by Gabriella DePinho & Joe Liggio, News Editor & Senior Writer
Throughout syllabus week, one topic of conversation had campus buzzing above all the rest: Access Control.
The new residence hall policy revamp that took many by surprise at the start of the semester has been met with a resoundingly negative reaction by students and staff at Manhattan, many of whom are speaking out against what they see as an unfair, restrictive new system that has severely impacted campus morale.
Concerns and complaints vary, from worries over the ability to study or work on projects in groups to students feeling like they have had a curfew imposed upon them, and a limit on when and how they can spend time with others who attend the college.
According to Director of Residence Life Charles Clency, this policy has been introduced solely as a preventative measure.
“It’s not a matter of a situation that occurred, it’s a matter of what’s going on in our society and being a little more safe and conscious about how to provide a better quality of living and a safer environment where our students reside,” said Clency.
In addition to being a proactive policy, Clency sees this change as necessary to keep up with other colleges and universities.
“Students here may not realize it but the practice of having open residence halls is an outdated system … This is an outdated system from a grander scale. It’s safe to say you’ll rarely find a system that allows students, all the student body, to come and go in the residence halls without having any check-in process or knowledge of who is accessing the building,” said Clency.
While Residence Life and Public Safety saw this change as imminent and a priority for the academic year, many at the school was not clued into the policy adjustment. Resident Assistants learned about the policy change a day before the email went out to the student body.
“RAs and staff, I actually gave them an opportunity to voice their concerns. They made it clear to me that all of them weren’t entirely on board with it either. It’s a change,” said Clency.
Commuter students were never formally contacted regarding the policy update from any member of the Office of Student Life. Director of Commuter Affairs Marilyn Carter could not provide information on Access Control to non-resident students prior to its introduction, as she herself was not fully aware of the policy’s extent or what would actually be going into effect upon the start of the semester
“We heard back in late spring that there would be some changes in accessing the dorms. However, at that time I was not privy to all of the changes that we see made today. My office was not involved in any discussions concerning this matter,” said Carter in an e-mail statement to The Quadrangle.
According to Clency, he himself does not have the capacity to email the entire student body.
“I only have the obligation and responsibility to communicate with the students who live on campus and signed the contract with us. When it goes beyond that, it becomes a student life thing,” said Clency.
Beyond the commuting population, Clency acknowledged that student involvement in preliminary discussions and the actual dissemination of the policy ahead of time to all of the MC community could have been better.
“I’ll be honest. Could we have gotten more student input and voice prior to sending it out? Probably could have. We could have had a more gallant effort but that’s something we didn’t do. There’s also the piece that students don’t set policy in terms of safety measures on the campus.” said Clency.
It didn’t take long for the MC community to start speaking out against the policy.
Executive Student Body Vice President Ryan Kwiecinski and former Vice President of Residential Affairs Isabel Quiñones penned a resolution to be presented to the Student Government Assembly at their Sept. 4 meeting, proposing a complete repeal of the policy as a resolution to several grievances regarding the implementation process, communication issues and enforcement issues.
The resolution has, to date of writing, received 669 signatures from current Manhattan students, close to 18 percent of the total undergraduate student body.
“We realized this policy was never proposed to the Senate. After realizing how upset and frustrated students were, we realized this was an opportunity to uphold our positions and act as a voice for students,” said Kwiecinski in a written statement to The Quadrangle.
While the resolution has been met with wide support, it hasn’t been the only manifestation of opposition to Access Control.
Last Monday, shortly before the resolution was sent around to the student body, an anonymous Instagram page, @mc.access.exclusion, was created by a resident student whose identity The Quadrangle has agreed to protect.
“This policy is so [detrimental] towards the community, whether you’re a resident or a commuter,” said the student. “You can’t visit a friend past 12 [a.m.], and if you do you get fined. It’s breaking up that community that the college has fostered for so long and propagated for so long.”
The student created the account in the hopes of channelling students’ chattering into something productive. As the page blew up, gaining close to 400 followers in just a few days time, the resolution was passed around for signatures and disseminated through the page. A template email for students to send to MC administrators to express their problems with the policy has also been featured on the page.
