Try to Keep Calm and Carry On
Issue   |   Wed, 10/26/2011 - 02:45


I spent about 15 minutes last Saturday night waiting in line to use the sole available bathroom at Amherst’s Homecoming TAP. Seeing the line, I initially tried to use one of the several upstairs bathrooms, or even the ones on the rest of Hitchcock’s ground floor, but Student Security was barring any non-resident from accessing most of building. Those who claimed Hitchcock residency were, like passengers at Ben-Gurion International Airport, subjected to a brief interrogation to determine the credibility of their stories.
Several bathroom-seekers left the building to try their luck elsewhere, leaving through the only officially approved exit. But briefly leaving entailed an additional risk: Student Security was imposing club-style crowd management over the building’s front entrance, and everyone, including residents, would have to wait to get in. When — if — the squad chose to admit more partygoers, those admitted would be expected to produce photo ID (what would this accomplish?). And then the entrants would be allowed to go into a ballroom and try to dance.

This is dumb. Why have Amherst parties become as bureaucratically and physically regulated as a trip through U.S. Customs? Why are students expected to follow impressively-stringent security requirements at officially-sanctioned social events while we face at worst a blockade of strewn cans when we try to walk into most unregistered parties? Why is Student Security less flexible than the TSA?
First: this is not a screed about the students employed by Student Security. In fact, I sympathize with them. They have no control over policy and, like most student workers, are either meeting the requirements of a work-study scholarship or just trying to make a modest income. Asking them to violate their employer’s policies is as improper as trying to haggle with a department store sales clerk, and berating someone you know for doing their jobs is rather sad.
In fact, I’ve spoken to several such student employees, and those few have uniformly agreed that their organization’s policies are, to some extent, unreasonable.
My objection is to those policies themselves.

I understand the logic of Student Security: parties, especially publicized, open, College-sponsored ones, can, unchecked (or even checked) become over-crowded and, with enough drunken and belligerent attendees, unsafe.
But Amherst needs to re-evaluate its risk calculus. Does a TAP inherently require students to guard approved and unapproved entryways for flow control? Does a TAP inherently require the closure of all officially residential spaces, including hallways with water fountains and bathrooms? Does a TAP inherently require a designated and often inconvenient exit distinct from the entrance?
The reality of most TAPs is dramatically less, well, dramatic than the worst-case scenarios. At the very least, Student Security employees should be permitted to relax security policies regarding building access and student movement when the party is well below capacity, or demand for the facilities is high.

Perhaps more relevantly, doesn’t the experience of the vast majority of Amherst parties, those that are unregistered, demonstrate the excess of Student Security procedures? That two or three Amherst College police officers seem perfectly comfortable monitoring a Hitchcock party of much greater density, more floor area, and more lax security policies than any TAP suggests that the perhaps dozen Student Security employees assigned to official events should be permitted to do so as well.

I understand Amherst’s desire to minimize its liability — and maximize its students’ safety — by imposing firm security measures, but those imposed on official Amherst parties are unreasonable. They reduce attendance, which undermines the inclusive, all-college mission of the TAP. And they serve only to redirect students to the myriad unofficial parties that seem to make do, with occasional police walk-throughs and relative safety, with no official security whatsoever.

Why is this the content of the Pain in the AAS column? Because Romen Borsellino, your AAS president, made the terrible mistake of asking me to write this week’s entry, and because I was motivated to discuss this. As a junior-class senator, I want to work with the relevant college officials to revise these procedures, and to consider the feedback of both Senate members and you.
Because I don’t like waiting 15 minutes for a bathroom.