Editorial: To secure dorms, give us all access

Opinion by Editorial Board
April 13, 2011, 12:29 a.m.

Saturday’s forcible sexual assault in Escondido Village has refocused campus attention to a growing pattern of criminal events involving peepers, prowlers and other intruders. While these incidents highlight the need for students to redouble their efforts to secure doors and windows, this Board also believes that improving campus safety may also merit further review of existing Residential housing policies. Specifically, the administration should consider a policy under which any Stanford undergraduate can access any other undergraduate dorm as a counterintuitive but effective means of promoting residential safety and solving several minor nuisances.

Minor benefits to students are readily apparent: no longer will rollouts entail pre-dawn acrobatics through bathroom windows, universal access would obviate pesky DoorKing machines and the logistics of group meetings would simplify considerably. However, the real impetus for this policy is grounded in the need to exclude outsiders more effectively.

Unfortunately, current policies designed to protect students from intruders are unrealistic. Despite ResEd’s pleas not to admit non-residents into dormitories, residents routinely let in strangers, presuming innocence to avoid the awkwardness of inconveniencing a likely classmate.

On the other hand, if all undergraduate ID cards opened all dorms, far fewer students would loiter outside dorm entrances. This would increase the level of suspicion for those who do have criminal intentions. Such a policy would thus allow RAs to change students’ behavior, asking them to take responsibility for ensuring that non-student visitors in fact have a legitimate reason to enter a dorm.

Critics of this proposal may point to the vastly increased access that students now have to one another’s dorms as a fault of the policy. They may contend that students can harass others or commit thefts more easily once locked dorms pose no physical barrier to any student. But this is a much more tractable problem, that of deterring and enforcing misconduct among Stanford students. Each of us is bound by certain codes, like the Fundamental Standard, and so philosophically any policy should presume our innocence instead of actively seeking to prevent malfeasance.

Moreover, students are far more accountable than outsiders are — judicial and administrative mechanisms exist to prosecute and deter wrongdoers, and Stanford students frankly have much more to lose than most criminals. The data bears out the assumption that Stanford students are less likely to commit serious crimes on campus: most serious thefts, and intruder incidents like last year’s shower peeping and last weekend’s sexual assault, have usually involved suspects from outside of the Stanford community. A policy to enhance public safety should target exclusively these non-students, as they pose the greatest danger to students and are least accountable to the University.

ResEd and the Department of Public Safety should be commended for going to extraordinary lengths to secure our campus. Dedicated residential safety patrols, annoying sirens to discourage door-propping and flyers encouraging residential security are all steps in the right direction. By recognizing that the real threats are campus outsiders and giving all undergrads universal card access to campus dorms, Stanford can take one step further toward a safer campus.

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