Remember your Yale information session: If it was anything like most, there was a nervous parent of a prospective undergraduate worried about one thing in particular. Yes, there are blue phones. Sure, you need a key card to open the gates. But, really, how safe is the University at night?
This question, coupled with Yale’s answer — an abundance of mind-easing measures including wandering policemen, an escort service, campus safety briefings, and locked entryway doors — shows how critical a sense of security is to the members of this community. What happened on the fourth floor of McClellan Hall Tuesday night and the reaction that followed on Wednesday shows just how fragile the comfort that comes with our impressive array of precautions actually is.
It seems that every year has its own versions of this week’s tequila bottle-wielding intruder: bike heists, computer thefts, and other sporadic reminders that the campus is not at all times hermetically sealed. University administrators in turn respond consistently and admirably. In this case, within 24 hours there was an e-mail from Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg and an evening session with University Chaplain Jerry Streets, counselors from the University Health Services Center, Yale Security personnel, and representatives from the Yale College Dean’s Office.
Students have not reacted with panic to Tuesday’s late-night security breach because there is no reason to panic. In response to the event, Yale should not take as a model other urban universities — particularly those in New York and Boston — who, in reaction to past and potential crimes, heap on security personnel to make sure only the students get in and possible harm-doers stay out.
There is no need now, as there has not been in past years, for any overhaul of security procedures. But the circumstances of the alleged break-in on Old Campus make this an obvious time to re-examine what the University does on a daily basis to keep Yale students safe.
Tuesday’s intruder allegedly gained access to McClellan because a well-intentioned student in front of him held the door open. Since Yalies do not have access to most entryways around campus, students often hold doors to help out other students. The problem is, as this week has shown, we cannot always tell the difference between those coming to visit Old Campus residents and those coming, perhaps, to rob them.
The danger of added security is, in many cases, reduced freedom. Conversely, the danger of increased access is often a diminished sense of safety. But if administrators respond to the most recent intrusion by enabling students who live on Old Campus to access any entryway on the quadrangle, they will succeed both in opening entryway doors to students and preventing them from being held open for anyone else. Students with access would be more likely to question those without it.
True, more traffic means more noise and possibly more crime perpetrated by other students. But only by trusting students will administrators create more comfort in the existing security system, one that already works because of Yalies and not in spite of them.