Pomona Should Affirm Student Privacy

At last week’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC) meeting, administrators brought up the idea of installing video cameras in the residence halls. According to SAC members, if the plans are approved, video cameras could be installed in the dorms as early as next semester.

While we acknowledge the need for a comprehensive security system on campus, Pomona Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum has not denied that these cameras could be used to enforce substance policy or for other purposes. The Pomona College Student Handbook guarantees students “the right to reasonable privacy” and “the right to fair and equitable enforcement of residence halls rules and policies.” The Student Life believes that use of the proposed video cameras for anything other than security and theft-prevention purposes would violate this guarantee.

Furthermore, TSL would like to see a more specific proposal for where these cameras would be located and how they would be used. Installation of cameras near bike racks or in parking lots would be far more effective and would infringe less on student privacy than cameras within the residence halls or at dorm entrances. Above all, the discussion over video cameras should be expanded to the broader student body and no decision should be made without sufficient student input and support.

Also at last week’s SAC meeting, students formally introduced a proposed definition for “private space” in the residence halls. The debate over “public” versus “private” has been going on for years, but it has become particularly relevant in recent years as the administration and the Office of Campus Life have broadened their interpretation of “public” space in the dorms and more strictly enforced policy violations.

TSL strongly supports the student proposal, which would define private space in the dorms as “residential rooms assigned exclusively to one or two students and common spaces assigned and made accessible exclusively to a collection of no more than eight students.” Under this definition, spaces like the suites in the new north campus dorms, the Lawry suites, various access-restricted hallways on north campus, and a few south campus suites would be given the same treatment as private residential rooms when it comes to policy enforcement, and RAs would not include them in their walkthroughs.

There are four reasons the SAC should adopt the proposed definition. The first is clarity. The difference between “public” and “private” space in the dorms is too vague and has been left open to interpretation, and this proposal would fill that void. As ASPC President Stephanie Almeida PO ’11 said, “The proposal is not changing the definition of private space; it’s creating one.”

A second reason is safety. Currently, students must drink behind closed doors and with their window blinds shut if they wish not to be fined—even if they’re over the age of 21 and living on north campus. This atmosphere promotes an unsafe drinking culture on campus where some students resort to drinking hard alcohol in short periods of time in the privacy of their rooms.

This begets another reason to adopt the proposed definition: social interactions. Defining the suites in the new dorms and other common spaces on campus as “private” gives students the peace of mind to enjoy a beer in a relaxed setting with several friends and without fear of being fined.

But the most important reason to adopt the definition, and to question the proposed video cameras, is respect—respect for students, respect for their privacy, and respect for their ability to think and act independently. Pomona students have as much a stake in the security of the dorms and the protection of their privacy rights as anyone else, and they deserve to be heard.

From the perspective of The Student Life, campus-wide policy and enforcement decisions are increasingly being made unilaterally by the administration without legitimate student input and support. The students have spoken, and the administration should listen.

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