Time to Open the Door for Unlimited OneCard Access

One of the most annoying sounds you can hear on Swarthmore’s campus — especially if you’re in a rush — is the “beep BEEP” of a OneCard reader as it flashes red, denying you access to a residence hall that is not your own. Maybe you’re trying to hang up some flyers for an event. Maybe you’re trying to drop off something for a friend. Maybe you’re on your way to hang out with some members of a student club. Maybe you just really have to go to the bathroom and all public buildings are too far away. No matter your motivation for attempting to enter, that “beep BEEP” makes your heart sink as you check your watch and realize that it is not yet 5 p.m., when your OneCard will grant you access to all residence halls. You weigh your options: text a friend in the building? Wait for someone to come out? Give up and hope you can make it to the next-nearest bathroom? Ah, the never-ending dilemma that would not exist if students simply had access to other residence halls 24/7 instead of just during the evenings. 

Expanded OneCard access for dorms would be both more convenient and more beneficial for students’ social lives. For one, it’s a hassle to wait for someone to open the door if you want to drop something off, or even just get out of the rain. Moreover, because our living arrangements play such an important role in forming community and meeting others, limited dorm access can bound our social lives. 

When hanging out with friends, part of the fun consists in spontaneously visiting one another, which cannot occur if you have to plan to let in everyone who comes. For Residential Peer Leaders (RPLs), such as GAs and SAMs, who may be responsible for residents who do not live in the same dorm, it can be difficult to plan events that will be accessible to everyone, restricting the sense of community that RPLs are able to develop. The overall effect is that dorms become a less-than-ideal social space during the day when they could serve as spaces for relaxation and bonding.

Given the inconvenience created by the current OneCard policy, one would expect there to be a good reason behind it. As it turns out, the college’s rationale for limiting OneCard access to other residence halls after 5 p.m. is rather obscure. Although we received an email on Aug. 24, 2022, from Associate Vice President for Campus Services Anthony Coschignano explaining that the Campus Access Working Group had recommended a new building access schedule “to best support the needs of our community members and safety of our campus,” the email does not outline why the post-5 p.m. access window was selected for dorms. During the past couple of years, students’ OneCard dorm access has been extremely limited due to the pandemic out of concerns that such access could spread COVID more easily. However, given that the college no longer requires masking in any spaces, and that the virus decidedly does not clock out at 5 p.m., this no longer seems to be a feasible reason for limited OneCard access. 

Of course, OneCard access involves safety concerns. One might argue that with universal daytime OneCard access, the risk of theft, trespassing, or harassment (both from students and from individuals outside the college) would increase. Students should definitely feel comfortable in their dorms and know that their belongings are secure. Additionally, we do not want strangers to be wandering around residence halls. The current structure of OneCard access, however, does not mitigate these concerns. After all, not having OneCard access does not mean you will never get into a building; all you need to do is wait until someone goes out or comes in. Also, theft and trespassing do not disappear after 5 p.m., unless we at The Phoenix missed some divine edict. In fact, limited OneCard access to dorms arguably increases the risk of someone from outside the college entering a dorm; currently, someone who looks college-age could stand outside a dorm before 5 p.m. and ask to be let in, and no one would think twice. However, if students had all-day access, we might be more wary of someone asking to be let in and thus more capable of identifying someone who should not be allowed to enter the dorm. Additionally, every time a OneCard is used to enter a building, it is recorded in the system. Allowing access will facilitate more accurate monitoring of student comings and goings, which would also provide a greater measure of security.  

Arguably, it would be more effective to simply encourage students to lock their doors than to limit OneCard access. As we have mentioned, it is relatively simple to gain access to a dorm if you are willing to wait a bit or have a friend who can let you in, so the most effective security against intrusion or theft is probably at the level of individual rooms. This is not to discount the concerns of those who are worried about intrusions into dormitory spaces as a whole, or to say that the entire burden of security should be placed upon the individual; rather, what we wish to emphasize is that the current policy is ineffective for the purpose of maintaining safety while being extremely effective at provoking needless irritation and inconvenience.  

Thus, we conclude that allowing students access to other dorms throughout the day, rather than only after 5 p.m., would reduce overall angst and facilitate social connection without negatively impacting students’ safety and security. We recognize that OneCard access restrictions come from a place of concern for student well-being. However, the existing measures fail to achieve that goal effectively. Until the OneCard Office decides to lift the time constraint, the campus will continue to be strewn with hapless students waiting outside dorms, willing someone to come and let them in.

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