After a male intruder grabbed a female student in a Parrish residential hall restroom in the fall semester of 2006, the entrances to Parrish’s residential wings were installed with locks to improve security. This included the addition of the keypad systems that allow those who want to enter to unlock the doors using a numerical combination. Now, six years after that incident, and five years after the keypad lock system was installed, there is new concern that Parrish’s residential halls are not adequately secure. As a result, administrators, public safety, and the residents of Parrish are talking about eliminating the keypad system and allowing access exclusively via keys. Indeed, the west all-male hall on Parrish’s fourth floor has already had its key code system deactivated.
According to Public Safety Communication Supervisor George Darbes, the unease stems from the fact that the key code to the Parrish halls has been disseminated beyond the residents of Parrish. “In order to be kept secure, the key code has to be kept to yourself,” Darbes said. “If you give it away, it’s not a safe space anymore.”
“In the past, people have been concerned as to why this was the one space that didn’t use keys,” said Rachel Head, the Assistant Dean for Residential Life. As a result of growing concern, Head began speaking with Parish residential advisors about whether the keypad system should be done away with.
Michelle Ammerman ‘14, the RA for Parrish’s 4th floor east wing, stated that Head contacted her and the other RAs in late August during RA training. “She sent us an email basically telling us to talk about it as an RA team and have our residents weigh in on the topic,” Ammerman said.
Consequently, Ammerman, and the other RAs for Parrish, began discussing the keypad system with their halls. And while Ammerman says that there is no consensus among her hallmates, she said that, “generally, we like the key code system,” adding that “not having to get your key out and not having to get up to let your friends in” was nice.
Indeed, many residents of Parrish, including Ammerman, favor having key codes. “I like the key code because it’s quicker and easier than the key,” said Tom Kim ’16, a resident of Parrish’s third floor, where the keypad system is still in place.
Scheynen Loeffler ’16, a resident of Parrish’s fourth floor, says he would also prefer to have a keypad system. “I don’t think that there are any strangers at Swarthmore that cause me worry,” he said. Even without a keypad system, Loeffler made the point that access to the halls was still quite easy. “People are usually walking out of the door anyways, so if people really wanted to get in, they could just sit outside and wait,” Loeffler added.
But it seems the greatest resistance to the shift comes from the residents of Parrish who live in the rooms outside of the hall door. “The double outside the door feels the most strongly about keeping the key code,” Ammerman said.
In each Parrish hall, there is one room that is outside of the locked door, and for those students, the switch would pose the biggest bother. David Zhou ’15, a two-year resident of Parrish, occupies that room on the fourth floor, and has said that the loss of the key code system has made life more difficult. “It’s inconvenient,” Zhou pointed out. “Last year we had a key code, and it was fine.”
Zhou said the lack of a key code was especially frustrating for taking showers or using the bathroom. “Having to bring my key when I go take a shower is more inconvenient than punching in a code.” While Zhou conceded that a key-only system might be more secure, he did not really feel more protected. “Definitely the key is safer, but that’s never been a concern of mine. I’m not scared of strangers coming to Parrish,” he said.
Indeed, there has been debate about if the key code system truly made Parrish less secure, or if it is just perception. “I’m not that concerned,” Kim said.
But according to Darbes, the key code was spread beyond just Swarthmore. “The key code got handed out to a lot of people,” he said, including visitors from outside the community. In addition, since the key code system is not the same as a card scanner, public safety does not have a good idea about who is entering the hall. “We can’t tell who is coming or going,” Darbes added.
Still, according to Darbes, there have been no reported break-ins or specific security events that can be directly attributed to the key code system. As Head said, the discussion “just came up.”
“It was just marinating on everyone’s mind,” she said. “There was no specific event.”
At the end of the day, Head said, the decision will be left up to the residents and the RAs. “The RAs have the pulse of the community,” Head pointed out. “It could be whatever the community wants,” she added. While Head may personally favor using just keys in the halls, she did say that “I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another.”
“They’re really letting the halls make the decision,” said Ammerman, adding she felt there was no administrational pressure.
But when the RAs and the deans meet again, Ammerman felt that it was likely the key code system would be abandoned. “If I had to guess, I’d say the key codes will go away, because safety is more important than convenience,” she said. Though some hall members may be disappointed, Ammerman felt that they would adjust to a new system. “People are willing to switch for safety purposes.” And when it comes down to it, as Ammerman added, “You just don’t know who is in Parrish.”