Editorial: Cleaning up doesn’t mean shutting down

Over the past few days neighborhood leaders, CC representatives and Campus Life staff have been working in overdrive, structuring, scheduling and debating a series of two votes that could determine whether or not certain campus houses remain card-accessible to non-residents. While student leaders have wisely convinced Campus Life to postpone these elections, we urge them to take opposition one step further. We call not just for postponement, but the cancellation of these card access votes.

By even considering the restriction of card access in campus residences, we undermine the openness and trust that has been a hallmark of the College. Born partly out of a concern that students were being unjustly fined for bio-cleanups in their houses, restricted access seeks to give residents greater protection against acts they most often do not themselves commit. But this is no solution to the ongoing problem; it’s a concession. Instead of seeking a better, less restrictive remedy to the bio-cleanup issue, we’re putting up a premature white flag. In entertaining this solution, we suggest that the only way to clean up is to shut down.

In effect, the slew of bio incidents has caused us to fear one another. Rightfully disturbed by human waste appearing in our residences, we have proposed an extreme solution. Now we face the possibility of barring non-residents from swiping into certain student houses. But can’t we address the issue without casting a web of distrust over the campus?

The answer is yes. In fact, proposals already exist that could help us combat this trend of bio-cleanups. For example, last month Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life, suggested a less restrictive approach to the problem, promoting “a positive outreach program” through which students would get to know their custodians in a more personal manner. The hope was that relationships with College staff would help foster a greater degree of respect for the community. While this certainly wouldn’t eradicate the problem altogether, it at least represents a more hopeful approach to the bio-cleanup issue. Why jump to extreme solutions when we haven’t exhausted – or in this case, even really tried – some of the more community-based ones yet?

Implicit in the argument for card-access restriction is the belief that student behavior cannot change without establishing physical barriers against would-be mess-makers. But we’ve changed before under similar circumstances. After several incidents of vandalism in fall 2003, Security threatened to restrict dorm access to residents only during night hours. However, student uproar prevented these measures from being enacted, and, according to Schiazza, behavior improved dramatically over the coming months.

Now, some have praised these elections as a victory for student self-determinism. We acknowledge this point, to a certain extent. The existence of these upcoming elections indicates that students are indeed concerned with the recent trend of biological messes, and that they themselves are actively seeking solutions. But considering these votes critically, we argue that there are limits to the amount of self-determination these elections allow.

For instance, should the first vote pass – the one which will decide whether or not a second vote to determine card access of individual houses is to happen – each dorm will be left with only three options. As a house, residents will vote to either remain open 24 hours a day, closed to non-residents 24 hours a day or closed to non-residents from the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. This arbitrary eight-hour lockdown option is not only impractical but also restrictive to houses which may choose to limit their access during a different period of the day. If we want true student autonomy in this issue why not let students, rather than Campus Life, chose the card-access timeframe?

Ultimately this whole debate amounts to a waste of student leaders’ and Campus Life staff’s time. Yes, concerns about dorm property generated by the recent flow of human waste into our buildings are important to address. But the way in which they are being addressed is counterproductive. What we need is a change in culture on campus resulting in a more pervasive respect for College property. While efforts such as the community building campaign make steps in fostering this culture, restricting dorm access only serves to propagate distrust.

Even if, by restricting access to certain dorms, we succeed in reducing the incidence of bio-cleanups, will the ends justify the means? Williams prides itself on its openness. Limiting swipe-access to residents only may indeed diminish the number of rogue feces in our buildings, but it will also represent a diminishment of trust on our campus. If whoever is leaving this excrement intended to create a sensation, then he, she or they have certainly succeeded. By restricting swipe access we play right into this – close our dorms and the pooper wins.

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