I felt more safe’: Some Pitt students call on University to bring back swipe access into campus buildings

A+student+swipes+an+ID+card+outside+of+the+William+Pitt+Union.

Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

A student swipes an ID card outside of the William Pitt Union.

By Madison Dean and Donata Massimiani

Loghan Hawkes, a first-year neuroscience major, arrived back at their dorm in Litchfield Tower C around 1 a.m. on Sept. 11 after a night spent hanging out with friends. Ready for bed, Hawkes went to brush their teeth, but froze for a moment after making eye contact with a man outside their door that Hawkes had never seen before. 

“I don’t know who that was, but I could tell that he wasn’t a college-aged person,” Hawkes said. “Probably close to 30, I would say.” 

According to the Pitt police blotter, Pitt police arrested an individual for resisting arrest, simple trespassing, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness in Litchfield Tower C on Sept. 11. 

From August 2020 to July 2022, Pitt required anyone entering a University building to swipe their Pitt ID before entry. Pitt began enforcing this policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some students said they think Pitt should bring building access restrictions back and that the policy helped improve campus safety. Currently, residential buildings and apartment-style accommodations require swipe access, but all other on-campus buildings do not. 

When asked if there are any plans to bring swipe access back, Pitt police said policies and procedures are “reviewed continually.”

“Generally speaking, Pitt’s residential facilities and research facilities require card access,” Pitt police said.

Hawkes went back into their room after seeing the man because they felt “freaked out,” and decided to wait to finish their nighttime routine. When Hawkes ventured back into the hallway, the man had left, but the floor was covered with torn down “door decorations” other residents had on display. About 30 minutes after seeing the mess in the hallway, Hawkes received an audio recording from a friend residing on the floor beneath them. They said the “strange” recording featured Pitt police approaching the man and removing him from the building. 

Hawkes said they do not know how the man entered the building. They said security guards in Tower C are “usually good” about not letting individuals into the building who should not be there, but added that some guards are more diligent than others. 

“It depends on who is doing the card swipe,” Hawkes said. “There’s one person, everyone knows her name, and she’s really friendly and always makes sure that you actually did check in, but then there’s some people who just let us [in] before you even tap your card.” 

When asked how many reported instances exist of people entering residential buildings on campus without access or without following the correct guidelines, an unnamed Pitt spokesperson said they could not provide the exact number. 

Pitt police said in an email “personnel and technology” are utilized at on-campus residential buildings to keep students safe. Pitt police said they urge residents to be careful when bringing guests into residence halls and to be vigilant about following the proper guidelines when allowing guests.

According to Pitt’s 2022-23 Residential Handbook, some guidelines students must follow when bringing guests into their residence hall include that all visitors must be scanned in and out at the security desk, the resident must escort their visitors at all times, visitors 17 years of age or older must have a valid photo ID to visit and visitors without a valid approved photo ID must obtain a guest pass from Panther Central. 

Safety concerns on Pitt’s Oakland campus also sparked following an Oct. 6 crime alert that detailed an alleged sexual assault in the Cathedral of Learning. Students gathered to protest the assault on Oct. 7, and a controversial online petition calling for increased police presence, building access restrictions, added security cameras and more received about 6,000 signatures by that night. 

Maggie Layfield, a first-year film and media studies major, said she feels safe on Pitt’s campus, but thinks swipe access should be required for entry to University buildings. She said having that extra level of security would benefit students. 

“They already have the technology for it from COVID, so I feel like if they can do it, they should,” Layfield said. “Especially for the Cathedral, anyone can just walk in and that could be unsafe at times.” 

Layfield said she thinks Pitt should install more security cameras to increase safety, especially in stairwells. 

“Having cameras in places that they don’t already, so people can prove that they felt unsafe or something happened to them,” Layfield said. “I feel like that’s the first step that should be taken.”

According to Pitt Police, there are more than 1,000 closed-circuit cameras placed throughout campus. They said the number of cameras distributed across campus is determined by “need.”

Aaron Kelemen, a sophomore undecided major, said he felt “weirded out” when Pitt took away its building access restrictions because they’d been in place since he first arrived in 2021.

“Now it feels like anybody can get into buildings anywhere,” Kelemen said. “I definitely would prefer if they kept it.” 

Carissa Canzona, a sophomore public and professional writing major, said she’s felt unsafe on campus ever since Pitt stopped requiring swipe access, especially after the Cathedral incident. 

“Pitt’s not a campus that’s closed off to the public,” Canzona said. “We’re literally just in the middle of a city, so I definitely think that they should bring it back. I feel safer with it.” 

Canzona said other ways Pitt could improve safety could include installing “blue lights” throughout South Oakland and offering more transportation for students living in off-campus housing. 

According to Pitt’s website, a service called “SafeRider” is offered to Pitt and Chatham University students, faculty and staff for free transportation from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. when “special non-emergency needs arise.” Individuals can request rides between campus buildings, from local residences to campus buildings, from campus to local residences and when someone is not along an established bus or shuttle route. An individual is allowed one round trip per evening and a maximum of 25 trips per semester. 

Although blue light systems and SafeRiders offer safety options across campus, some students still feel that swipe access provided a higher level of security. 

Mayra Cruz, a sophomore biomedical engineering major, said she thinks Pitt should require swipe access in the Cathedral and Hillman library because “mostly students” use those buildings. 

“I liked it better during COVID with how everyone had to swipe in,” Cruz said. “Even visitors had to do an online visitors pass, and I felt more safe.”

Alyssa Caddy, a sophomore psychology major, said she “hates” how Pitt removed building access restrictions and said she remained under the impression that swipe access was a “full time thing” before Pitt removed it. She said Pitt should “absolutely” bring swipe access back. 

“The fact that anyone can just walk in, it’s not really comforting, especially when [the Cathedral] is the biggest academic building in the northern hemisphere,” Caddy said. 

Not all students feel that swipe access should still be required. Chand Vadalia, a junior biology major, said having to swipe into buildings was “inconvenient.” 

“I found that I was wasting time fumbling to get my ID,” Vadalia said. “There were some days, if I didn’t have my ID for whatever reason, I wouldn’t be able to go to class.” 

Vadalia added that he would feel safer with security guards in buildings instead of swipe access. 

“I think that we could have guards in the buildings who can tell if someone’s a student or if they’re a security threat,” Vadalia said.

Hawkes said they would feel safer if swipe access became required again, and that it’s the “best thing to add” in academic buildings on campus.

“It’s kind of like how I felt unsafe in my high school,” Hawkes said. “Things happen in schools sometimes and they didn’t have great security. You can just get into the building at any time, and that’s how it is for most of the academic buildings here.”