Administrators have once again revised the swipe access policy for commuter students and will now allow each of them access to one residence hall, but students still feel skeptical about the new policy’s limitations.
Over the summer, Residential Programs changed its policy so that students who live off campus could no longer fill out a form to gain swipe access to residence halls, as they had been able to in previous years. Instead, off-campus students would have to be signed in as guests each time they wanted to enter any residence hall.
After weeks of discussion with Residential Programs and Student Affairs, Columbia College Student Council and Engineering Student Council leaders reached an agreement Monday to allow “residents to assume liability for up to three off-campus students, who will then be granted swipe access into the host student’s residence hall,” according to a statement from the councils. Students in residence halls will be limited to signing in the same three off-campus students in one year.
Council members met with Assistant Dean of Residential Programs Cristen Kromm and Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez on Monday morning to discuss swipe access, and Martinez announced the details of the new policy in an email to Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students Tuesday evening.
In previous years, commuters had been able to fill out a request form for access to multiple dorms.
“We thought that it was unfair to change access policies after students had already signed up for housing, and for not informing students early enough to allow them to change,” Daphne Chen, CC ’14 and CCSC president, said.
Insurance coverage was a major factor in the administration’s decision to revoke commuter swipe access. Under the new system, which will go into effect after fall break, host students will be responsible for commuter students at all times while they are in the residence hall.
To become a host under the new system, students will have to fill out a request form and a judicial check to make sure both parties are in good academic standing.
Martinez’s email to the student body also cited safety and the variation in fees paid by commuter and residential students as reasons for the initial policy change.
Some students said the financial argument didn’t make sense to them.
“Safety is definitely a concern,” Chris Li, CC ’15, said. “But I still think students should be able to get into whatever building they want, whenever they want, especially since they’ve paid a lot of money in student fees.”
Administrators said they had not anticipated the psychological impact that removing swipe access would have on commuter students.
“It’s not an issue of convenience. It’s not that we mind having to go downstairs and swipe our friends in, but it’s also an emotional issue,” Chen said. “It’s a community spirit issue, and it can dampen that unity when students who live off campus feel like they don’t belong in a dorm, and most importantly the process of communicating that to students, so they feel respected since they’re the stakeholders when policies change.”
While adding swipe access for one building will be an improvement, students said, a feeling of alienation remains for some.
“When I first stepped on to campus and marveled at the copper-crowned buildings, I never could have imagined that I would be denied access to them while still a student here,” Isaac Bunch, CC ’14 and president of Beta Theta Pi, said.
Beta is the only fraternity at Columbia that owns its own house, so the brothers who chose to live in the fraternity’s brownstone this semester are among those students who found themselves without swipe access.
“The message we are getting from the University here is that we are not valued members of the community, even though we live in a space right across the street from campus and continually open Beta’s doors to Columbia groups and students,” Bunch said.
“If people already have rights to one, then why not extend to all?” Orli Matlow, GS/JTS ’15 and Spectrum blogger, said. She is a resident of the Bayit, an off-campus Jewish food co-op. “I’m happy. I take what I can get, and I choose EC for, like, the social reasons and whatnot, but if people’s friends are spread out then that doesn’t help as much.”
Student leaders say the policy revision is a step in the right direction, but they hope for a stronger long-term solution.
“I do not see this move as sufficient and would like to see a return to the policy whereby CC and SEAS undergrads could apply for access to all dorms,” Bunch said.
Chen agreed, saying she hopes to eventually return to a more inclusive policy for residence hall access.
“My personal preference is that it should be more open,” she said. “We might be talking more about that in future.”
While ESC President Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14, said he was happy that Residential Programs came to a compromise, he would still like to see the policy reversed for this year because students were not notified until after they had selected housing.
“We are requesting the change in policy be moved to next year so we can have these discussions,” Bhatt said.
Martinez said in her email that in the future, administrators “will work to announce significant policy changes in advance of students returning to campus.”