Students face consequences for dorm security violations

Some students have faced consequences for violating MIT’s controversial dorm security policy that puts AlliedBarton security workers at front desks and requires all students to tap an ID before entering.

Two such students are Samuel M. Duchovni ’17, a Random Hall resident, and Nchinda Nchinda ’17, a resident of MacGregor.

Duchovni said he has been caught violating the policy by holding the door open for residents to come in behind him seven times, and has been warned that if he is caught doing so again, he will face a hearing before the Committee on Discipline, and could ultimately be removed from student housing or placed on probation. He strongly disagrees with the security policy and considers his violations to be acts of civil disobedience.

Nchinda says he has had a hearing before the COD and has been placed on probation for a second time for violating the policy a total of at least twenty times. If he is caught violating the policy again, he said he will definitely be “kicked out of MacGregor,” and might be required to leave MIT student housing completely.

The policy has faced a fair amount of criticism. Opponents have said it is unnecessary, inconvenient, and is overly rigid.

It’s a violation “if you tap in and hold the door open for somebody, if you are polite,” Duchovni said. “There’s a failure to understand the human cost of the policies.”

“They’re asking us to essentially police each other,” he added, referring to the fact that residents are expected to prevent other residents walking in behind them without scanning their IDs. “This is destructive to the community and [to the] bonds between people.”

We used to have a “perfectly good security policy. [Students] let in their friends whom they trusted. This was perfectly fine for Random.”

Students had always left laptops out in communal areas without fear that they would be stolen, he said. He doesn’t believe there was a security problem to be solved.

Duchovni echoed a common sentiment among dorm security opponents: the policy was implemented so MIT could “be seen to do something that has the appearance of security.”

Nchinda said that the security policy is especially frustrating on moving days. He says that before it was implemented, he could easily open the door for a pair of residents moving a heavy couch into the building.

That would be considered a violation now. If you’re carrying a heavy couch into the building now, he said, “you walk up with the couch, you drop it, you tap your ID. [Then] you go in... it’s an annoyance.”

While Nchinda is not a fan of the policy, he says he’s “definitely not purposefully violating it.”

“It takes effort to be conscious of it,” he said. “Now I have to take the effort to be conscious of it.”

Duchovni and Nchinda both said that residents of their respective dorms have moved out due to the security policy.

“They felt strongly about the policy, so they just moved out to frats or to independent living groups,” Nchinda said. It contributes to the reason the Division of Student Life doesn’t have more students complaining about the policy. “It’s because people who have the strongest feelings moved elsewhere.”

He says he conducted a survey of MacGregor residents and found the consensus was that residents would prefer a less strict policy, and find the current policy inconvenient and difficult to follow. (He suspects that it was his sharing these findings with the COD that prevented him being removed from MacGregor.)

Nchinda noted that his dorm’s RLAD probably spends a lot of time sending out emails to students caught violating the policy, since so many people have trouble following it.

Duchovni had stronger opinions about the fact that DSL requires RLADs to send emails to students caught holding the door open for other residents.

“The RLAD is supposed to be sort of a part of the support network, is my understanding,” he said. “Not the police officer who is telling you you’ve broken the rules.”

Duchovni questioned the reasoning behind why it’s so important that students tap in even when it is clear to everyone involved that they are a resident.

“The standard explanation is that it’s about safety, and if there is a fire or some emergency, you want to have some record of who is in the building,” he told The Tech. “The problem is people do not tap out.”

He said that the likelihood the information would ever be useful is so low that it is not worth the cost to the community.

If there were a lot of thefts, he said, then maybe the system would be useful to curb that problem and track when the potential perpetrators enter the building. That would be a different situation, he said.

Matt Putnam '09 over 7 years ago

While I was at MIT, dorm security was pretty lax. In retrospect, it's quite shocking, and I'm genuinely surprised that it was allowed to continue as it was for so long.

This is an open, urban campus with lots of randos floating around. I lived in Baker, and there were repeated incidents of convicted thieves getting in and stealing laptops, and homeless people sleeping in the bathrooms. And let's not forget the incident where a student was stabbed repeatedly in his sleep by his ex-gf, a non-MIT student.

Just tap your damn IDs. It takes one second. This is standard procedure everywhere. They're not violating your rights. There's no "cost". It is NOT obvious who is and isn't a student.

Jonathan over 7 years ago

I wish the challenge of security were approached from an engineering perspective. There's a constraint on ensuring student safety, but ideally there's a goal to make students as happy as can be. For the 25 cents each student "pays" to enter their dorm, it would so awesome to have a system where the guards know the students names by face, can unlock the doors if known, and offer a greeting. An engineering perspective would transform MIT's dorms.

Brian over 7 years ago

A well-known lesson from computer security is that usability = security. A system with bad usability characteristics is inherently insecure because then you have to defend against "attacks" from frustrated users who try to circumvent your own system. Take password restrictions, for example...

Rafa over 7 years ago

Thank You!

Im writing about programs in

Pete over 7 years ago

One problem I see with today's approach to dorm security, is that once past the door, everyone assumes you belong. Back in the 70's we had security, but it was of a different nature. A lot of it was human recognition, and if you did not recognize someone, you asked if you could help them. We had "urchin" alerts that everyone knew about. Many of the most open dorms had the best safety records, because no one was lax about it, while those with the most rigid rules often had more incidents.

We looked at each other, made eye contact and were engaged with other people directly. I understand that is not the way folks tend to interact in public places as much these days, with texting, and IMing etc. I also understand that the nature and behavior of the unwanted "guests" has shifted over the years.

So how can the entry exit process be made less of a annoyance. Perhaps sensors that work on the badges from a distance (like automotic FastPass) that will trigger a reading on the desk computer. The desk guards are then asked to just monitor numbers. 6 blips and 6 kids, we are good. Any not allowed blips and they ask to look at all the ID's. Or if 8 folks and 6 blips, everyone has to show to the desk. Make it easy for residents to come and go, and remove the temptation to try and circumvent the system.

ktba over 7 years ago

This is one of the few things Harvard does better than MIT. Some entrances to some dorms have security guards, but not all. And nobody cares if you hold the door for someone.