guarded, Harvard-only Yard to enjoy during the night — is persuasive enough to warrant a second attempt. With some adjustments, our new closed Yard offers a blueprint to a safer, less intimidating campus after dusk — one we hope outlives the October deadline.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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