With the new University ID cards fully operational, now is an opportune time to consider new ways to allow students at the four undergraduate schools to visit each other’s dormitories without the hassle of being signed in. Although reciprocal access is a sensitive issue for some who fear issues of security or liability, universal swipe access must be genuinely addressed by the undergraduate student councils.
A recent survey of Barnard College students asked whether “the current inter-school sign-in policy fosters a sense of undergraduate community.” Seventy percent of respondents strongly disagreed with that statement, and another 23 percent disagreed. By enabling students to use their own ID cards to attend parties, meetings, or just hang out with friends, reciprocal swipe access would go a long way toward fostering community at Columbia. Such a policy would have the added benefit of assuaging weekend traffic jams at the entrance to East Campus and, in so doing, simplify security guards’ jobs while improving EC residents’ access to their own suites.
A number of arguments have been leveled against broader swipe access. Some students at Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have expressed concern about students from other schools entering dorms they do not live in. But a student from Plimpton—or from the school of General Studies—is no more of a security threat than a student from Wien. Barnard’s all-female dorms are something of a special case, though Columbia men are currently allowed to enter as long as they are signed in. Although in principle Barnard should be just as accessible, the Quad could possibly be exempted from universal swipe access to preserve its distinctive character. A separate objection to swipe access has centered on liability. Since Columbia and Barnard have different public-safety divisions and disciplinary procedures, some students worry that nonresidents who inflict damage in dorms may not be adequately disciplined. Yet all of these students are part of the broader University. If they can be punished for damaging computers in Lehman Library or lab equipment in Mudd, they can be punished for damage done in dorm buildings.
If doubts persist as to the wisdom of changing swipe policy, the University’s four undergraduate student councils should advocate incremental measures to allay lingering concerns. Columbia could implement a call-up system, modeled after Barnard’s, whereby residents would sign in friends lacking swipe access by phone, rather than in person. On nights when many students line up outside East Campus, the dorm should give first priority to its own residents, instead of leaving them out in the cold behind students waiting to be signed in. At any rate, CC and SEAS students should be more sensitive toward their peers who lack swipe access by scheduling meetings and events in spaces accessible to all. Doing so would mitigate feelings of alienation among students in different schools.
Time and again, efforts to introduce reciprocal swipe access have foundered over disagreement about the precise circumstances under which access should be allowed. No system of swipe access will be perfect in the eyes of all students—the student councils should instead look for common ground. So far, the councils as a whole do not seem to have taken the possibility of universal access seriously enough. Following Barnard’s Student Government Association’s lead, the other councils should survey their students to assess popular opinion and identify areas of concern. All of the councils should then push for reforms that accommodate student responses while recognizing the pressing need for a greater sense of community across institutional lines.