In response to the implementation of evening card-swipe access at Olin Library, Middletown Potluck, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Veg Out collectively wrote a petition to remove the aforementioned card-swipe access.
The bulk of the petition—which, in addition to calling for the card-swipe removal, asked for discussion about the implications of the actions—was written by Grace Wong ’18 and Grace Handy ’18.
“Because Olin library is federally required to be publicly accessible as a ‘selective Depository Library’ and the Wesleyan University administration has pledged ‘to provide unimpeded access to its resources within the Wesleyan community and to the larger world,’ it would seem as though Wesleyan as an institution prioritizes keeping its campus and libraries open to people not affiliated with the university,” the petition read. “…While we recognize that public access is only technically guaranteed during business hours, the hours Wesleyan offers its services to students should be applicable to anyone wishing to use the library.”
A Declaration of Grievances
A majority of the petition was dedicated to the three main ways that card-swipe access was a breach of the University’s mission regarding Olin. The first implication discussed was “Unjust Monopoly of Access to Space and Resources,” the second was “Increased State of Surveillance in the Name of ‘Safety,’” and the third was the “Continuous Neglect of Disability Rights.” In an interview with The Argus, Wong elaborated on each of these issues.
“This policy alienates access to Olin to non-affiliates of Wesleyan University,” said Wong. “There’s a very important distinction between non-affiliates and affiliates of Wesleyan even if they are Wesleyan students or not, because there’s an inherent power dynamic there. If you are an affiliate, you will have access, but if you’re not an affiliate what PSafe wants you to do is to sign up for [access]…. It alienates Middletown residents who are not affiliates. It’s kind of like this false sense that Wesleyan creates that we’re trying to bridge the gap between the Middletown community and us.”
Althea Turner ’17, a member of Middletown Potluck who helped organize this action to remove swipe access and helped edit the petition, expanded on this alienation by speaking about the function of Olin as a space to those in Middletown.
“Some [Middletown residents] use the building for access to computers and academic resources, others use it for charging their cellphones and for staying warm in the winter,” Turner wrote in an email to The Argus. “Often, Olin has acted as the only space open late at night that can serve these needs…. Wesleyan University takes up so much space in Middletown already, and I think it is our ethical obligation to give back to the community we occupy in whatever way we can.”
Akin to Wong, Turner felt that the swipe-card access placed an inherent, negative power dynamic on those not affiliated with the University.
“This rhetoric marks Middletown residents and those who are not affiliated with the University as somehow inherently different, and more dangerous, than those who are affiliated with Wesleyan,” Turner wrote. “That notion encourages an ongoing narrative of difference between the Wesleyan and Middletown communities, and that is exactly the message that the members of Middletown Potluck and I are trying to dismantle.”
As for the “Increased State of Surveillance in the Name of ‘Safety,’” Wong spoke about the 2015 implementation of card-swipe security in the Exley Science Center. She described the process of more buildings on campus requiring card-swipe access as a “campaign.”
“This is happening, it’s slowly encroaching, and no one’s really telling us why or incorporating students’ inputs into the decisions, while knowing that this policy affects students and beyond, especially beyond,” Wong said. “We want to bring to light that security is not the same as safety…. We don’t think about how much security and surveillance is prevalent on campus…. I think this conversation also brings…more attention at least on people’s minds, and they think, ‘If I’m just walking around campus and enjoying my day, how am I interacting with the institution or other people, or are my individual movements being logged? Why is that necessary?’”
Regarding the “Neglect of Disability Rights,” Wong asked people to think about the three points of access to Olin—namely the main doors, the doors that lead from PAC to the basement of Olin, and the door that leads to the Clark Parking Lot.
“If this policy is in effect from 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., depending on the day, the main door, you have to swipe your card to get in, you have to go up the stairs to get in,” Wong said. “The PAC doors to Olin basement just become locked because they don’t have the card scanner. So they’re just going to lock it.”
Wong has already experienced trouble entering the door to Olin from the Clark Parking lot. After not being able to enter, Wong had to ask PSafe for access.
“This action is reminiscent of the continuous oversight of different bodies,” Wong said.“Those who require more physical access are denied in the enforcement of this policy. I think people should be aware that there is this very palpable obstruction to students and non-students on campus.”
Olin Workers Speak Out
Despite the 170 signatures, and counting, that the petition has garnered, there is also a large number of people in disagreement with it. Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian Daniel Cherubin talked about his dissatisfaction with the manner in which these complaints were voiced.
“In an Argus article posted earlier this week, I did talk of the reasons behind our shift to swipe access in the evenings,” Cherubin wrote in an email to The Argus. “And since my arrival at Wesleyan I have been very vocal about my desire for open discussions in regards to the needs of our users, and have had many excellent talks with students. So, I have to express my disappointment in the fact that none of these protests or disputes of the swipe were addressed to us in the Library, aside from our student workers. Anonymous zines left in our Lobby and being told by The Argus that there is a petition doesn’t help facilitate any discussion or dialogue.”
