In response to the College’s recent announcement regarding new restrictions on student access to dorms and House Centers, Student Assembly would like to clarify its role and opinion on this policy change.
First, the College’s assertion that dorm access restrictions were requested by Student Assembly is false. Following the bias incidents that took place in Fall 2018, then SA President Monik Walters ‘19 and Vice President Nicole Knape ‘19 released a resolution calling for the College to improve its response to such actions. Included in this resolution was a clause asking the College to consider “additional security and technological measures including but not limited to technology to monitor or regulate entering and exiting dorms after an incident.” Walters and Knape then had subsequent discussions with College leadership regarding safety practices. During these discussions, the last of which occurred in February 2019, Student Assembly neither proposed nor advocated for continuous restrictions on dorm access. Other limited actions were proposed, such as temporarily restricting dorm access immediately after incidents to make campus feel safer, and increased surveillance options, such as more security cameras. Since those preliminary discussions in February, Student Assembly has not been consulted on this issue and was not made aware of these policy changes in advance. The current administration has not been involved in conversations regarding this issue whatsoever. Nevertheless, we are committed to moving forward productively and working with the Office of Residential Life to resolve this issue.
Student Assembly did not request and does not support the permanent restrictions to dorm access announced by the College. Such restrictions pose a threat to Dartmouth’s communal and open culture. They make forging and maintaining friendships with other students more difficult, and they increase the already worrying disparity between Houses with ‘better’ and ‘poorer’ facilities. They betray a lack of trust in the student body, and fail to address the root cause of racism that underlie the bias incidents. And most importantly, in terms of safety, these restrictions are an arbitrary and adverse development, making campus less safe and holding students less accountable for their actions.
While the College claims that the primary reason for these changes is a necessary increase in dorm security, the changes are ineffective and counterproductive. Currently, when a student scans their ID at the door, their entrance is recorded, enabling the College to track and identify entrants. Of course, not every student who enters a dorm is recorded; sometimes students inside the dorm let their friends in; sometimes, students hold the door open for other students. The College claims that by ensuring only members of a House have card access to its dorms, dorms will be better protected from unwelcome intruders. But under the new restricted system, circumstances that allow unauthorized and uncatalogued access are still possible and are actually more likely. Students are not going to stop visiting dorms outside their House - we all have friends all over campus, and different dorms provide different amenities that all students should be able to use. Students will still be able to access any dorm they seek to enter, but instead of scanning in and having their entrance recorded, they will wait for the door to open, and then enter anonymously. Anyone wishing to enter a dorm for nefarious purposes would be able to reach their same perverse objectives under this new policy - in effect, nothing has changed from the status quo. The new policy makes campus less safe, as it reduces the information the College has about who enters a dorm, and it does not in any way prevent access to those who do not have proper ID.
Given that the College’s security argument is unfounded, the only other reason given for this change is to “deepen our commitments to the housing system,” as it was put in an email to all UGAs. Overall, the House system has been an enriching and positive addition to student life at Dartmouth. Most of its initiatives have improved campus; this change is not one of them. Encouraging students to create bonds within their House by constructing House Centers and providing House programming are an excellent way to spur the growth of community. This change actively works against that principle. These dorm access restrictions - effectively trapping students and attempting to force social cohesion - are a step backwards. These restrictions create a forced exclusivity; fracturing campus in a ham-fisted attempt to create artificial unity. Students are not sheep, and the College is no shepherd. The House system should grow organically, not through artificial barriers.
We are particularly disappointed in the decision to restrict access to the House Centers. The College claims their sequestration is “in line with their original purpose” (The Dartmouth, September 13, 2019). Yes, the Onion and Cube were intended to be primarily used by their respective Houses - and they are, due to their proximity to their housing clusters. In the three years since their introduction, however, the Onion and Cube have become popular student hubs used by students from all Houses. The House Centers have made campus a better place and fostered social growth. This plan would undo much of that progress. The new policy works against the goals of the House System by unnecessarily and artificially dividing campus and separating students.
Additionally, this restriction furthers the inequalities in House facilities. For example, North Park and South House residents, with their designated House Center as the Onion, will no longer have access to a DDS snack bar under this new system. North Park residents will no longer have access to the nearest printer in mid-Fayerweather, as their dorm lacks one. These are just two examples; there are many more.
Furthermore, the College cannot claim that these changes adequately address the underlying racial bias issues and the heinous incidents that spurred this conversation. The problem is not that campus is too open; the problem is that several students chose to showcase their bigotry and hatred. This racism that sadly lives within part of our student body will not be cured by dorm access restrictions, and any suggestion that it may is simply detracting from the root issue of campus racism.
One of the greatest attributes of Dartmouth is its serene and welcoming campus. Dorms are open to all students. The grad schools are open to undergraduates. Greek houses are open to everyone. It’s what makes Dartmouth a special place. It’s that sense of trust that lets many of us leave laptops unattended in the library. It’s that community that makes our four years here special. These changes erode those special attributes. We oppose this change because it is unnecessary and harmful. It reduces safety, fractures our social spaces, and fails to address the underlying issues, all the while inconveniencing students and diminishing Dartmouth’s special character. In every way, these restrictions fail. We encourage the College to seek ways to make campus safer for all, and we are absolutely willing to engage with and support the creation of real solutions. We call on the College to rescind these restrictions immediately, and we implore students who feel similarly to make their opinion known to the Office of Residential Life and the wider administration.