Students, ASMC and the administration are working to find a solution that would keep students safe while allowing access to the pedestrian gate at MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue after a decision was made this summer to discontinue issuing keys to that gate and the lock was changed.
Director of Public Safety Michael Lopez said the decision to review the back gate key policy came after a succession of incidents last year, ranging from a series of computer thefts on campus to an E-F student who was mugged on MacArthur Boulevard, near the 7-11, whose keys were stolen.
“My biggest concern was the children’s school,” he said, adding that an intruder entering by the back gate would also have access to Faculty Village.
“We, as the College, have to protect,” said Lopez. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
A guard is posted each weekday morning from 8 to 9 a.m. to open the gate for Mills students, faculty and staff coming to campus. At all other times, students can call Public Safety with the expectation that an officer will respond within five minutes to open the gate.
According to a memorandum issued by the College on Oct. 6 in order to clarify the new back gate policy, it “is intended to allow for continued access to campus at the Seminary gate without exposing the Mills community to the undue risk created by the circulation of lost, stolen or duplicated keys to an unguarded gate.”
The memorandum stated that the College acted in response to “a stolen key and other campus incidents serious enough to report to the Oakland police.” It was “the predominant view of campus residents and safety experts” to minimize risk by stopping key distribution.
Dean of Students Joanna Iwata, who lives on campus in Faculty Village, said that the residents of the Village felt that “things were getting a little out of control.” She said that students were involved in the “incidents” referred to in the memorandum and that some of them occurred during the daytime.
Erica Garcia, a senior, posted to student-news on Oct. 2 in response to the new back gate policy.
“If danger is the concern, it’s equally dangerous for Mills women to wait outside the gate for a public safety officer,” she wrote.
The memorandum suggested that individuals waiting for a public safety officer may wish to wait across the street at the gas station or stores.
Garcia also expressed concern that the new policy “makes Mills more divided from the community.”
A lot of people come to Mills and are afraid to leave campus and go into Oakland, said Garcia, because of ideas and rumors that Oakland is a dangerous place. Garcia grew up and lived on Seminary until she was in the 9th grade and wrote in her email to student-news that she found it “insulting” that the College promoted fear toward her community.
“I personally find it offensive,” she said in an interview. “It makes people fear my community.”
Furthermore, she pointed out, what is the difference between letting herself out and a Public Safety officer letting herself out, if the area is supposedly so dangerous? “You’re still going into that area,” she said.
“What happens if Public Safety is busy with an emergency?” she said. “I’m stuck outside or inside.”
There are inconveniences to students who wish to use public transit as well.
“The one bus line that runs all the way to Coliseum BART is located right outside the back gate,” observed senior Emily Wilheim. “It’s not safe to walk all the way around campus on the outside, and it’s inconvenient to have to wait for Public Safety to open the gate.”
Lopez initially suggested key card access to the back gate, similar to the system that now allows students into the Stern computer labs and the Warren Olney and Orchard Meadow dormitories, but he said Karen Maggio, assistant vice president of business affairs of Housing Management and Dining Services, pointed out that the consequences of an unreported lost or stolen key card meant an intruder would have access to the dormitories and computer labs.
But, all is not lost.
“We believe that access to the back gate is a necessary resource, and we are working with Joanna Iwata and Public Safety to develop a system that will allow access to the back gate,” said ASMC member and senior Rachel Gordezky.
Currently, they are investigating the possibility of a student shuttle and escort service that would provide access to the back gate and the surrounding area. According to Iwata, students in work-study positions would drive around and pick up students from the surrounding area and provide access to the Laurel District as well.
Lopez said there will be a survey of the student body to see if students are interested in participating. There is also the questions of funds, he said. Student escorts would save Public Safety officers from having to do escorts, freeing up manpower for elsewhere.
“I’m glad to see students interested in taking care of their own,” he said.
Public Safety will oversee the student escorts, he said, making sure they have the proper radio equipment and First Aid training.
“I’m really glad that students took the initiative to express their concerns,” said Iwata, adding that students should also give suggestions and recommendations.
“These things will be revisited,” she said. “It’s not the end.”