I hate when friends visit me from other colleges. Not that I don’t enjoy the company—believe me, I do. In fact, I regularly play host to friends, acquaintances, and people who claim to know me from elementary school. But consistently and persistently, dorm security embarrasses me.
It’s bad enough convincing a friend to hand over their driver’s license. The real discomfort comes when, inevitably, the attendant somehow misplaces it. I can’t help squirming while the “uniformed person behind the desk” (as my friends like to say) shuffles through the “box o’ names” (as only I like to say). After several agonizing minutes, the missing ID usually turns up in the wrong alphabetical slot or the wrong gender box. I suppose it’s possible that the guards are protesting gender binaries and the West’s propagation of the Latin alphabet. More likely, though, they just screwed up.
Now, I don’t mean to impugn all of Columbia’s security guards. Many of them not only do their jobs efficiently, but with smiles on their faces. I regularly chat with one of my favorite attendants after finishing a late-night paper. We always have great conversations, despite the occasional argument over Shakespeare’s authorship. Still, there are enough rotten apples out there to sour my grapes.
There’s the guard who always demands I give him my dinner when I enter the building. He laughs after an awkward pause, but the hunger in his eyes tells me he’s not really kidding. Then there’s the tall attendant who likes to wave my ID out of reach, sending me into traumatic flashbacks of playground basketball and monkey in the middle. And let’s not forget the one who yelled at me for signing the same person into the building too many times in one evening. To be fair, it was my imaginary friend. But he could have been a little more courteous.
Listen, we can all agree that it’s not productive to gripe about a problem without suggesting a solution—even though it’s a lot more fun. So, in true Rousseau fashion, I’m going to put forward my blueprint for a social contract between dormitory residents and dormitory guards. Students in the building should pledge to warmly greet security personnel, learn the names of regular desk attendants, and occasionally offer guards a beverage. Residents will expect guards in return to scan IDs without fanfare, gently walk guests through the sign-in process, and maybe let harried students use the front-desk stapler now and again.
Otherwise, live and let live. Guards want to chat on the phone in foreign languages? Muy bien! Play music on the radio? The more, the better! Strip down to the waist on a hot day? Actually, that’s kind of creepy. Maybe not.
Sadly, this plan raises more questions than answers. Why do people need a social contract to act like decent human beings? How many people need to accept this social contract for it to be effective? And is it ethical to copy/paste into my column large sections from my CC paper on Rousseau?
Perhaps the real problem is that security guards aren’t doing enough. I’d like to see them act more like concierges—holding doors open, picking up laundry, and occasionally giving massages. If the guards refuse new responsibilities, Columbians should take a cue from protesters downtown and stage rallies outside the dorms. Students would have no trouble making signs with catchy slogans like “Occupy John Jay” and “Residents are the 99 percent.”
This plan is particularly attractive because even a small group of students can implement it. I’m not suggesting that insurgents coerce demonstrations by setting off fire alarms… for legal reasons. Yet that kind of creative thinking just might do the trick.
True, a picket might not instigate any change. And granted, concierge duties might make it hard for guards to protect the building. But, at the very least, all the protesters forgoing indoor heaters will reduce the dorms’ environmental footprint. We could kill two birds with one stone, although that might anger environmentalists all over again.
At the end of the day, I have to salute security guards for keeping us safe. Dealing with the public all day can be unpleasant and potentially dangerous. I’ve even heard that certain nasty students use Spec to make light of their profession. For shame! I disavow myself from them.
Jeremy Liss is a junior in Columbia College majoring in English and comparative literature. He is the Creative Editor of The Current. Liss is More runs alternate Thursdays.