“People eat social media up and things spread best on the internet. Word of mouth is great but at the end of the day, social media is what drives stuff like this nowadays,” said the student. “Never once in the history of anything has change started with silence. Right now, the goal is to let people know that this is an issue and to let people know what they can do, let people know what they can say, who they can talk to, how they can make their voice heard.”
The student emphasized that his template e-mail and support of the resolution are aimed at promoting civil yet influential discourse. Later posts have appeared on the account’s page encouraging students to attend the upcoming Student Government Assembly meeting.
“Even if absolutely nothing gets done, [my page] does two things. It tells the college that we have a student body that cares about issues and that isn’t afraid to speak up. On top of that, it’s giving people a voice. It’s encouraging people to play an active part in the community they’re living in and they’re taking and being a part of every single day. That’s super important,” the student said.
An additional petition was started on Change.org and slips of paper titled “Reclaim our Campus” with a link to the website were distributed around Locke’s Loft last week. While this effort hasn’t gained as much traction as the resolution, it currently has over 50 signatures and has also been spreading around social media.
One major apprehension towards the policy, as noted in the resolution drawn up by Quiñones and Kwiecinski, is that it will further widen the gap between resident and commuter students.
Carter hopes to address these concerns.
“I will continue to work with Residence Life on bridging the gap. My only request that when instituting new policies that will affect commuters that my office is used as a sounding board before they green light any changes,” said Carter. “My knowledge on commuters could have been used as a window of opportunity to be inclusive for a student body that continues to grow.”
The Student Government executive board has been proactive regarding the policy during the first week of classes. Some members had the chance to meet with Clency themselves in order to voice student concerns. One such member is the current Vice President of Residential Affairs, Luke Malpica, who also serves as a Resident Assistant in Jasper Hall.
He confirmed that he was in a meeting with Quiñones and Clency regarding the potential addition of this policy to the code of conduct during the 2019 spring semester.
“He mentioned that it was going to be put into place in the future, so that was a bit of a surprise to have this put into effect [this semester],” Malpica said.
Malpica was not involved in the process of penning the resolution but he mostly supports the clauses of the resolution. Malpica advocates for amendments to the policy, rather than a complete repeal.
“The people we’ve been talking to have been mainly [wanting] to revoke it. That’s mainly what we’ve been dealing with but I do believe there’s a percentage of the student body that would be okay with it but would like some adjustments that would be a little more user friendly,” said Malpica.
Though the resolution has called for a complete repeal of the policy, Kwiecinski, who has not yet met with Clency himself, is also open to some simple modifications to the regulations.
“We want to create an open conversation. Ideally, we would like to see a revised policy that goes through the proper means of approval. We hope that administration that were a part of the policy change realize that we are upset and that we want change,” said Kwiecinski.
Proposed changes to the policy that have been brought up by student leaders included extending the midnight cutoff for guests to 2 a.m. on weekends, finding a way to make the sign-in process more streamlined and a way to more effectively enforce the policy in Jasper and Chrysostom.
“I’m at a bit of a crossroads because I’m an RA in Jasper, and Jasper and Chrysostom are the two buildings on campus that don’t have public safety guards there so I see where Charles is going with this. I understand it completely. It’s a safety issue,” said Malpica.
Clency stated that he is open to discussing and looking into proposed changes by SGA and RSA leadership.
Despite the “honor system” in place in Jasper and Chrysostom, Clency sees controlled access as something that will lighten the Resident Assistants’ workload.
“The bulk of the enforcement of this policy doesn’t fall on the RAs. It actually falls on Public Safety which is why the director of Public Safety was involved in mapping out the roles and responsibilities,” said Clency.
Clency believes that the policy change has already had a tangible effect on student behavior during the first week of school.
“Right now that we’re in the process of doing assessment in changes, looking at conduct in this first week of school, it’s way down compared to previous years. In fact, I can tell you I’m close to counting on one hand how many incidents have happened in the past seven or eight days,” said Clency.
Looking ahead, it’s clear that discussion of the future of access control is just getting started.
“I respect the students. To this point, their pushback has been through emails, through setting up meetings, through working through SGA, making sure administration – the President’s office, the Vice President’s office – is aware in an articulate way, representing their intellect, as opposed to retaliatory, disruptive behavior. Because it’s coming this way, to be perfectly honest, the administration has been receiving it, enough for us to even have conversations about it because we’ve got constructive dialogue from students about their disdain for the policy,” said Clency.