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Holding the door: Student safety in residence halls

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 03:12


Shannon Reville/Staff

It took me 34 seconds to get into Williamson Hall without an ID.

A normal Tuesday night, just past 11 p.m., and all I had to do was wait for the next person to come by, swipe their ID, and let me in. I wore black sweatpants and a plain black jacket—no backpack or notebooks—and I stood with my hands in my pockets, head down, hood up. After a short wait, I waltzed right in behind a young woman coming home from the gym. She held the door for two young men as well. She didn’t ask if we were students. She didn’t give us a second look. 

Once in the lobby, I asked the young woman why she held the door for us. She was a freshman resident of Williamson and asked that her name be left out of publication.

“I recognized one of [the men]. He lives here,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “And I assumed everyone else lived here because it’s late at night and, I don’t know, [you] looked like students.”

At Hubbard Hall I had to wait a little longer. A smaller dorm with less traffic (210 residents compared to Williamson’s 500) I had to pace back and forth by the side entrance for about two minutes. When I saw a young man walking towards the front entrance I walked at just the right pace to come in behind him. The Hubbard resident and junior, Kevin Vaccaro, swiped his card and held the door for me with his foot. Once in the lobby, I questioned his actions, too.

“I always hold it open if someone is close to me,” Vaccaro said. “The people I let in generally look like students. I just assume they are students.”

Vaccaro said he knows terrible things can happen anywhere, but he feels safe at UNH. 

“I’m not going to be rude,” he said, adding that he feels at ease holding the door for people who simply look college-aged. “They’re not adults or anything like that.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, was 19 years old when two bombs went off at the marathon finish line last spring. 

This time last year, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life. He was 20 years old. 

And James Holmes was 25 on July 20, 2012, the day he entered an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre and opened fire on the audience.

Now, it is not my intention to scare the kindness out of UNH students. But Vaccaro has a point: terrible things can happen anywhere. Is holding the door open a crime? Of course not, but for reasons unknown to Assistant Director of Housing Amy Whitney, there is no policy in the housing contract that restricts dorm residents from letting strangers into their building. 

There is a rule under the “Security” section that states: “Any student who props a locked or secured door is subject to a fine and/or disciplinary action,” but Whitney admits she is unsure if that includes the kind gesture of holding the door for another person. 

At some schools, though, door-holding rules exist. A few weeks ago I took a trip to Tufts University and I needed to enter a residence building for a meeting. I couldn’t get in without a Tufts ID, so I waited outside for someone with one to come along. When a female student came up to the door and noticed me behind her she said, “Do you have a Tufts ID? I’m sorry, I just can’t let you in if you don’t.”

She wasn’t rude. It was just surprising.

Tuft’s Residential Policy and Guide states, “Do not prop doors open. Propped doors invite entry by non-residents along with criminal activity within the communities ... Never lend out your keys or ID and do not allow someone into the building, suite or room who does not belong there. This activity is considered ‘piggy backing’ and it is prohibited.”

Tufts is located in more of a city area — Medford, Mass. — so perhaps this protocol seems more necessary there. According to UNH Executive Director of Public Safety Paul Dean, though, being open and with no gates or fences, anyone can enter the UNH campus, making it “no different than any city or town.”

“A safe campus is everyone’s responsibility,” Dean said.

That is why, as part of an overall campus public safety initiative, Housing changed a dorm access policy this year.

It may not affect students’ ability to hold doors for one another, but it has caused some controversy on campus. The new policy has made it so that on-campus residents only have access to their own dorm. Last year they had weekday access to all dorms, with limited access on nights and weekends, and some students find the cutback an inconvenience.

That is why Dave Perrella, the Student Senator representing Handler Hall, recently introduced “Resolution XXXV-07,” which asks Housing to change back to a policy similar to last year’s.

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