Cherubin continued by correcting some errors that he said he had found within the petition. According to Cherubin, the PAC entrance is not an ADA entrance; however, Olin has one on the Clark side of the Building, which has been used by many who need a more accessible entrance. This has not changed in the new policy, he stated.
“Next, we are not expelling anyone from the premises in the evening nor did we ever single out Middletown as a cause of any past issues,” Cherubin wrote. “In fact, we talked with many community organizations in the region and there was no issue in this decision. We still remain a place open to all, more than other library in the region. I feel this disconnect could be resolved in a discussion, which, as always, we are willing to have in Olin.”
In addition, several student Olin Circulation desk workers spoke out about their views on the petitions and safety precautions for those working evening shifts. Delila Flores ’19 was one such student. As someone who has worked closing shifts during the weeknights for over one year, Flores is in strong support of the swipe-card access.
“I appreciate that the University Librarian actually listened to our concerns about feeling unsafe during the night shifts when there are no supervisors around,” Flores wrote in an email to The Argus. “There have been instances where there are random people, not students, wondering the library at night. It’s unsettling.”
She continued, mentioning that she felt that most people who were against the swipe-card access disliked the inconvenience of pulling out their Wes IDs and may have also jumped to conclusions about the public access to Olin.
“People are still allowed to come in until 9PM on the week nights, later than the Russell Library, the local Middletown library,” Flores wrote. “If they need to get in past that time, arrangements can be made with the supervisors of the library. So, overall, I feel safer at night because of the newly implemented card access. People need to stop complaining and take a moment to think why it was implemented in the first place. Until then, I’m just going to laugh at people who are having a hard time opening the door and complaining about it because they embarrassed themselves.”
Although Simone Roberts-Payne ’20, another Circulation desk worker, did not specifically ask for the implementation of card-swipe access, she echoed Flores’ sentiments.
“As a student that works regular late hours at the library, there have been times where I have felt unsafe,” Roberts-Payne wrote to an email in The Argus. “To my knowledge the majority of the students speaking out against swipe access into Olin are not students who work at the library. The petition uses the term ‘that the perceived security of the building…’ which seems to belittle the safety that many Olin workers now feel.”
Roberts-Payne has spoken with a number of other Olin workers, and most of them are in support of the swipe-card access.
“Although, I do believe that there should be accommodations made, pertaining to access to PAC through the library and the use of the elevator, I also feel that if you haven’t worked late hours at the library, specifically as a female-identifying person, that it may not be your place to judge our sense of security,” she said.
Josh Prywes ’17 thought about the petition in slightly different terms. Over the course of his employment at Olin, Prywes has worked every night shift between 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. On Wednesday, he emailed the petition to all the Olin Circulation workers to ensure that they knew of its existence and to give them the opportunity to sign the petition, like he had.
“However, I think discussions with administrators, in addition to the petition, can be much more effective than the standalone petition,” Prywes wrote in an email to The Argus. “I encourage students to reach out to Dan Cherubin, the University Librarian. He’d love to meet with concerned students and work through this. Also worth noting is that Olin library workers can grant library access to non-Wesleyan affiliates, depending on their use of the library.”
Prywes wanted to consider whether swipe-card access was the only way to promote the safety of Olin workers, or if there might be other tangible ways to promote this feeling.
“I agree that ‘security is not safety,’ especially since people the University identifies as security concerns can just walk in while someone is walking out, whether the University adopts swipe access or not,” Prywes wrote. “The question to me is, ‘How much is swipe access actually increasing the safety of our student workers?’ I support this security measure if it’s significantly increasing their safety, but I don’t support it if it’s not making any difference. I urge Public Safety, or any other relevant party, to justify the Olin swipe implementation with specific empirical evidence.”
Safety and Security: Are they intertwined?
Those in support of this petition have heard the complaints of student workers at Olin. Wong wanted to address those who felt unsafe.
“Those concerns are absolutely valid, and one of the major, major points and this is why I really welcome discussion about it, is that this whole entire push and this petition is not to say your feelings don’t matter or the fact that you feel unsafe is invalid or illogical,” Wong said. “If you feel unsafe, you feel unsafe, and those concerns must be addressed by the community and administration.”
Like Prywes, Wong wanted to open up discussion about the possibility of other mechanisms to improve safety other than card-swipe access.
“I think the conversation that we’re starting is how do you feel about having a card-swipe access should actually start from how can we make you feel safer,” Wong said. “Because then when you’re incorporating a whole entire discussion with the community about what policies we should use, then we have additional foresight about the potential impacts of this policy and what the potential ramifications are.”
Turner reinforced this idea, iterating that one of the main focuses of this petition is to start a dialogue about the idea of safety versus security at the University.
“The concern for safety of library workers should certainly be addressed, but I believe we can find solutions that increase safety while keeping Olin Library open and encouraging our entire community to use its resources together,” Turner wrote. “I’d also like to invite anyone who has concerns about the petition to come to two upcoming events. The first is a potluck that Middletown Potluck will be hosting next Tuesday, May 9 in Olin to discuss concerns over dinner. The second is an open town hall meeting in 200 Church on Wednesday, May 10, again to hear and voice concerns and discuss further action.”