The Limits of Dorm Security

The new North Campus dorm, Sontag Hall, will be completed this summer and open for students in the fall. Most of the junior class is hoping to live there, and they should be; the suites are great, there’s a garden on the roof, and the rooms have full-size beds.

But there’s a serious drawback to the new dorm: access to the residential areas of Sontag Hall will be restricted to those who live in the building. If you don’t live in Sontag, your swipe card won’t get you into the hallways where students live. If you want to visit a friend, someone will have to let you in.

There are several problems with this policy. The most obvious is that it’s inconvenient. If you want to visit a friend who lives on the third floor of Sontag, you’ll first have to call (or text) him or her, and then they will have to walk down three flights of stairs to let you in. It also makes it difficult to advertise for an event. Will I have to know someone on the second floor of Sontag in order to post a flier in the second floor hall?

However, there’s a more fundamental problem with this policy. Pomona is special for many reasons, but the one I appreciate most is the free-flowing intellectual and social environment it provides. We are a small school, but there are students here with various skills and unique stories, and the culture here allows—even promotes—the intersection of those stories in fascinating ways. Some of my best memories at Pomona are the spontaneous conversations I’ve had in a friend’s dorm room or over corn dogs at Snack.

In some sense, the whole point of a liberal arts education is to learn a skill but discover new interests and people in the process. The new residence hall’s access restrictions run contrary to that mission. This policy limits the interactions that make this college great. Imagine a freshman who wants to stop by his OA leader’s room but doesn’t know her phone number, or a junior who wants to welcome her former sponsor back from study abroad by surprising him in his dorm room. With mostly seniors living in the new dorm, the policy will exacerbate the divide between North and South Campus and between underclassmen and upperclassmen, a divide that I think has already grown too large.

There is a good reason for the access restriction: security. We all heard about the burglaries and bizarre acts of indecent exposure last semester. If your room isn’t locked, very little stands between a thief and your brand new laptop. The solution to this problem, however, is not to turn our residence halls into hospital wards ; it’s to get students to lock their rooms and to not prop doors. It can be done!

Supporters of the policy claim that we have fallen behind other schools in the nation when it comes to dorm security, but they are comparing apples to oranges. A ritzy new 26-story dorm at Boston University requires the approval of a resident to enter. But we don’t go to school in downtown Boston, and we certainly don’t have the campus environment of BU. We live in Claremont, and we get to class by walking through the plush grass of Marston Quad, familiar faces at our sides. We should be doing more to encourage that familiarity, not restrict it.

Furthermore, access restrictions won’t even be that effective at preventing theft. Most burglars at Pomona gain access to residence halls through unlocked windows on the ground floor or by following a student inside the building, not by stealing a Pomona ID and using it themselves. The trespasser who was caught inside Blaisdell on Jan. 27 didn’t gain access to the building using an ID card; he followed someone inside. If anything, this policy will motivate Sontag residents to prop their hallway doors to avoid the inconvenience of having to open them for every friend who comes to visit.

Sontag Hall is only the beginning. The college is moving towards tighter security measures, which could include video cameras at the entrances to residence halls or access restrictions on South Campus. As it is, Blaisdell residents too often fall into the trap of never venturing west of Mudd . Access restrictions would make this trend a certainty.

The policy entails a tradeoff, no doubt, but its costs outweigh the benefits. Spontaneous moments between strangers may already be on the decline at Pomona, perhaps because of our obsession with Facebook or our own damn laziness. I hope the college won’t worsen the problem by clinging to an overzealous dorm access policy that is sure to do more harm than good.

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