Sillimander T.J. George ’09 has made a habit of visiting friends on Old Campus. Three or four nights a week, he dons his parka and winter hat and hauls his backpack to a friend’s common room in Lanman Wright. George often stays until the wee hours of the morning, eating, talking, doing studying and singing.
But when leaving Old Campus for his walk home, usually well past midnight, he encounters a nuisance not unfamiliar to past generations of freshmen: The gates leading out to Elm Street, thrown wide open in the daytime, are closed and padlocked shut.
“If it’s before two o’clock, I just cut through Durfee’s,” George said. “But once Durfee’s closes, then you have to walk through Phelps Gate or the High Street gate. It gets kind of annoying at three in the morning, to have to walk that extra distance.”
George is by no means the only freshman to voice complaints about the Old Campus gate system. The Freshman Class Council of 2009 and the Yale College Council have both heard numerous gripes regarding the gate system this year. But administrators have defended the system, arguing that major changes would be too costly, possibly in terms of campus safety as well as dollars.
“All of our decisions about the use of the gates … have to do with the safety and security of our students,” Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said.
Phelps Gate and the High Street gate are the only two Old Campus gates that are accessible to Yalies at nighttime. The remaining six gates are either permanently closed off, as is the case of both gates facing Chapel Street from Vanderbilt Hall, or are chained and padlocked by Yale Security personnel around midnight every night. Even Phelps Gate and the High Street gate are closed at night, though students can enter through smaller doors in those gates using their magnetic keycards.
Trachtenberg and Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque discussed the Old Campus gate system early in the semester during a meeting with the executive board of the Freshman Class Council, whose members had reported complaints from Old Campus freshmen throughout the fall, FCC Issues Committee chairman Zach Marks ’09 said.
“There had been numerous complaints, and they were over two main issues,” Marks said. “First, some students complained that they had been getting locked out of Old Campus at night. They said the keycard system wasn’t working.”
The second main complaint, Marks said, was the fact that the gates outside Vanderbilt Hall are permanently closed throughout the school year. But Marks said the complaints of keycard errors were dismissed as untrue or irrelevant — with security officers stationed at Phelps Gate — and he was told that the Vanderbilt gates are too old and heavy to support the installation of a keycard system, he said.
Yale Security, which is responsible for locking the gates of Old Campus at night, keeps constant watch over the freshman quad. No one Yale Security officer is assigned to a permanent shift on Old Campus, but security personnel constantly orbit the expansive Old Campus courtyard while making their nightly rounds.
“I can safely say that there are from two to four people on either walking or bicycle patrols each night, and they are usually focusing their attention on the Central Campus and Old Campus area,” said Rick Maffei, director of security operations for Yale Security.
In addition to the protection offered by Yale Security officers, the Yale Police Department keeps one officer permanently stationed on Old Campus each night, Maffei said. YPD Lt. Michael Patten said the Yale Police patrol Old Campus but not the residential colleges at night since the residential college gates are always closed and are accessible by keycard only.
Yale Security keeps the Old Campus gates closed from about midnight to about 6 a.m., Maffei said. Some gates are not reopened for student use, but are reserved for the maintenance workers and custodians who manage Yale facilities.
Some freshmen on Old Campus said the management of the different gates tends to vary from day to day.
“I’ve gotten over the fact that the Vanderbilt gates are always going to be closed,” Sarah Cunningham ’09 said. “At least they don’t tease us there. It’s the inconsistencies with the other gates that get annoying. Sometimes they’ll be open by 7, sometimes 8, sometimes 9:30. It can get to be like a guessing game.”
There is no indication at this point that the administration plans on attempting any changes to the Old Campus gate system, or that the University’s student bodies plan on pressing the issue any further.
Trachtenberg said a major consideration in campus safety is the action of the individual student. One of the biggest safety risks occurs when students leave room or entryway doors unlocked or open, she said.
“I think the University is doing the best they can to keep students safe,” she said. “Students have to be partners with the University in their own safety.”
YCC representative Jamal Fulton ’08 was assigned by the council’s Executive Board to investigate the issue of keycard access on Old Campus. He said he discovered that student criticism of the Old Campus gate system is a perennial problem.
“It’s an issue far preceding my time here,” Fulton said. “The administration has traditionally given very, very little response, and the movement to change the system has gotten very little done in the past.”
Marks said opening the Old Campus gates is essentially a dead issue right now.
“I think students would certainly appreciate having more options than they do now, but because of security problems as well as cost, that’s just not realistic at this point,” Marks said. “It’s probably just not going to happen.”