Administration Allows Universal Access to Sontag Hall

Resistance to proposed access restrictions in Pomona's new residence halls culminated this week in what students who led the opposition called "a victory." Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum announced in an April 6 e-mail that the default security measures in the hallways of the new residence halls will be universal access for all students with Pomona ID cards.

Feldblum and Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes discussed the prospective security measures at an ASPC Senate meeting March 28. According to them, the new residence halls were designed to allow for card-swipe access restrictions in each hallway only to students who lived in those hallways or in that building. Feldblum explained that the college was considering this measure as part of a “multi-pronged” approach to bolster security on campus after multiple robberies and intrusions in recent years.

In her e-mail, however, Feldblum informed the student body that universal access would be the default setting for card readers in the residence halls.

“…the Student Affairs Committee explicitly confirmed at our meeting last week, that until we could have a full discussion of all security options, we would not be making any decisions about card swipe options – and the current practice of universal access stands,” Feldblum wrote. “No changes will be made until we review all the security options, together with information from other colleges and the security assessments of Pomona’s campus, with the Student Affairs Committee, which would take place sometime in the fall.”

ASPC Vice President Cosi Thawley PO’11 expressed approval of the decision.

“My understanding was at the end of the Student Affairs Committee meeting, [that] there was an agreement that the default security measure in the new dorms was what currently exists in other dorms on campus, and that any changes to that default would have to go through the Student Affairs Committee,” he said.

“This makes sense to me because a policy regarding student life should never occur unilaterally," he added. "Decisions should always go through proper channels with input from students and administrators, and it is heartening to see that happen in this case.”

ASPC became formally involved in the debate over access restrictions after the ASPC Residence Hall Committee drafted a formal statement that was endorsed unanimously by the senate. In this statement, students on the committee proposed that the college permit any Pomona student with an ID to enter common floors and hallways in the residence halls while still restricting private suites and suite common rooms to students who reside there.

In support of the statement, Nate Brown and Alan Mitchell PO ’12 created an online petition for students to support the Residence Hall Committee’s recommendation to eliminate hallway access restrictions while still keeping individual rooms and friendship suites restricted to the students living in those suites. The petition garnered over 360 signatures, representing approximately a quarter of the Pomona student body.

According to Brown and Mitchell, the access restrictions would have had been detrimental to Pomona’s open and free-flowing intellectual culture, and possible security hazards could have been created by the measure if it were implemented.

“We don’t think that restrictions on hallway access will help security,” Brown said. “It will lead to students propping doors, and it will lead to a culture of letting strangers into dorms.”

Mitchell added that he thought the access restrictions would have adversely affected the campus community.

“Creating this sort of segmentation of the population into hallways is not what I came to Pomona for,” he said. “Pomona is about the free exchange of ideas and people."

Feldblum explained that a key factor in the decision not to pursue access restrictions at this time was the college’s desire to look at improving security as a multifaceted effort.

“We didn’t have enough information to come to a comprehensive decision before Room Draw,” she said, adding that this time constraint contributed to the decision to postpone discussions until next year.

“Right now, we’re going to look at it with the array of all the security measures,” Feldblum said. “We’ll review it with the Student Affairs Committee. There are some that would involve policy changes, and some may not. There could be lighting, there could be cameras, there could be card access; there could be all different types of things. It’s going to be done in that context.”

Feldblum noted that CUC Director of Campus Safety Shahram Ariane would be acting as a security consultant during the process of improving campus security, and that he was supportive of a video management system to target thefts and intrusions, which Feldblum explained could be a more effective measure than the hallway access restrictions.

“Let’s make sure we’re considering all our different options,” she said. “Maybe we’ll come up with an even more effective way to improve security measures on campus.”