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Principia has a tradition that is more than 80 years old which does not allow locks on the doors of student rooms. It was established in an effort to foster a culture of home and family. According to the Student Life website, “The residency program at Principia College is an intentional outgrowth of Mrs. Morgan’s vision that, as much as possible, Principia and Principians should be a family. It also aligns with Principia’s commitment to the unfoldment of character.”
When asked about whether or not Principia has ever allowed students to lock their doors or other personal belongings, the Dean of Students, Debra Jones, shared a story that she has been told about this issue. She said, “According to former Dean of Students Chestnut Booth, who was here at the time, there was a lock experiment in 1995-1996… [During the experiment] students were not proposing locks to lock themselves in, but to lock their belongings when they left the room.”
However, students “ran into problems locking roommates out who [had] forgotten to take their keys or who didn’t want the door locked at all.” Also, Jones reported that Booth said, “Home cultures started to change and lose the ‘family’ and ‘home’ feeling.” Eventually, after a review by student government, the house presidents decided that the campus would go back to having no locks.
Jones and student body president Bailey Bischoff held an informational meeting about locks on Friday 16 October. The meeting answered questions that students had about the current lock situation, which were mostly focused on safety procedures and ways to prevent theft. Senior Beth Ann White said, “It was very considerate that they arranged this meeting, but I think that a lot of students came in with the expectation that the discussion would lead to more results than it did.” In the meeting, Jones said the need for further discussion was evident. White said, “It seemed like as long as students want this discussion to continue, it will, but they need to be the driving force.”
In more recent years, students have wondered if the inability to lock dorm doors contributes to the occurrence of theft. While students are given the avenue of reporting their theft, Campus Security Director Matthew Brill said that the number of students that choose to do so is relatively low—only nine in 2015, and an average over the last five years of 12.
Most reported theft is either bikes, which are more likely to be recovered, or cash, which Brill said is nearly impossible to recover unless the actual theft is witnessed. Jones and Brill both believe that a low percentage of thefts are actually reported, but neither can confirm this fact. Brill added that the best solution to the problem of theft would be a change in the mindset of the thieves. “[Any time] that somebody takes [something] without permission… is stealing. It’s not just borrowing,” he said, especially in reference to bikes.
According to student government, locks on dorm doors might not help the theft situation. Bischoff said, “As far as I am aware, ‘theft’ in general is not a prominent issue. The problem seems to be bike theft. As student government, we are discussing different ways to address this issue right now, as there have been unsuccessful attempts made by student government to alleviate the issue in the past.”
Some Principia community members who live in close proximity to students have locks. Sam Bronkar, an Anderson House RA, said, “I do think it’s odd that RCs are allowed to have locks on their doors but [students] can’t. With that being said, I haven’t had a problem with not being able to lock my belongings because nothing has been taken from me.”
Other students feel that the situation is unfair. “My room should be my safe place, but it can’t be when random people can walk in and out of my room whenever they want. People put locks on their homes, right? I don’t see why we can’t have locks here,” said senior Akayla Bustamante.
The conversation surrounding locks on doors was widely discussed in a Facebook thread started by junior Austin Moyle on a group page called “The Maple Tree.” Dozens of students responded to the post.
Students pointed out that having locks could ensure a sense of security and privacy while getting dressed, and that they would act as a deterrent against the presence of intrusive visitors (both students and RCs). Students also wondered about the feasibility of hiding from a gunman without locks, as the emergency procedures dictate. As a result of the thread, some students decided to write a petition in order to change the current policy about locks on doors.
Whether or not the petition will succeed is another matter. Moyle said, “It looks like there would be many willing signatures if one of us was able to draft a [petition]. I’m weary and wary, though. Even after thoughtful consideration, including alumni in the process, and editing between many good minds at this school, every document I’ve turned in to the [administration] has been picked apart with CS interpretations and capital-P policies.”
Conversely, some students—like freshman Konrad Peterson—prefer to live without locks. Peterson said, “I think it’s okay [to not have] locks on our doors because it creates more of a community feeling, where people are able to have more interactions with each other.”
Sophomore Olivia Kasprzyk felt mostly indifferent to the issue. However, she said, “Nothing has ever been stolen from me [here]. But outside of Principia, we will need to lock our doors, so I don’t feel like I am being prepared for life after college. This type of thinking seems naïve to me.”
Whether students support, oppose, or are indifferent to dorm rooms at Principia having locks, this topic is important to the community and begs a solution to the greater issue of safety of both person and possessions.