A few recent Phoenix articles have commented on the lack of responsiveness from the College regarding COVID-19 policies and OneCard access for the college at large. While the coronavirus pandemic is clearly far from over, many have had difficulty connecting the dots between current COVID-19 policies and their effects. For example, it’s not entirely clear how limiting late-night access to school buildings is preventing otherwise possible transmission of the virus. Nor does it seem intuitive (or empirical) that mask wearing is helpful for outdoor events occurring in places like the courtyard tents, Parrish Beach, or the Arboretum. Most of all, the college stands by these policies while simultaneously hosting what is arguably the largest superspreader event within a three-mile radius every day, three times a day in Sharples Dining Hall.
This confusion is widely felt by faculty and students alike (just ask the professors who remove their mask to lecture or the hundreds of maskless Swatties who go out on the weekends). One less-discussed issue, however, has been frustrating NPPR apartments residents for the entire semester: locked doors to the terrace balcony.
The quasi-official college policy at the beginning of the semester, per signs posted on the balcony doors at the time, was that college COVID protocols seeking to discourage large assemblies of people led Public Safety to obstruct access from midnight to 7 a.m. This policy ostensibly carried over from the summer and previous Spring term, when campus policies were much more restrictive.
Today, that policy is woefully unclear.
The reigning assumption is that midnight to 7 a.m. continues to be the rule-of-thumb. Public Safety’s accordance with that policy, however, has been spotty at best. Oftentimes the doors are not unlocked until much later in the morning and access to the balcony is obstructed for most of the day on the weekends. As for the nighttime lock-down, Public Safety is curiously much more predictable; regular balcony users are familiar with the late-night appearance of a Public Safety officer asking them to return to their dorms so that the terrace can be locked overnight.
Given the inconsistency of the scheduled lockdowns, students are left questioning why the balcony even needs to be locked in the first place. While the initial impetus might have been COVID-related, Public Safety has given my roommates and me reasons ranging from broken door locks to preventing local Swarthmore Borough residents from scaling the outer wall and infiltrating the NPPR buildings. It was rumored that OSE was looking into adding OneCard access to these doors so that they could only be accessed by Swarthmore students, but the doors remain under lock and key access.
At the beginning of the semester, NPPR RAs did send out a survey asking students what their preferred access to the balcony would be, with choices ranging from the standing midnight to 7 a.m. schedule, to expanded access, to 24/7 access. To date, there has been no follow-up — at least, not that the residents have been looped into.
At the very least, NPPR students deserve a clear answer as to why their balcony access has been so limited, as well as a consistent practice for locking and unlocking the doors. While this is an issue that is seemingly limited to NPPR residents alone, I echo the calls of our Editorial Board that expanded access to the balcony should be complemented by expanded OneCard access to all Swarthmore students. Our entire community should be able to enjoy one of the best dorm life features that Swarthmore College has to offer.
If the College is marketing the NPPR buildings as a “premiere view of the baseball and softball fields” to prospective students, they should give full and proper access to that view to students who already attend Swarthmore.