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Off-campus students regain access to residence halls after outcry

The 2015-2016 “Student Rights and Responsibilities” handbook was finalized and submitted to the student community in an email from Director of Student Rights and Community Standards Kerry Guerard on Aug. 22. Some of the policy changes included in this year’s handbook, however, were not enforced until recently. Around the beginning of October, off-campus residents were no longer allowed card access to residence halls, a change in Department of Community policy from previous years.

While off-campus students have now regained access to residence halls, this policy has been in flux over the past few weeks.

“For safety and security reasons and also to address overcrowding in residential common spaces, only residential students are able to access campus residential buildings,” DCL told the community when asked why off-campus students lost card access to resident halls. “‘Student Rights and Responsibilities’ language has been changed to reflect the fact that guests should be escorted into residential spaces,”

Off-campus students had been able to use their campus card to swipe into residence halls at the beginning of the semester, as well as in previous years. The change in policy was abrupt and without much warning. Guerard’s email about changes to “Rights and Responsibilities” from August stated that there were changes in section 2.8-Host Responsibility for Guests-and section 9.9-Visitors and Guests-that coincided with the DCL policy change.

Section 2.8 state: “All guests must be accompanied by their host at all times,” and section 9.9 read “Public spaces are reserved for use by all residents, and therefore may not be used to accommodate overnight guests.”

No emails or notifications were sent to off-campus students making them aware that they would no longer be able to access residence halls. Along with the fact that all students still had card access at the beginning of the semester, student responses were overall negative towards this change.

“[The card restrictions] hurt my ability to go to dorms for club meetings,” Jonny Shakerchi, a senior who lives off campus said to The Brandeis Hoot, expressing his displeasure in not being able to access common areas that host student clubs. “The worst part for me is not being able to visit my brother in East. It’s a real hassle for us to hang out,” he added.

The dissatisfaction was not unique to off-campus residents, however. Tahlia Quartin ’18, a a Rosenthal Quad residents, also spoke to The Hoot about the issue.

“I don’t think this policy makes any sense. It seems almost like Brandeis wanted their students who live off-campus to feel secluded,” she shared in an interview. “This policy makes life a little more inconvenient for me … I have to go out of my way for others who should be able to have access.”

In regards to the concerns of safety cited by DCL that brought about the change in policy, Quartin was wary.

“Off- and on-campus students pose similar threats. I don’t feel any safer [with off-campus residents] not having card access,” she said.

Quartin also showed skepticism around the claim that off-campus students were abusing their access to residence halls, stating that between both the beginning of the semester and last year, when she lived in Shapiro, she was never witness to off-campus residents sleeping in common spaces or lounges.

“People who live off campus respect others’ living space,” Quartin said.

When asked to comment on the situation, Off-Campus Senator Sam Krystal, ’17, said “I am not happy with the policy that DCL has introduced. First off, I hope to regain access to common spaces in residence halls for off-campus students. And from there, I wish to get more access to more people.”

The Hoot reached out to Guerard to explain how these changes to “Rights and Responsibilities” were brought about and why there were enacted. While she was unable to respond to the questions, Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Sheryl Sousa did submit a statement on Guerard’s behalf.

“Rights and Responsibilities … was only updated regarding host responsibility. The Community Living policy regarding access to public spaces was not based on any change, but on the longstanding interpretation of ‘Public spaces are reserved for use by all residents, and therefore may not be used to accommodate overnight guests’ [from section 9.9],” the statement read.

“This [clause from section 9.9] has been understood for many years to mean that the public spaces in residence halls are first and foremost for the use of residents. The new access policy was a reflection of that existing interpretation, not of any change in policy, and was made in response to concerns raised by residents,” Sousa’s statement later clarified.

Sousa’s statement, though, shows inconsistencies with what DCL has stated were the reasons behind the policy change. DCL indicated that the language in “Rights and Responsibilities” had been amended, with Sousa claiming that no changes had been made.

Looking at “Rights and Responsibilities” from both the 2014-2015 academic year and the current 2015-2016 academic year, the sole significant change under the “Guests and Visitors” section was the addition of “Guests must be escorted by their host at all times,” for the 2015-2016 version. The exact same terminology was added to the “Host Responsibility for Guests” section in the 2015-2016 version, as well.

Sousa made note of this lack of communication between DCL, Student Rights and the community in her statement to The Hoot. “There were a variety of communication challenges in the implementation of the access policy. [Director of Community Living] Tim Touchette is sending a message to the community tomorrow, [Oct. 30], making revisions to the policy that we hope will ease some of these concerns.

In the message Touchette sent to students, he stated that this policy “responded to student input and concerns, and was created with the best of intentions, but has had unintended consequences. To address concerns, we are working with our students and Department of Community Living (DCL) staff to make some adjustments to [this policy].”

The change stated that off-campus residents will now have access to all residence halls between the hours of 7 a.m. and 1 a.m., while the university is in session.

Regarding the amending process for the “Rights and Responsibilities” handbook and the general Code of Conduct, Sousa clarified that “proposed changes to the Code of Conduct are received throughout the year. Many come from students, in particular members of the Conduct Board, while others are required by changes in the law or policies governing the university. A number of students and faculty are consulted as we amend the document through the spring and summer.”

For any comments or feedback about the handbook, it is best to email dsrcs@brandeis.edu.

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