Top Hat

Universal access controversy continues, evolves

Access restored to BARH and Blitman, limited at Quad; ResLife requests student feedback

This Monday, in response to the recent removal of universal access to residence halls for students living on campus, the Student Senate hosted Dean of Residence Life Todd Schill to discuss the history of this policy, the decision-making process behind its creation, and the reasons for its recent revocation. With this week’s article, I would like to help articulate some of the considerations behind this decision, as well as the process that our Residence Life program staff is following to review access for all parties.

Access controls are set by ResLife directly and reviewed continually to maintain campus safety and reflect the constant changes in student needs. Prior to two years ago, universal access was not present for any students on campus—students would have access to their residence hall, with limited interactivity available for the rest of campus. To enter other halls, including Blitman Commons and Burdett Avenue Residence Hall, both of which entail dining components, students would need residents to swipe them in (in a process colloquially referred to as “piggybacking”).

Rensselaer’s Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students Initiative supports the idea of an open, flexible, and welcoming residence hall environment. Encouraging CLASS, Dean Schill advocated for an open approach, encouraging a greater sense of community and collaboration among RPI students by allowing them to access other halls. Universal access would prevent students from propping open their room doors, attract more upperclassmen to visit or even live on campus, and encourage more residence hall programming from staff or even faculty. However, there was also significant concern that opening the dorms to non-residents would increase the rate of theft, vandalism, and other residential security hazards.

Ultimately, Dean Schill and ResLife adopted universal access as a pilot program during the Fall 2013 semester. For the duration of the 2013-2014 academic year, students living on campus had access to all residence halls. This program was met largely with approval from both the student body and from previously concerned ResLife staff. The program was allowed to continue through the Spring 2014 semester and into the fall.

However, as many of you may know, two weeks ago, a pair of unknown suspects gained access to Bray Hall by “piggybacking” off of a student’s access. Campus, residential, and personal security remains a tantamount priority—risks of burglary, vandalism, or theft are a crucial concern to everyone on campus. In response to these events, universal access was immediately revoked.

This decision has been met with some concern from students. First year students and sophomores have only experienced universal access—some have raised issues with its restriction due to loss of flexibility. Students running events within the halls, such as Ground Zero or residence life programs, have become concerned that the removal of universal access will deter others from attending. Fraternities and sororities seeking new members during recruitment and Student Government candidates seeking nominations may have difficulty using residence halls as a resource.

However, this decision is not unilateral, and ResLife is comprehensively working to assess access for all students. Already, some changes have been rolled back; universal access has been restored for BARH and Blitman dining halls, Quadrangle Residence Hall residents will have access to both Quad 1 and Quad 2, and some access points will be changed regarding laundry service and community classrooms. At this stage, ResLife is considering further changes based on a comprehensive review of student need, previous access policies, and any relevant safety risks.

This is an open, student-oriented process, and ResLife has expressed interest in hearing all student feedback on access and all related issues. The Senate’s Student Life Committee will be working jointly with ResLife to deliver this feedback, balancing student needs with the crucial imperative of preserving campus safety. We aim to ensure that access controls head in a direction that is beneficial to students. If you are interested in becoming involved, please contact Student Life Committee Chairman Lexi Rindone ’15 at rindoa@rpi.edu, or as always, you may reach me at gm@rpi.edu.